YouTube’s podcast game takes center stage amid skepticism – The Hollywood Reporter

YouTube’s Head of Podcasting, Kai Chuk, and Google’s Podcasting Product Lead, Steve McClendon

Courtesy of The Verge/On Air Fest

It’s become something of a running gag among some members of the podcasting community that despite its strength as a major player in the YouTube economy, YouTube has been a slow burn — or even a letdown — for podcasters.

YouTube’s status as the preferred or most-used platform for podcast listeners, according to some polls, could be described as a fluke, given the relative lack of resources the company seems to be putting into podcasting — especially compared to competitors like Spotify, the has spent more than $1 billion on the medium in recent years, or even on other YouTube product offerings like shorts.

In September 2021, YouTube appeared to be making some headway, promoting Kai Chuk, a longtime YouTube exec who focused on partnerships, to oversee its podcasting efforts. But in the year since, YouTube has remained relatively quiet about its podcasting efforts; The company quietly launched a pretty barren bones podcast homepage in July 2022 with a selection of recommended videos and playlists. In October of that year, YouTube said marketers could buy 30-second audio ads and curate ad campaigns based on podcast categories.

This week, the company offered another update at The Verge’s Hot Pod Summit in Brooklyn. Chuk and Steve McClendon, Google’s podcast product lead, announced onstage that podcasts will be added to the YouTube Music streaming service “in the near future.”

In other words, listeners will have a similar podcast listening experience on YouTube Music as they do on platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, where background listening, downloads, and podcast search and discovery tools are available. “We’re really trying to give the user that kind of control and choice over how they use podcasts and to bridge the gap between video and audio,” Chuk said.

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Despite all the excitement surrounding video podcasting, Chuk seemed to throw cold water on the idea that YouTube would be the one pushing this medium forward. “The message I hope people take away is that overall, independent of YouTube Music, YouTube wants to better support podcasts and [recognizes] that podcasting in general is an audio-first medium,” he said, adding that the platform is also experimenting with more podcast-specific features and insights in Creator Studio.

But more obvious features, like support for RSS feeds to automatically populate YouTube with newly uploaded shows, have yet to come to fruition. “YouTube is an interesting product, isn’t it? It’s open in the sense that anyone can generally post anything on YouTube, but it’s also a bit of that walled garden,” he said. “Definitely supporting RSS is something we are looking at. I would say that we will probably start using RSS to make it easier for podcasters to get shows on YouTube. In terms of future plans and things like that, we’re exploring what our goal should be.

However, the executive made it clear that YouTube is not interested in following Spotify for exclusive licensing deals with top podcasters or to commission original shows. The platform remains the focus for the video giant, particularly in its ability to drive discoverability and “help creators find audiences however they find audiences, whether they’re on the platform or off-platform,” Chuk said .

Details on how podcasters can leverage YouTube’s strengths as a monetization platform for developers also remain unclear, although it appears YouTube is avoiding any attempt at reinventing the wheel.

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“Ultimately, the monetization model is still based on our ability to sell ads, the ability of creators to make money, whether it’s through AVOD, through ads, or through other alternative monetization methods like memberships,” Chuk said. “We’ve built a billion-dollar video content business that has paid out $50 billion to creators, artists and partners over the last few years. How do we take that infrastructure and that capability and bring it? [over to] audio, to podcasts?”

Until then, it is still a wait-and-see situation for podcasters both in front of and behind the microphone. “I don’t think this was the exciting announcement the room has been waiting for,” a viewer told THR. “The murmur in the room was that [we’ve] I’ve heard that babble before.”