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Comment: The risk of podcasts turning YouTube Music into YouTube Audio

YouTube certainly took its time adding dedicated podcasting features after watching the medium – in video form – naturally flourish on the platform. Hopefully, that wait translates to being very careful and considerate about how audio podcasts appear in YouTube Music.

We don’t know what the UI will be when podcasts start rolling out in the US, but as a heavy YouTube Music listener, I’m apprehensive.

YouTube’s rationale for also bringing podcasts to YTM could be that the separate app will offer the audio-first experience. For better or worse, you should start thinking of YouTube Music as YouTube Audio when podcasts are added.

The case for YouTube Audio

YouTube Audio is not a bad idea. Before the 2018 relaunch, YTM was music video heavy. After all, a YouTube product has to be video-first, right? 

Pre-relaunch vs. 2018

YouTube fortunately moved away from that mindset and made YTM into what it is today in a marked improvement. It’s making the same realizations for podcasts. 

Background playback is YouTube Music‘s key differentiator (versus the main YouTube client) as an app. Even the service’s free tier (starting in Canada) is moving to let you “continue listening to YouTube Music while using other apps or when your screen is off,” though it’ll be a “radio-like experience” with ads. 

The vast majority of podcasts are just audio and a dedicated client needs background play. That cannot be a gated feature. 

Audio-first controls are the other difference maker compared to main YouTube always overlaying them over the video on mobile. In-app controls have to be large and need to include rewind/forward, as well as provide quick access to things like a sleep timer and speed adjustments. 

If YouTube requires non-paying users to download YouTube Music to listen to podcasts in the background and get a meaningfully more optimized experience, that will more than justify the audio app. 

Aside: Google Podcasts?

Today, I use a mix of Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts (mainly just for chapter support). Google told us last week that it has no plans to merge Google Podcasts into YouTube’s ongoing efforts. My read is that could change in the future, but I’m cautiously optimistic as Google Podcasts is very much a traditional, RSS-adjacent podcasting client, while YouTube will very much tap into video-first content. Google Podcasts could stay closely aligned with Google Search and have a long, traditional future.

The other benefit of keeping Google Podcasts around is that it lets the company provide a video-free alternative for people that don’t like the new thing. It’s one of the company’s better apps by being simple and fitting the needs for most casual users. I do hope Google Podcasts keeps getting new features as it hasn’t been updated in quite a while. (Maybe after the initial YouTube Podcasts work is done.)

YouTube Music dropping its namesake

On the flipside, I’m specifically nervous about podcasts appearing in YTM’s Home feed alongside albums, artists, and playlists. I imagine carousels of shows and lists of episodes being mixed in with tunes. The content types are very different, with people complaining about Spotify’s approach for ages.

Adding a dedicated tab could be the solution here, but I still foresee podcasts bleeding into the music experience (including your Library) for promotional and reach purposes.

The concern is that the “Music” aspect of YouTube Music could be diminished. As seen with Listening Room, the team still greatly cares about music, but adding podcasts means the app is no longer laser focused.

Top comment by Darren

Liked by 6 people

I'd be cool with it changing from YouTube Music to YouTube Audio. There are already things that in YTM isn't really considered "music" anyway, so it would broaden appeal and get more downloads, in my opinion.

Of course, as long as they don't stop focusing on the music aspect of it.

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For example, YouTube Music today doesn’t really have an equivalent, persistent way to show new episodes as they come in, and that needs to be added. Hopefully, new shows and episodes won’t just appear at the top of the Home feed with a cover image like new albums.

In some ways, podcasts (even audio ones) might be a better fit in main YouTube, which will undoubtedly still get optimized for long-form audio; even videos would benefit from playback controls that don’t cover the screen. YouTube already offers Listening Controls for Premium subscribers that seem perfectly suited for that. Meanwhile, there will likely be a podcasts filter for the Subscriptions feed. 

Ultimately, it appears that YouTube’s unique add to podcasts will be video. Many people like watching podcasters record their episodes, while the ability to show accompanying visuals on screen is currently underused but will only grow from here. 

Especially with Shorts and Community text/image posts, people are familiar with video not being the only content type in the YouTube app. I don’t think that can be said of YouTube Music users.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: