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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Why video might be the key to podcasting success

December 9, 2021 | By Micaeli Rourke – Independent Media Reporter @micaelirourke

Video is the hottest thing in audio right now. Don’t worry, this is not another “pivot to video.” However, an interesting fact emerged as Reuters Institute was formulating the 2021 Digital News Report: YouTube is currently the number one podcasting platform in the United States. According to the report, the video platform is responsible for 26% of podcast consumption in U.S. markets, compared to Apple Podcast’s 22% of listenership, and Spotify’s 17%. 

So, why is a platform pretty much synonymous with video dominating the podcast market? We spoke with Damian Radcliffe, digital media analyst and Professor of Practice and Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, to better understand how publishers can tap into “platform agnosticism” and capitalize on the momentum of this video podcasting trend. 

At stake: the ability to deepen audience relationships and build subscriber numbers. Oh, and let’s not forget the $1 billion dollars in ad revenue predicted for the podcasting industry this year ($2 billion by 2023).

Ease of podcast discoverability

Discovery has always been a huge challenge for podcasters. As Radcliffe points out in the report, if you aren’t on the iTunes top 10 or not in the ‘top picks’ on a homepage, it can be really hard to reach audiences. 

However, by diversifying away from audio-only products, and incorporating audio into supplemental forms of media, publishers can address that discoverability issue, simply by being in more places. Video platforms like YouTube not only make podcasts easier to discover, they also make them easier to share and to share on social feeds. 


“Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing tool,” explained Radcliffe. “Being able to tap into the power of peer recommendations is potentially a really powerful and potent tool that podcasting could be doing more with.” 

If a dedicated listener is learns from their favorite podcasting platform that they are in the top one percent of This American Life listeners, for example, they may want to let their social network know. When shareability and discoverability are predicated on distinctions or superlatives, as Spotify’s “Wrapped” feature has so deftly demonstrated December after December, the potential reach of the program within that individual’s network is exponentially expanded.


“People are sharing podcasting recommendations with their friends. But that kind of conversation is happening off-platform and podcasters don’t know where those referrals or audiences are coming from,” Radcliffe points out. He thinks that if podcasters can “find a way to close that loop and reward people for spreading the word around their podcasts, I think that could be a really interesting development.”

Widening your distribution strategy

Despite YouTube’s unexpected dominance of podcast distribution, most podcasters aren’t sharing their programs on video platforms exclusively. Rather, they use sites like YouTube as a secondary distribution channel. As a platform with an existing audience base of over two billion users and robust content discoverability, YouTube offers an attractive means for individual podcasters and established media players to reach new audiences.

“Think about this in terms of being a part of the wider distribution strategy for your podcasts and trying to find as many different ways for audiences to find you,” Radcliffe explained. For example he suggests that publishers use RSS feeds to distribute content to as wide a variety of places as possible. And that “video podcasting is just a part of that mix.”

When watching a video podcast that audiences would otherwise only consume through audio, audiences may also feel they are privy to certain “behind the scenes” elements, particularly when watching video versions of their favorite interview podcasts. As an example, Radcliffe cited a 2019 episode of Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson, featuring Tyson Fury.

“It was a video podcast, and you could absolutely just listen to it. But there was something quite intimate about being able to watch it and see the interaction and pick up on some of the body language nuances that you can’t necessarily get just through audio alone.” 

Leading interview podcasts like Crooked Media’s Pod Save America, the Black Girl Podcast, SmartLess, and others have leveraged video to make audiences feel almost as if they are in the room or ‘part of the gang’ as the interview transpires. Given the increased isolation of audiences at the start of the pandemic, that inclusion has become a value proposition for podcasters. 

The advantages of micro-content

As print and online media continue to distill content into easily digestible micro-formats, the same appetite for bite-sized content abounds in video podcasting. (This may be credited, in part, to platforms like TikTok that amplify short video clips across the internet.) This shift in format is something many podcasters have learned to use to their advantage.

“There are opportunities to atomize content to produce clips. [Podcasters] can take an hour-long video podcast and break it up into a series of smaller clips. And those smaller clips may well yield larger audiences than the entire full piece,” Radcliffe explained. “That’s going to help in terms of SEO and search results.” It also helps “in terms of content potentially being shared or reaching different audiences.” 

By “atomizing” content and creating shorter, standalone clip videos of key moments from full episodes podcasters are more likely to go viral and gain wider audiences who will then go through and relisten to their archive of episodes. (A great example is this clip from Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast.) 

“Creators have figured out how to make podcasts work on a platform that wasn’t designed for them, leveraging YouTube’s search algorithm to meet new audiences, make more money, and expand into a medium that’s expected to grow rapidly in the coming years,” The Verge’s Julia Alexander wrote back in 2019. “Creating a separate channel for clips lets podcasters take advantage of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which surfaces content on specific subjects a viewer is already interested in.” 

Bonus: It’s free!

Another big draw for audiences to consume podcasts on YouTube is a simple one… it’s free. According to Edison Research, the number of Americans paying for audio subscriptions has doubled since 2015. With more and more podcasts and platforms going behind paywalls, and more and more consumers encountering subscription fatigue, YouTube is a (seemingly) egalitarian platform where podcast audiences can consume as much content from shows as they desire, regardless of any paywalls the full-length podcasts may be behind. 

Lights, camera, action! 

If you don’t have video as a part of your podcast offering, don’t panic.

“The thing I would advise against is thinking that you 100% need to do this right now,” cautioned Radcliffe. “You can still have a successful podcasting strategy that doesn’t include video. But increasingly, we will see video as a part of that mix because it enables [podcasters] to reach audiences in different places. It also opens up further opportunities for engagement and interaction.”

Podcasting in the digital age is more than simply audio content, just as written stories are much more than text-only these days. As our digital appetites shift towards brief, shareable video, other media products are certainly not destined for obsolescence. But multimedia is irrefutably the name of the digital game. So it’s only natural that, as podcasting matures, it is branching out of our headphones and onto our screens. 

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