Apple and Google want to shift how you listen to podcasts

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Both companies are making big moves to consolidate listening on their flagship apps.

Image: Apple

This is Hot PodThe Verge’s newsletter about podcasting and the audio industry. Sign up here for more.

Hello Hot Podders, Amrita and Ariel here! Today we’re bringing you a co-bylined issue of the newsletter, mostly out of necessity. We’ve got a whole mess of news to dive into: Apple takes a big(ish) step toward integrating its audio apps, Google Podcasts is defeated by YouTube Music, and Spotify launches a new AI tool for podcasters.

Google Podcasts is dead, long live YouTube Music

Well, this was predictable. Tuesday morning, YouTube announced that it will be sunsetting Google Podcasts as it increases its focus on making YouTube Music a podcast destination. The app will be discontinued next year.

“As part of this process, we’ll be helping Google Podcasts users move over to Podcasts in YouTube Music,” the company’s blog post reads. “This matches what listeners and podcasters are already doing: according to Edison, about 23% of weekly podcast users in the US say YouTube is their most frequently used service, versus just 4% for Google Podcasts.”

Things were already looking dicey for the standalone podcast app back in January, when Google Podcasts embeds disappeared from search results. When YouTube podcast lead Kai Chuk and Google podcast product lead Steve McLendon announced YouTube Music’s move into podcasts at Hot Pod Summit in February, they claimed the plan was still to keep Google Podcasts around.

“YouTube and Google Podcasts… are really different products, and they serve different users,” McLendon said at the summit. “Google podcasts is very much a traditional RSS podcatcher. YouTube is not that… So Google Podcasts is unchanged.”

But in August, YouTube announced at Podcast Movement that it would support RSS by the end of this year. Once that happens, Google Podcasts will really and truly be redundant. According to the blog post, YouTube will introduce a migration tool for Google Podcasts users.

It’s a smart move to consolidate podcast listening, but the figure the company cites in its blog (23 percent of podcast listeners using YouTube versus 4 percent for Google Podcasts) is a little misleading. Yes, YouTube is the top podcast platform, as study after study has shown. But that is not the same as YouTube Music. There is a strategy here to bring podcast listeners over to YouTube Music, where they can potentially convert to paying subscribers. (Where have we seen that before?) It isn’t a bad strategy, but the company will have to be serious about investing in the product if it is going to keep users from just Googling a podcast and ending up on regular old ad-supported YouTube.

Apple Podcasts wants to be more than just a podcast app

There’s a certain type of person who prefers to listen to podcasts on their podcast app, meditations on their meditation app, language lessons on their language app, and so on. Apple would love to convince that person to start using its podcast app for everything instead: the app appears to be headed toward a future where it’s an all-in-one destination for just about all premium non-music audio content.

On the heels of the iOS 17 update, a new, refreshed Apple Podcasts was unveiled today that can link third-party subscriptions to a variety of lifestyle and news apps, including Bloomberg, Curio, Sleep Cycle, The Economist, and others. Subscribers to Apple Music, Apple News Plus, the meditation app Calm, and the kids education app Lingokids will be able to listen to their original audio through the Apple Podcasts app, too.

The end result is an Apple Podcasts that no longer resembles the bare-bones podcast player of the 2010s and looks more like, well, Spotify. Your podcasts are still there — and still front and center — but you can see the start of an expanding universe of “audio content.”

Much of the subscriber content from third-party apps should show up automatically, or users can opt to manually connect their subscriptions on the app’s channel page on Apple Podcasts. The feature builds on Apple’s addition of paid podcast subscriptions to Apple Podcasts back in 2021. There’s still one big omission, though: paid audiobooks remain in Apple Books.

“With the ability to connect subscriptions to top apps, Apple Podcasts becomes the best way for listeners to access many forms of premium audio content — podcasts, news briefs, narrated articles, radio shows with full music, educational courses, guided meditations, sleep sounds, and much more — all in one place,” stated the company in its announcement.

Such a purposeful shift into other types of audio programming from the company that put the “pod” in “podcast” is a sign that Apple has a different view of podcast consumers than perhaps most in the industry itself. While the view supported by survey data is that listeners prefer a standalone app for podcasts, it’s clear that the biggest companies controlling the space either don’t share this view — or don’t think it matters. 

At the end of the day, the goal of companies like Apple, Amazon, and Spotify is for consumers to spend as much time on their apps as possible. For a company like Apple, which controls both the hardware and the software you use to listen to the podcast, another goal may be for consumers to no longer distinguish between the two. Indeed, subscribers can access their third-party content from Apple Podcasts on Apple devices outside of their iPhone, including the iPad, Mac, HomePod, Apple Watch, and over CarPlay. The audio programming of your choice will be available on demand wherever you are and wherever you go. Eventually, the specific mode of distribution may become irrelevant for some listeners. 

Case in point: during a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas over the weekend, my (male) companion played The History of Rome for me, a 192-episode podcast on the Roman Empire by Mike Duncan. In order to play the podcast, he chose to switch on Car Mode on the Audible app on his phone, which is a win on Amazon’s part. The fact that most people think of Audible as just an audiobook app (it isn’t) didn’t matter. And yes, he could have also played the exact same podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or a number of other players with car mode. It would have had zero impact on our listening experience. For Apple and other audio companies, casting as wide of a net as possible (rather than just sticking to one type of audio) seems to be a smart way to avoid losing today’s capricious consumers. 

The line between podcasts and other types of audio content has been blurry for a while. Apple Podcasts’ latest overhaul may have — for a very specific consumer — all but removed it. When Apple first debuted its standalone podcast app in 2012, it seemed to just serve as a colorful directory of RSS feeds. The app was a neat, tidy home for podcasts that was separate from iTunes and allowed you to listen to your podcasts on the go. But the sheer amount of audio-only programming available to the average consumer has multiplied exponentially over the past decade — to the point where uniting them under one roof makes sense. 

You can read more details on the Apple Podcasts overhaul from The Verge’s Justine Calma. 

– Amrita

Spotify and OpenAI’s new partnership paves the way for podcast voice translation

Spotify is testing a voice translation feature that will reproduce English-language podcasts in Spanish, French, and German, with other languages down the line. As I wrote for The Verge, Spotify has developed a tool that uses OpenAI’s Whisper model, which now includes both speech-to-text and text-to-speech capabilities:

“The company has partnered with a handful of podcasters to translate their English-language episodes into Spanish with its new tool, and it has plans to roll out French and German translations in the coming weeks. The initial batch of episodes will come from some big names, including Dax Shepard, Monica Padman, Lex Fridman, Bill Simmons, and Steven Bartlett. Spotify plans to expand the group to include The Rewatchables from The Ringer and its upcoming show from Trevor Noah.”

Critics are already chafing at the use of AI to translate podcasts — especially given that even the most advanced translation software is still capable of errors. If you’re a Spanish speaker who has had a chance to listen to some of Spotify’s AI-translated episodes, Hot Pod wants to hear your thoughts!

– Amrita

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