To video or not to video? Inside the biggest debate in podcasting and how it could shape the industry’s future

News Room
  • Video has become a fierce topic of debate in the podcasting industry.
  • Audiences are gravitating toward video, which can also help with discovery on social media.
  • But it’s sparked some backlash in the podcast community, too, and doesn’t work for all shows.

At the recent Podcast Show conference in London, one topic took center stage: video. Crowds gathered to hear execs and creators discuss how they’re expanding beyond audio and introducing visuals to their podcasts. Video inspired bold proclamations and some whispered dissents among the attendees.

“If as a podcast you are not thinking about YouTube first, that’s the first mistake,” said Jordan Schwarzenberger, who hosts the creator-economy podcast Unboxed and manages YouTubers The Sidemen, during one panel.

And while Schwarzenberger comes from the world of YouTube, it’s not just content creators and influencers who have embraced video. As younger audiences have flocked to podcasts, the lines between audio and video, and what even defines a “podcast,” have blurred in the industry at large.

“There is an expectation, particularly for the younger audience, to be able to see the podcast,” said Louise Kattenhorn, podcast commissioner at BBC Sounds. “Sometimes they don’t differentiate between a podcast on an audio platform, and a podcast on a video platform. They talk about listening to a podcast on YouTube.”

A recent survey from Morning Consult showed that 46% of respondents prefer consuming podcasts that have video. YouTube, in particular, has become a force in the podcast world. A survey from Cumulus Media and Signal Hill found that YouTube was the preferred platform among listeners to access podcasts overall, beating out Apple and Spotify.

“You’re missing out on half of your audience if you’re not on YouTube,” said Matt Wells, president of podcast-production company Audily. “It’s detrimental to your brand overall.”

But it’s not just YouTube. TikTok and other short-form video platforms have become an effective way for some podcasters to find new audiences by releasing short-form video clips. And Spotify is making more video-focused investments, such as TikTok-style vertical videos called Clips, and exclusive video deals with celebrities and creators.

“This is the direction the industry is headed,” a Spotify spokesperson said. “We’re hearing from more creators and more listeners that they prefer podcasts to include video.”

Amid a downturn in advertising and layoffs impacting audio companies — Spotify being one of them — video can become a way to build additional revenue streams and find broader audiences on social media.

But the rise of video has sparked a backlash in the podcast community as well. For one, it can favor certain types of shows — chatty, personality-led, interview concepts — over others.

Those who make narrative content that requires editing, sound design, or on-field reporting, or those who don’t have the skills or budget to invest in splashy studios and video editing, may find themselves left behind.

Some also see it as threatening the very identity of podcasts as an audio medium.

“It’s very rare that we have a podcaster come to us and say, ‘I’d really like to turn my podcast into a video series.’ In fact, it’s the opposite,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeart Digital, which produces podcasts for celebrities like Will Ferrell, Nikki Glaser, and Ryan Seacrest, among others. “The refrain that we hear back from a lot of podcasters is, ‘I choose podcasting so as not to do video.'”

Why many podcasters love video, both short and long

Introducing video to podcasts has helped relieve one of the biggest pain points in the industry: discoverability.

Filming a podcast has a twofold advantage — the full video can be uploaded to YouTube, where it gets indexed for search and can be discovered through the platform’s algorithm, while shorter clips can be repurposed for YouTube shorts, Instagram reels, and TikTok.

“We really like to push our creators regardless of their discipline to create more video content, because we find in the data that video content just performs a lot better on social,” said Joe Gagliese, cofounder and CEO of talent-management company Viral Nation, which just launched a podcast division. “Long term, I think you’ll see a majority of podcasts add video.”

The powerful algorithms on short-form platforms, particularly TikTok, can skyrocket a video creator into fame, and podcasters are increasingly using them to find audiences.

“If you’re launching a podcast from scratch, how else are you going to get the word out there?” said Liam Heffernan, podcast editor at production company The Podcast Boutique. “Unless you’re going to be knocking on doors or posting letters in mailboxes, I don’t know how else you’re going to tell people that you’re there.”

Tools that help facilitate the transition to video have popped up at a steady clip. Hosting company launched a tool in June to generate video from audio podcast tracks to repurpose on social media. And several AI tools have launched that automatically chop up long-form video content for short-form social platforms.

Podcast-production companies are also hiring video specialists to master the art of social media. UK production company Listen hired a producer with a TV background to oversee its video efforts.

“Adding the visual element and building those visual identities and brands has opened podcasting up to far more opportunities,” said Josh Adley, managing director at Listen (Listen produces Schwarzenberger’s podcast).

One of those opportunities is extra money. There’s the revenue that comes from YouTube’s established ad-revenue-share program, but also the opportunity that comes with building a brand beyond audio.

“When you think of a podcast these days, you don’t think of just the audio file that’s uploaded to an RSS feed,” said Natalie Amos, podcast lead at talent-management firm Gleam Futures. “It’s so much more than that. It’s a brand. It’s about the live shows, the video aspect, subscriptions, merchandise.”

While podcast execs and creators said that those who find podcasts on social media often don’t turn into regular listeners, this may just be a chance to monetize audiences where they are.

“We’re building brand partners who are really excited to be attached to the kind of premium short-form content that we are creating,” Listen’s Adley said. “That’s a massive shift in the industry.”

Video does not work for everyone

While video opens up new opportunities, there’s some situations in which it just cannot be part of the conversation.

For instance, it’s almost impossible to add when it comes to deeply reported, narrative shows.

“It becomes very difficult to add video to a podcast that has been heavily edited,” said Keith Jenkins, NPR’s vice president of music and visuals. “You don’t have continuous sentences, and if we’re doing them remotely, you may have somebody in a different city.”

For this reason, Jenkins’ team has only been able to film a handful of shows in full, and has had to come up with other ways to introduce video, like creating shorter series inspired by the long-form shows, like Planet Money Explainers, or an entirely independent Planet Money TikTok series.

The cost of introducing and editing video may also be higher than the return it brings in, especially for independent podcasters.

“It’s sucking money out of my budget that hasn’t shown me that it’s worth it,” said Kristen Bousquet, who hosts and produces a creator-economy podcast. Bousquet stopped publishing her podcast on YouTube after it failed to get the traction she was hoping for.

On YouTube, a lot of effort needs to go into the “packaging”: the title, thumbnails, and keywords. And it’s a competitive world.

“If you’re starting from zero on YouTube, you’re not just competing with other video podcasters, you’re competing with all of YouTube, you’re competing with MrBeast,” said Jay Clouse, host of the podcast Creator Science. “You’re not only competing on format, you’re also competing on packaging.”

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