YouTube, best known for its online video and social-media sharing capabilities, is quickly becoming a “power player” in the sports podcasting business, according to Kevin Jones (founder and CEO, Blue Wire). He said the Alphabet subsidiary now belongs “in the top five of every podcaster’s content distribution strategy, which it probably wasn’t two years ago.”
YouTube is increasingly dominating consumers’ time and attention, particularly amongst millennials and Gen Zs. Ninety-five percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 29 polled in a 2021 Pew Research study indicated that they use YouTube.
There are also greater monetization opportunities tied to the platform today than there were pre-pandemic. Podcast “networks like Blue Wire and personalities had just been getting programmatic ad revenue from YouTube,” Jones said. Now there are blue-chip brands doing six-figure sponsorship deals.
Blue Wire is a sports podcast network of around 275 national and regional shows including Green Light with Chris Long and Spinsters, hosted by Haley O’Shaughnessy and Jordan Ligons.
JWS’ Take: Apple Podcasts remains the top platform for podcast audiences across Blue Wire’s 12 million monthly listens, and Spotify, which is particularly popular amongst younger listeners, is second. But YouTube has become “a top five place for podcasts,” Jones said, “and arguably for some creators and networks, top three.”
Blue Wire data shows podcast consumption on YouTube is increasing for both full-length episodes and shorter video clips of its shows. But unlike the short clips, which also reside on a host of other social channels, extended versions of its video pods tend to live exclusively on YouTube. “[It is] the best platform for [long-form video],” Jones said. “It’s hard to watch a five-minute video on Twitter or anywhere else.”
Podcasters with large followings, such as those from Bill Simmons’ The Ringer, have increased distribution of video podcasts on YouTube, which has grown the audience on the platform. And their shows are helping to increase the amount of time existing YouTubers are spending consuming podcast content.
YouTube declined to comment on its podcasting efforts.
Jones believes the company’s powerful discovery engine is enabling it to take market share. “They serve the viewer content that they think they are already interested in better than anyone else,” Jones said. The shrinking pay-TV universe is also helping; personality-driven talk shows that would have aired on cable television in a prior era are now launching as podcasts (see: What Did I Miss? with sports reporter Michelle Beadle).
Shifting consumption habits have also aided YouTube’s efforts to carve out a niche in the space. People are increasingly looking to make their own content playlists. “[That trend] has led to an increase in YouTube’s importance, in overall consumption” and in podcast viewership on the platform, Jones said. People are also listening to YouTube content more while they work, the way they used to have AM or FM radio on in the background of their office; they are more familiar with—and comfortable using—OTT streaming platforms and connected TV devices than they were just a few years ago. (Just see how Amazon’s streaming debut of Thursday Night Football drew 13 million fans.)
The platform’s influence within the podcasting genre should continue rising in the months and years ahead. That is in part because “YouTube is as big [to young people] as cable” was to prior generations, Jones said. Creators who consume content on the platform want their own content to reside there.
It is also because big national brands are changing how they buy. Larry Mann (partner, rEvolution) said many are increasing their exposure to digital video content and moving a percentage of their resources from Google, Facebook, linear television and radio to more niche platforms.
It makes sense that YouTube would embrace the genre. Podcasting provides a large pool of creators it can tap into for content. That is presumably valuable to a company that does not create any of its own programming. Jones said any podcast with 50,000 or more monthly audio downloads has proven there is “a real audience” for the content and would likely find “an even bigger audience” on YouTube.
Meadowlark chief operating officer Bimal Kapadia agreed the “cost, accessibility and setup makes YouTube (and video) a natural extension for a podcast strategy” and that the platform can be useful in growing a podcaster’s following. But he said YouTube’s efficacy is largely going to be dependent upon the content. While “most personality driven podcasts are already formatted in a way that makes sense for [it],” that is not necessarily the case with highly scripted or certain pre-produced podcasts.
“That said, new personalities are producing for YouTube first, podcast second as opposed to the other way around historically,” Kapadia added.
Podcast videos on YouTube come in a few different flavors. There are some, such as The Pat McAfee Show 2.0, which distribute highly produced videos. Less prominent creators may rely on a single-camera shot for the entirety of a show. There are some who simply toss the podcast audio up with no video at all, just a logo, and still receive thousands of views per episode.
Historically speaking it has been difficult for a podcaster or podcast network to monetize those views. “YouTube used to be a throw in for advertisers investing in podcasts that had video companion experiences,” Jones said.
But that has changed over the last two years. Media ad agencies are willing to pay for both the podcast and YouTube mentions. “It’s looked at as a different medium, content-wise,” Mann said. Brands see the value in combining visual product placement inside YouTube simulcasts with their efforts to reach native podcast listeners.
And because YouTube simulcasts are digital video, as opposed to audio, brands are able to fund these new expenditures with resources from larger video budgets.
YouTube retains 45% of programmatic advertising revenue on long-form content (and 55% on YouTube Shorts). They do not take a cut of anything a creator or company sells in terms of branding within the content.
Blue Wire now makes “good money incorporating YouTube into our advertising solutions and sponsorship offerings,” Jones said. While he did not want to state the percentage of revenue that comes from the platform, he said more than 20% of the $10 million the company will generate this year comes from its audio-plus business unit that includes YouTube. “It’s contributing a big amount here.”
For perspective, in 2020 the company made less than $20,000 in YouTube revenue.