YouTube’s Podcast Play Comes Into Focus Amid Skepticism From Creators

Kai Chuk, YouTube's head of podcasting, revealed more details about the video giant's plans for audio creators — but questions still remain around monetization and usability.

It’s become somewhat of a running joke amongst some members of the podcasting community that YouTube, despite its strength as a major player in the creator economy, has been a slow burn — or even a disappointment — for podcasters.

YouTube’s status as the most preferred or most used platform for podcast listeners, according to some surveys, could be more described as a happy coincidence, given the relative lack of resources the company has appeared to pour into podcasting — especially in comparison to rivals like Spotify, which has spent more than $1 billion on the medium in recent years, or even toward YouTube’s other product offerings like Shorts.

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In Sept. 2021, YouTube seemed to be making some headway by promoting Kai Chuk, a longtime YouTube executive focused on partnerships, to oversee its podcasting efforts. But in the year since then, YouTube has remained relatively quiet on its podcasting efforts; the company quietly rolled out a fairly barebones podcast homepage in July 2022 with a selection of recommended videos and playlists. In October of the same year, YouTube said marketers would be able to buy 30-second audio ads and curate ad campaigns based on podcast categories.

This week, the company offered one more update at The Verge’s Hot Pod Summit in Brooklyn. Appearing on stage, Chuk and Steve McClendon, the podcasting product lead at Google, announced that podcasts will be added to the YouTube Music streaming service “in the near future.”

In other words, listeners will get to have a similar podcast listening experience on YouTube Music that they do on platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, where background listening, downloads and search and discovery tools are available for podcasts. “We’re really trying to give the user this kind of control and freedom of choice in terms of how they consume podcasts and bridging that gap between video and audio,” Chuk said.

For all the bullishness around video podcasting, Chuk appeared to pour cold water on the idea that YouTube would be the one to champion that medium forward. “The message that I would hope folks are taking away is YouTube, at large, independent of YouTube Music, is looking to better support podcasters and [recognizes] that podcasting is generally an audio-first medium,” he said, adding that the platform is also experimenting with more podcast-specific features and insights in the creator studio.

But more obvious functionality, like supporting RSS feeds to automatically populate YouTube with newly uploaded shows, hasn’t come to fruition yet. “YouTube is an interesting product, right? It is open in the sense that anyone can generally post anything to YouTube, but it also is a little bit of this walled garden,” he said. “Definitely support for RSS is something we are looking at. I would say, probably initially, we will leverage RSS to make it easier for podcasters to bring shows to YouTube. In terms of future plans, things like that, we’re sort of exploring what should our goal be.”

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The executive did make it clear, however, that YouTube isn’t interested in following Spotify in making exclusive licensing deals with top podcasters or commissioning original shows. The platform remains the focus for the video giant, specifically in its ability to drive discoverability and help “creators find audience, however they find audience, whether you’re on platform or off platform,” Chuk said.

Specifics around how podcasters will be able to leverage YouTube’s strengths as a monetization platform for creators also remains unclear, though it seems like YouTube is avoiding a reinvent-the-wheel approach.

“At the end of the day, the monetization model is still based on our ability to sell ads, creators’ ability to monetize, whether it’s through AVOD, through ads or through other alternative monetization means, like memberships,” Chuk said. “We’ve created a video content business that generates billions of dollars and paid out $50 billion to creators and artists and partners over the past few years. How do we take that infrastructure and that capability and bring it [over to] audio, to podcasts?”

Until then, it’s still a wait-and-see situation for podcasters both in front of and behind the mic. “I don’t think that was the exciting announcement the room was waiting for,” one audience member told THR. “The murmurs around the room were that [we’ve] heard this spiel before.”