Why Launch of Google Podcasts is a Huge Deal for the Industry
Right now, I've got 76 podcast subscriptions on my Google Pixel. Before switching from iPhone to Android in 2012, I spent hours online reading forums in search for a suitable Android podcast alternative. At the time -- and still now -- iTunes podcasts (now Apple podcasts) were the gold standard in podcast listening. Since I've been listening to podcasts, Apple has been the dominant player. As much as 80% of podcast listening happens on the Apple podcast app, according to a 2015 report from Clammr, a social audio app.
The first legitimate threat to Apple may have emerged last month with the launch of Google Podcasts, a well-designed, mobile-only consumer app that's already getting rave reviews.
Google Podcasts is a huge deal for podcast creators. Android, with more than 80% global smartphone market share, represents a massive opportunity that Apple simply can't touch. That means more listeners, and more advertisers, on a more global scale than creators can reach through Apple. But more specifically, Google has the chance to make podcasts easier to create and market, easier and better to advertise on, and easier to measure and customize.
Here's what that might look like:
Democratized Podcast Publishing
Google is really good at using technology to make information both accessible and easy to use. A decade ago, I built a digital publishing business using Google Adsense -- one of the first widely used turnkey solutions for putting ads on a website -- without knowing the first thing about advertising on the internet.
What if Google offered that same model of democratization to podcast creators? While it's relatively easy to make a podcast today, it’s harder to make a high-quality one. And no matter the quality, it would be advantageous if it was easier to host, distribute, monetize and market podcasts. What if Google offered an end-to-end service to creators to rival Apple's? Imagine a deep integration into Google search or better podcast availability integrated into Google Home. What if podcasts were indexed, searchable and linkable like websites?
More Sophisticated Advertising
In the podcast business, the key unit of measurement is the download. Nearly a million podcasting ad dollars are spent every day in the U.S. based almost exclusively on the number of people that download an episode. Unfortunately, downloads are a useful but overly-simplistic metric. As I type this there are hundreds of "downloaded" podcast episodes buried in my phone, each with countless ad dollars buried along with them.
Expect Google to push the envelope on podcast advertising, initially with better data, but eventually with better technology. Imagine if advertisers knew exactly how many people listened to their ads, or better yet, who specifically listened to an episode. This will hold creators more accountable to their advertisers and ultimately make advertisers more comfortable with spending on podcasts.
For consumers, this could mean actual interaction with advertising content. What if you could talk to the ad? "OK, Google, copy that coupon code." What if Google could insert an ad based on your location or based on whether you listened to the previous ad?
Precisely because of Google's influence, this is already how a lot of digital advertising works. Who better than the company that built the roads for the modern digital advertising ecosystem to pave its way going forward?
Google Analytics for Podcasts
Until recently, Apple provided podcast creators with little insight into how people listen, offering only limited information about how many times, and where, a podcast was downloaded. In December, Apple launched the beta version of its highly anticipated podcast analytics service. Early reviews suggest that the improvement is incremental at best.
Imagine the possibilities if creators knew precisely how people listen. More granular engagement metrics and a quicker feedback loop between listeners and creators could lead to an explosion in the creativity of formats and techniques. Detailed knowledge of what resonates with listeners could also lead to more customization to particular audiences.
Detailed analytics have crept their way into every modern content medium and Google does consumer-facing analytics as well as any software company. There's no reason Google couldn't do for podcasts what it did for web traffic.
An Existential Threat to Apple
We're still in the early days of the podcast boom. Every credible organization has at least one, as does every aspiring influencer. Yet still, more than 60% of people have never listened to one, despite the fact that the number of people who listen to at least one podcast per week has more than doubled since 2014, according to Edison Research.
Google, while it has the capability to change the power balance, is no panacea. Its new app still has a lot of room to improve. In 2009, when Google last entered this space, it retreated in defeat only three years later. And the recent rise in podcast consumption has already driven a lot of new innovation ahead of the launch of Google Podcasts.
But this time -- on the heels of Google's blockbuster success in the nascent voice industry -- is different. This Google presents an existential threat to even the mightiest of incumbents. That competition will be a good thing for podcast creators.
Jamaal Glenn (@JamaalGlenn) is a Vice President at Alumni Ventures Group, a venture capital firm. He is also the founder of Glenn Media Group, a consulting firm, and an adjunct professor at New York University. Previously, Glenn spent more than a decade as a media and technology executive.