Google reduces podcast involvement in surging AI focus

Google has withdrawn a key podcast listening product, signaling a trim of its podcast initiative. At the same time, Google appears to be rallying a counter initiative to the high-buzz ascendance of AI tool ChatGPT (owned by OpenAi).

Recent Backstepping

Google dove deep into podcasting several years ago in at least two important ways. First, the search and advertising giant created the Google Podcasts app in competition with Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and others. Second, Google implemented search results for podcasts that included play buttons, enabling people to start listening within a Google search.

That second feature — the play buttons in Google Search, seemed especially important in catalyzing the overall growth of podcast recognition and listening. In the 2019 RAIN Podcast Business Summit we hosted then-head of Google’s podcast effort Zack Reneau-Wedeen to discuss this in an interview conducted onstage by Steve Pratt (then co-owner of branded podcast maker Pacific Content).

Last month Google discontinued the in-search listening of podcasts (see Podnews here), seeming to us like the clearest signal of Google inching away from the category. That said, the Google Podcasts podcatcher remains active, and presumably supported.

James Cridland also notes in his Podnews newsletter that Google has removed a vital feature from the Google Podcasts Manager — the “how people find your show” feature.

Meantime… AI

Whether related or not in Google’s product priorities, the reduction of the podcast program and the general freak-out about AI darling ChatGPT appear synchronized.

Yesterday Google introduced “An important next step in our AI journey,” a Q&A intelligence called Bard. (The author of this article hoped Bard was a typo, but no luck.) The revelation of Bard precedes public testing, but Google promises some level of access to come.

“AI is the most profound technology we are working on today,” Google states, while noting that AI development has been underway for six years. The company notes that the scale of AI computations doubles every six months, racing past Moore’s Law.

While is is disappointing to see Google step back from developing (or even maintaining) key podcast products, we understand the urgency. ChatGPT is already luring college students to ask for, and receive, whole assignment essays on historical topics. While not yet scaled, that behavior directly threatens Google’s main search product. While ChatGPT spins out entire original (sort of) articles, Google search mostly delivers links to source information. It’s a nascent crisis for Google.

Brad Hill