Who’s ready for “YouTube Podcasts”?
Bloomberg reports that YouTube is hiring an executive to “oversee its podcasting experience,” which currently does not really exist. YouTube is a popular place for podcast hosting, but the site doesn’t offer any podcast-specific features.
YouTube is the most popular video site on Earth, and if you’re a for-profit company obsessed with growth, it’s actually a bit of a problem that everyone already uses YouTube. The endless quest for more revenue and more watch minutes has led YouTube to expand into areas other than the typical YouTube video.
We’ve seen YouTube Red, which—in addition to the surviving ad-free playback feature for $9.99—originally tried to take on Netflix with premium original content from YouTube’s star creators. YouTube Movies lets users buy and rent Hollywood movies. YouTube Gaming is YouTube’s clone of Twitch, allowing people to watch livestreamed gaming sessions. YouTube Shorts is a clone of TikTok’s bite-size video service. YouTube TV is for cord-cutters and replicates the expensive bundled cable TV experience—but over the Internet. YouTube Music offers an ad-supported or paid streaming music service, just like Spotify, and cloud music storage, just like Google Music, which it replaced. The only other thing YouTube could do to expand its audience is to make regular YouTube available to more people, and for that, we have YouTube Kids for small children and YouTube Go, a lower-bandwidth version for the developing world. Behold, the YouTube empire.
YouTube has turned into Google’s all-encompassing media brand, so adding YouTube Podcasts is not a big stretch. The story of YouTube podcasts sounds a lot like the pitch for YouTube Gaming: “YouTube is already a popular place for this type of content, so let’s build a custom interface around it!”
For gaming, this shift included a few custom features, like lower-latency streaming, a better live chat, paid “super-chat” donations, and a (now dead) standalone gaming portal and app. The typical podcast player features not found on YouTube would be a podcast homepage, 15- to 30-second skip buttons, a non-video interface for audio-only podcasts, and some kind of playlist system.
YouTube certainly has some big competition to chase. Spotify is heavily invested in podcasts, with numerous company acquisitions and exclusive streaming agreements, like a $100 million Joe Rogan Experience deal. Apple has recommitted to the market with a new podcast subscription feature and is launching original content like The Problem With Jon Stewart podcast. Amazon also launched a podcast product in 2020.
Fourth time’s a charm?
YouTube Podcasts would be Google’s fourth podcasting app. First, there was Google Listen, a podcast app powered by the Google Reader RSS service. Then there was Google Play Music Podcasts inside of Google Music, and today there is Google Podcasts.
YouTube already killed one podcasting product, Google Play Music Podcasts, when Google Play Music was shut down in favor of YouTube Music. YouTube took over streaming music and uploaded music from Google Play, but it never replicated the podcast feature. Google’s only currently functioning podcast product, Google Podcasts, comes from the Google Search division. Being from Google Search means Google Podcasts doesn’t have a solid home in Google’s empire, and for a long time, the service was only available as an embedded result in a Google Search results page or from the Google Assistant, two things the Search division also owns. Today, there’s a standalone website and an app, but the service does not appear to be very popular or discoverable.
YouTube seems like a much more obvious home for podcasts than Google Search, especially since people already go there for podcasts. Google will likely fall back to its “two of everything” strategy for a while, but longer-term, Google Podcasts should probably think about reserving a nice plot of land in the Google Graveyard.