The format that got us all to listen is becoming visual, and podcasts will never be the same.
If you’re a regular consumer of podcasts, you may have noticed a change over the past few years: many of the world’s most popular shows (and maybe some of your favorites) have started including the ability to watch instead of simply listen. While video podcasts are not a new concept, they’re quickly becoming mainstream and will soon represent the majority of the world’s podcasts. As the co-founder of Anchor, the world’s biggest podcasting platform, I’ve paid close attention to this growing trend over the past few years.
Why is this happening?
The format of podcasts has long supported video. In fact, RSS, the standard by which most of the world’s podcasts are distributed, has always supported an option to indicate to platforms that an episode is a video file. However, lack of seamless support for shows that feature both video and audio has prevented most creators from utilizing this option, thus disincentivizing most major platforms from going all-in. Despite this limited demand up until recently, several major podcasters, including some of the most influential in the world (like Joe Rogan) have been publishing video podcasts for years. Now it seems nearly all podcasters are at least considering switching to video. But why?
COVID-19 and Social Distancing
Before COVID changed the way we all live and work in 2020, many of the world’s podcasts were recorded in real life. For shows with multiple hosts or guests, podcasts were often recorded in a studio or physical space, with creators huddled around a few microphones. Once COVID hit and we were all forced to social distance, people naturally started using more web-based capture tools to record their podcasts. Products like Zoom not only enabled us to hold virtual meetings, but they enabled podcasters to record podcasts remotely, too. Plus, Zoom and other dedicated podcast capture products like Riverside.fm included additional features that standard podcast recording tools lacked: video capture. Virtually overnight, the people who were previously recording audio-only podcasts in a studio were getting video of themselves, their co-hosts, and their guests as a byproduct of social distancing.
Once podcasters had video to go along with their audio, it opened up a world of new possibilities for the distribution of their shows. No longer did it only make sense to publish their podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts; now, they could also distribute to platforms like YouTube and have their content fit in right at home alongside an ocean of other videos, many of which didn’t look much different than their podcasts. Plus, they could take their video episodes and cut them into promotional clips that were easily shareable on social video platforms like Instagram and TikTok, giving them even more potential reach. For creators, this unlocked potential exposure to millions of new fans who weren’t using traditional podcast consumption products.
But it wasn’t all about distribution. Creators quickly learned, just as platforms did years ago, that video produced more engagement. Not only would people listen, but when their eyes were free, they would also watch, investing even more of their attention in their favorite shows, creating an even stronger relationship between fan and creator. And perhaps most importantly, it produced more revenue for creators and platforms given the relative value of video to audio for brands and marketers.
What happens as a result?
The shift from audio to video for podcasts is only accelerating. Only a few weeks ago, YouTube announced more dedicated support for podcasts. And Spotify has recently expanded video podcasts to more creators around the world. But what happens next?
The opportunity for podcasts will get much, much bigger
Podcast revenues are expected to exceed $2B in 2022. YouTube, on the other hand, generated nearly $29B in video ad revenue in 2021 alone. In other words, the video market is vastly bigger than the podcast market. As more and more podcasters turn to video, more revenue will be unlocked for their shows. The opportunity for podcasters to generate meaningful revenue, and capture a slice of the overall video market, will grow significantly. This should be welcome news for any creator in the podcasting space. It’s long been discussed how challenging it is for podcasters to generate ad revenue because of the limited tools, data, advertisers, and infrastructure to support a significantly larger podcast ad market. But once podcasts are a part of the video ad market, all boats should rise.
Products will evolve to meet demand
More and more tools will adapt to the ever changing world of podcasts. You’re already seeing this play out in real time. Before I left Spotify (where I led the Talk audio businesses) earlier this year, Anchor adapted its product to have better support for videos, and expanded the availability of these features several months later. Podcast editing software Descript seems to be making a big push into video. Podcast video recording platform Riverside recently raised $35M in venture capital. Following the consistent trend of all other forms of media on the internet, the friction to create video podcasts is likely to drop dramatically over the coming years, enabling many millions more people to participate in the medium.
Content will evolve
Just as the products will evolve to meet the new demand for video, so too will creators’ content. Podcasters will look beyond the limitations of audio-only to create shows that may not even look or sound much like podcasts at all. After all… what’s the difference between a video podcast of people talking to each other and a traditional talk show? Not much. Major media platforms have begun shifting away from social media and more towards recommendation media (which I recently wrote about), which favors engagement over friend graphs. And engagement with video has proven to be much more valuable in this new distribution model. As a result, creators who want their content to be discovered will likely find themselves producing more video over time. All of this begs an important question…
Will podcasts go away?
In a world where every podcast includes video, every platform supports video, and video-first shows are more engaging for users (and therefore more valuable for creators), it’s fair to wonder if people will stop making “podcasts” as we know them today. Today a podcast is an episode of audio content featuring people talking. Tomorrow, it seems as if a podcast will look a lot like the talk shows many of us grew up watching on television (and many watch on platforms like YouTube today).
While this notion will likely irk some readers, consider the potential benefits to the medium. Podcasting has been greatly constrained as a business since its inception nearly 20 years ago. The vast majority of creators still don’t generate any money. Few podcasting businesses (hosting platforms, content studios, etc) have been able to generate meaningful revenue over a sustained period of time. And many millions of listeners have yet to be exposed to this incredibly rich and engaging format.
If podcasts do go away in favor of videos, it will likely be a result of the following:
- Most consumers will prefer video over audio
- Most creators will therefore prefer video over audio, because it drives more distribution and engagement
- The podcast ecosystem as a whole will be generating far more revenue for creators and podcasting businesses
I’ve been a part of the podcast ecosystem for nearly a decade. For as long as I can remember, everyone has been waiting for podcasts to become a bigger business and more equitable for all stakeholders. Video may be the key. Podcasts may go the way of video, but it may actually be a very good thing for all involved.