Last month, with fanfare, Google launched Google Podcasts, a new podcast player app for Android. Unlike Google’s previous podcasting players, this one could target the heart of the podcasting tech market, 10 miles southeast of the Googleplex: Apple.
Apple has dominated podcasting technology as well as music downloads for the past 15 years. As podcasting becomes mainstream media, Google is one of the few companies that can challenge Apple. The question is: will it be?
Podcasting is definitely mainstream media these days; Edison Research’s latest Infinite Dial research shows that the monthly podcast audience in the United States is 73 million and continues to grow. Listening to podcasts began in the early 2000s with the clumsy experience of downloading files (or receiving them via RSS feeds) and listening to them on MP3 player software on a PC. Nowadays, people listen to on-demand podcasts streamed on their mobile devices. At its best, the experience is as smooth as listening to music on Spotify or Apple Music or watching a TV show on Netflix or Hulu.
There are many podcast apps available on both iOS and Android platforms, but the podcasting market is focused on just one of them: Apple podcasts. In a 2017 Statista survey, 21% of respondents said they had used Apple Podcasts; the next most popular dedicated podcast apps were iCatcher, Podcast Addict and Overcast with just 7% each. Many people also use Apple’s iTunes software on Mac and PC for podcasts.
Apple Podcasts dominates the mobile podcast market for two sets of reasons. For listeners, it dominates because it comes preinstalled on iPhones and iPads, it offers just about every podcast, and its user experience is simple and consistent with other Apple iOS apps.
For podcast producers, Apple is important because of the user usage and rating data provided by Apple. In fact, the data is so important that many producers see it as a proxy for the industry as a whole. This is why you hear so many podcasters begging listeners to leave ratings on Apple Podcasts and iTunes: High ratings boost discovery, which in turn increases audience, resulting in higher ad revenue as well as greater discovery – a virtuous circle. In contrast, third-party podcast apps just aren’t that valuable to podcasters. Small podcast producers often don’t bother to distribute their work even through some of the more well-known third-party podcast apps.
An important consequence of Apple’s dominance is that no one in podcasting pays much attention to Android devices, which constitute over 75% of the mobile device market, or four times Apple’s iOS market share. There is no Android version of Apple Podcasts (as is the case with Apple Music, Apple’s competitor to Spotify). Android devices come with Google Play Music, which has podcast functionality but is hardly a default podcast player for Android.
Instead, the Android podcast app market is a fragmented mess. Several third-party apps compete in popularity, including Podcast Addict, Stitcher, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Beyond Pod, Podcast Republic, Castbox, radio apps like TuneIn, and music apps like Spotify and SoundCloud. – but none of these dominate. Some of them come with baggage resulting from the revenue needs of the providers: the apps are paid, they entice users to sign up for premium versions or subscription services, or they sell pre-paid advertisements. boring roll. Some are older apps that have become bloated with features that aren’t very useful now that podcasting has moved from downloads, RSS feeds, and PCs to streaming to mobile devices. And podcasts get lost in the clutter of music services like Spotify and Google Play Music, as Apple knows full well; it keeps podcasts out of Apple Music.
As the owner of Android, Google is in a unique position to develop the market around a unique podcast platform. If it can get users of existing apps to migrate to Google Podcasts and attract new listeners, Google could increase podcast listening share on Android, aggregate much more listening data than Apple, and become the another major source of any market data.
There are two questions here. One is whether Google will do this right or even care; the other is whether it’s worth it.
On the first question, apart from YouTube, Google is also present in commercial content services. It was several years behind in music and commercial video. His first essay on podcast apps, Google Listen, was a minimal effort with virtually no marketing behind it; Google abandoned it in 2012 when it integrated the podcast feature into Google Play Music.
Yet the timing is such that Google could yet become a major force in podcasting. The market is large, but the audience continues to grow by around 10% per year. There’s room for a clean, integrated, easy-to-use, working Android app that has a large catalog of podcasts available in its database, and that’s more or less what Google Podcasts is. today. It has a basic set of features including playback speed control, 10 second rewind, and 30 second fast forward.
The application has its limits – for example, it does not handle interrupted internet connections well and it does not offer control over downloads – but these are fixable problems; the current version of the app is suitable for new listeners who do not commute in the metro.
On the other hand, Google Podcasts already offers a few features that other apps don’t: it works with Google Assistant; it has a resume where you left off feature that works on all devices including Google Home smart speakers; and it uses AI techniques to generate podcast recommendations.
However, the feature list items by themselves will not help Google strengthen its presence in podcasting; willingness to market. Marketing a mainstream media platform requires a significant investment and sustained effort over a period of time. Given its track record with paid music services as well as e-books, it’s not clear if Google is capable of this. (Additionally, Google is to include Google Podcasts in its Android distributions to mobile device makers.)
But even then, it’s unclear whether Google will be motivated to make the investment. Apple invested in podcasts because they helped boost iPod sales (hence the name “podcasts”). Google might be interested in investing in podcasts as the app’s multi-device functionality gives it an edge over Amazon in the smart speaker / home assistant space. Otherwise, Google’s only business motivation in promoting podcasting is that it can add listener data to its vast oceans of user data. We’ll see if these are good enough reasons for Google to make podcasting a priority in the years to come.