The podcasting world is abuzz over a five-part interview with Zack Reneau-Weeden, Google's Podcasts Product Manager, that was published recently. For years, podcasts have primarily been an iOS medium, with around five times as many downloads happening on Apple devices as Android devices. This is largely attributed to the fact that when you buy an iOS device, there is already a Podcasts app pre-installed. On Android devices, you have to go to the app store and download an app to play podcasts. That extra step results in a huge disparity between Android and iOS podcast listening.
According to our just released 2018 Techsurvey results, only 24% of radio listeners listen to podcasts weekly or more often. In fact, 45% never listen to podcasts at all. Many in the podcasting space, including me, believe that the key to unlocking podcasting's growth will not be content — a hit podcast like Serial, for example — but rather a technological development. Namely, that Google will start shipping Android devices with a podcast app already installed on it.
Google came a little closer to this goal when they started including podcasts in their native Google Play Music app in 2016. Unfortunately, it didn't lead to an explosion of podcast listening on Android devices because not many people knew podcasts were available in the app. In reality, this step only caught Google up to Apple circa early 2012, back when Apple was still including podcasts in iTunes. Podcasting didn't see a significant lift until 2014 when, with the introduction of iOS8, Apple started pre-installing its stand-alone Podcasts app on all of its devices.
The excitement around the recent interview with Reneau-Weeden comes from Google's first public recognition that it could have a significant impact on podcast listening. “Our team’s mission is to help double the amount of podcast listening in the world over the next couple years,” he declared. Many of us have been saying that for a long time, so it's encouraging to finally hear it from the mouth of a Google representative. Reneau-Weeden then lays out Google's vision for podcasting. What's interesting about this vision is that it will not merely copy what Apple has done — which would probably be enough to double podcast listening by itself — but rather, it will attempt to marry podcasting to the company's core strength: Search.
Many of the pieces of this vision are already in place. So let's take a closer look at how you can now discover podcasts on an Android phone:
1. Open up the Chrome mobile browser and search for a podcast in Google.
Here, I have searched for my podcast, The D Brief, on my Samsung Galaxy S8. You can see that the results are formatted specifically for a podcast: It offers a description, the ability to play the three most recent episodes, and a link to “More episodes.”
2. Click on “More episodes” to get to the podcast page.
By clicking on “More episodes,” I am taken to a new page that includes podcast artwork and, more importantly, a button that allows me to “Subscribe” to the podcast.
3. Click “Subscribe” and the Podcasts app will open with the podcast in it.
By clicking the “Subscribe” button, I am now taken to the Podcasts app, where I can find all of the podcasts that I have subscribed to. Interestingly, there is also a “Top Podcasts” section in the app (here featuring Joe Rogan and NPR). This may eventually rival Apple's “New and Noteworthy” section in terms of importance in podcast discovery.
4. A Podcasts app has now been added to my Android home screen.
I did not have to go to the Android app store to install this app. It was there as soon as I subscribed to my first podcast from the search results in Chrome.
What is less clear at this point is whether or not, in the future, Google will make this app visible on all home screens from the start. In other words, will it appear as a pre-installed app in the same way that the Podcasts app does on iOS devices? Doing so may be the key to truly doubling the number of podcast listeners out there. However, the fact that Google has a dedicated team embracing podcasts is taken by everybody in the community as a positive sign that we could see more growth in the medium soon.
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