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Confused About Video? The Listeners Aren’t!

Confused About Video? The Listeners Aren’t!

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Written By

Tom Webster

Know the Author

October 17, 2023

AVAILABLE NOW: Sounds Profitable's latest research: The Power of Brands in Podcasts, a Podcast Landscape Study. Catch the full presentation from Tom Webster and download the free study!

Video continues to throw a spanner into the podcast works. On the one hand, we know that YouTube, specifically, ranks very highly anytime you ask podcast listeners what platforms they ever use to consume podcasts. On the other, dumping your podcast on YouTube without a visual component doesn’t really work that well! With so many of the top podcasts in America also having a video counterpart, what are we supposed to make of the definition of a podcast today?

One thing I have consistently said from the first time I talked about YouTube on stage at Podcast Movement five (five???) years ago was that YouTube was the best content search engine in the world – we have all spent loads of “unplanned” time clicking over to the recommended videos on the right side of the screen after watching the thing we came there for in the first place. Whenever podcasters talk about the discovery problems in the medium, I think about this.

The result of YouTube’s increasing importance to the podcast space has been a fair amount of agita about whether or not we all have to become YouTubers and this is our life now. There is a clear advantage to having a podcast on YouTube if it has a compelling visual component. Even watching people talk into a microphone dramatically improves focus and comprehension – people can literally follow a conversation better if they have a focal point for each voice. But if you can’t manage that, you probably aren’t going to get many plays, and you will likely question what you are even doing there.

What I hear even more from podcasters, though, is concern about what even is a podcast any more? If podcasting and online video are all just the same thing, have we lost the special sauce of podcasting? Are we doomed to transition from good at audio to mediocre video producers?

Well, I have some good news for you. While industry insiders might be confused about the shifting definitions of what a podcast is, the listeners actually aren’t. In fact, in our most recent study, The Podcast Landscape, they made that quite clear in the answers to just two questions.

First, when it comes to discovering new podcasts, recommendations are still the top channel, so you can increase your friends and family promotional budget without fear. When you set recommendations aside, however, there is a clear number one source for podcast discovery:


In technical terms, we call that a big number. YouTube isn’t just number one, it’s 60% larger than number two. It’s also nearly four times larger than Twitter/X, the “easy button” for podcast promoters. Seems to me we want to be there.

Here’s an even more interesting data point, however. When we asked people what they expected a podcast to be, the answer was pretty clear:

13% of respondents leaned towards video, with another 20% ambivalent about the whole affair. Fully two-thirds of Americans 18+, however, expected a podcast to always or usually be an audio medium. Not much confusion there! So while people who eat, sleep, and breathe podcasts every day worry about the changing definition of a podcast (and I count myself in this number), the listeners are still pretty clear.

So how do we square the fact that most people think podcasts are primarily an audio medium with the fact that YouTube is by far the top platform for podcast discovery? Some of this is down to the disproportionately large impact of a few podcasts. The fat head of an otherwise long-tail medium is really only a few hundred podcasts deep, and if you added up the non-duplicated reach of even the top 25 multi-channel podcasts (available both as an audio file through RSS AND on YouTube) they would reach a sizable double-digit percentage of podcast listeners. That could certainly explain why nearly half of podcast listeners say they have ever discovered a podcast on YouTube, but also think of podcasting as an audio medium.

There is another way to think about this, however, and this is what I would suggest for the rest of us: a mindset shift. Instead of thinking about YouTube as a place to promote a podcast, imagine instead that it is a place to promote a podcaster.

So much of the YouTube economy revolves around individual creators, from Mr. Beast to that kid who opens up presents who is probably in jail or something by now. Podcasting’s number one show (you know who he is) might be exclusive to Spotify, but the person sure isn’t – there are multiple clips from his show uploaded to YouTube every day.

You may not be producing as much video as Rogan, but could you produce something, even a short, that promotes who you are and why people should care about a show you make? Not a trailer (I don’t think people actively look for trailers) but a short, interesting, and entirely self-contained bit of video that shows off why you and/or your co-hosts are smart, capable, funny, and worthy of attention. Through that, they can discover you, and in discovering you, could be led to your podcast.

I think the fact that a clear majority of Americans still see podcasting as an audio-centric medium should be reassuring to you. It is to me! I got into this business because I love audio, and I hate doing video, and I was not relishing the thought of having to wheel a bunch of ring lights into my living room. But I think we could all do something that demonstrates whether or not we are worthy of attention.

If you’ll excuse me, I am heading off to film a bunch of reaction videos of me listening to podcasts for the first time while eating street food with a mouth mic to catch that ASMR goodness.

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About the author

Tom Webster is a Partner at Sounds Profitable, dedicated to setting the course for the future of the audio business. He is a 25-year veteran audio researcher and trusted advisor to the biggest companies in podcasting, and has dedicated his career to the advancement of podcasting for networks and individuals alike. He has been the co-author and driver behind some of audio’s most influential studies, from the Infinite Dial® series to Share of Ear® and the Podcast Consumer Tracker. Webster has led hundreds of audience research projects on six continents, for some of the most listened-to podcasts and syndicated radio shows in the world. He’s done a card trick for Paula Abdul, shared a martini with Tom Jones, and sold vinyl to Christopher Walken.

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