Fifteen months after Google launched its first dedicated podcast listening app, it is no longer the sleeping giant of on-demand audio. But in many respects Google remains a company holding a lot of promise for podcasters since its Android operating system powers two billion mobile phones worldwide and it controls YouTube, a site where a growing number of listeners say they’re consuming podcast content.
Zack Reneau-Wedeen, Google Podcasts Head of Product, said his team is “in very close touch” with the YouTube product team. “All the ways that we could work together are being discussed,” he told the Podcast Movement conference last month. Of particular focus is the large infrastructure that YouTube has built to work with video creators. Reneau-Wedeen said it’s similar to the infrastructure that Google Play Music has created. “Each of those teams we communicate with very closely and think about what is the best way to help a podcaster on Google podcasts not feel like they’re dealing with separate companies when they would much prefer to feel like they’re dealing with one entity that is aligned,” he explained.
Google’s year-old podcast app may wind up as secondary for the company. In a recent survey of 1,000 Americans aged 12 and older, Edison Research asked how many had listened to a podcast on YouTube. Among people who have been listening to podcasts for more than six months, 62% said they accessed at least one show on YouTube. The number rose to 67% among so-called rookies, or those defined as podcast listeners for six months or less.
For now the main focus is on leveraging Google’s search mastery to help address the podcast discoverability dilemma. The company last month rolled out an update that began returning episode-level search results with the ability to directly play that episode from the search results page. “The major difference was previously you could only search for a show and now you’re able to search for episodes themselves,” said Reneau-Wedeen, explaining, “The world that we were in before was like if you could only search for YouTube or Facebook.”
Under the parameters laid out by Google, the search query must currently include the word “podcast” in order to surface results that show podcast episodes. But even though that’s how it works today, Reneau-Wedeen said over time as Google has more data about what people are looking for, he foresees a time when a podcast search won’t need to be as explicit. “We don’t think that 100 million people are going to be searching for the word podcast, but we do think hundreds of millions of people around the world might be interested in podcasts,” he said. “So helping them find those podcasts, even when they’re doing a search that is implicitly looking for a podcast, is how we think this will be impactful over time.” That effort will get a multilingual boost as well. Reneau-Wedeen expects versions in other languages will be introduced in the coming weeks and months.
Podcasters Eye Transcript Uses
Many podcasters see opportunity in Google’s search engine methodology. In order to index episodes, the company takes transcripts it generates of the show and adds it to the more easily accessed data points like a show’s title and description. A number of publishers have approached Google with ideas about how producers could submit transcripts while others are looking at ways to get the Google-generated transcripts in order to post them on their website. Reneau-Wedeen called those ideas “interesting” and said Google wants to continue exploring options with publishers. “The way that it works today is that you don’t have to do anything in order to have the transcript be part of search,” he said. “But we would never release the transcript or put that out because it could be a substitute for actually listening to the podcast.”
In the meantime, an update to the Google Assistant last month made podcast listening more user-friendly by giving listeners the ability to start listening to a show and then pause, only to continue where they left off—even on a different device—as long as all the devices are synced. That would include listening directly on the Google search results page. “I could resume where I left off, which is very important if you listen to podcasts on your commute and you keep listening when you get to work. Or you might listen in the morning while making breakfast and then finish when you’re at the gym,” said Reneau-Wedeen.
The Google Podcast app is now available in 47 languages. Like Google search, it trolls the internet and automatically populates with available shows. Reneau-Wedeen said the feedback he most often hears from publishers is they want more control to tweak how their shows appear on the app. He said that while there are no immediate plans to allow that to happen, it’s likely to occur. “It’s definitely something that we think is important to publishers,” he said.
On a larger scale, six months after Reneau-Wedeen said Google’s goal was to double podcast listening worldwide, that aim still “feels right” to him. That’s because not only do two billion phones worldwide rely on Google’s Android operating system, but more than a billion people are using Google for search. “If ten percent of all Android users started listening to podcasts, that doesn’t sound quite as bold,” he said. “But it would still make a huge difference.”