Google lays out basics of long-awaited podcast strategy, seeks to double existing audience

Google intends to double the podcast audience in a couple of years, and correct what it sees as an imbalance in Android’s share of delivery compared to iPhones. These imperatives come by way of Pacific Media’s co-founder Steve Pratt, who spoke at length with Zack Reneau-Wedeen, Google’s Podcasts Product Manager. (See the blog post HERE.)

Some of Google’s podcast discovery and listening strategy is already implemented, and it shines a meaningful light on Google’s potential power to come from way behind Apple’s 13-year advantage in delivering podcasts to its iTunes and Podcasts app audiences. According to Steve Pratt’s account, there are two major pieces in Google’s strategy development that can streamline podcast consumption, making it much easier for newcomers:

  • Play buttons inside search results for a podcast title
  • Cloud tracking of starts and stops (like Amazon Kindle books, Netflix videos, etc.) so people can listen across devices

Steve Pratt notes that these key elements are already available today, in Android phones running recent versions of the Android operating system and Google Search. Our testing verified everything in Pratt’s article and screenshots. Here’s what you can do right now:

  1. Search for a podcast title (voice or text search)
  2. View and directly play the three most recent episodes
  3. Touch a link to see a long list of available episodes and play any of them (our testing shows two months of archived shows for podcasts produced daily)
  4. Touch a link to add the podcast to your phone’s Home screen for instant access anytime.

That four-part experience merges Google Search with the traditional basic collection functions of a podcatcher like Apple Podcasts. (Google owns 63% of American search share.) All without opening an app and learning its features. Google’s strategy can be seen as a dramatic disintermediation play — in other words, creating a more direct consumer-to-product linkage. That principal is what led to downloading and streaming music. In this case, the intermediary link which is being dis’d appears to be stand-alone podcast apps, like Apple’s.

Zack Reneau-Wedeen notes the extent to which Android must catch up to Apple: “On a device-by-device basis, the average iPhone listens to over ten times more podcasting than the average Android […] We want to create an environment on Android where it’s just as easy to get started [as on an iPhone], and it’s actually the best experience possible for discovering and listening to podcasts.”

In the 2018 Infinite Dial, Edison Research and Triton Digital discovered that about 124-million American adults and teens have listened to a podcast at least once. If Google accomplishes its goal of doubling that audience, about 76% of the entire U.S. population will be listening to podcasts to some extent. How much would podcast advertising companies enjoy taking that reach metric to advertisers? (Edison measures the 12+ population only.) ((Google intends to double the global podcast audience.))

Research also indicates that a doubling of the podcast audience could eat into AM/FM listening. In Edison’s Share of Ear surveys, podcast listeners use AM/FM half as much as those who don’t listen to podcasts (25% compared to 50% of time spent). While we can’t project a steady equation here, there is only a certain amount of time in the week. (You can see the Share of Ear results pertaining to podcast listeners in Edison’s The Podcast Consumer 2018, here.)

Steve Pratt plans to release more information from his conversation with Zack Reneau-Wedeen every day this week. That is clearly good for Pacific Media’s brand exposure (the company specializes in branded podcasts, which are produced from the ground up in collaboration with brand advertisers), and we will follow along.

Brad Hill