Podcasters across the U.S. (and soon, perhaps, the world) rejoice: Google is finally embracing the medium. Google has a new podcast submission site for future inclusion in Google Play Music, which means that soon, Android users will enjoy the same native client access to Podcasts that iOS users enjoy.
I've seen a lot of numbers on the disparity between iOS listening and Android listening. Some, like those reported by Libsyn, are pretty stark, with a ratio of iOS to Android listeners across their platform exceeding 5:1 (but, it should be noted, that ratio was 6:1 as recently as last fall). I've seen other numbers with ratios nowhere near that extreme. The point isn't which numbers are correct--it's that they can and do vary significantly across networks and shows.
This is a clue, by the way, to the potential impact of an Android-native podcast client: your mileage may vary.
Ultimately, I think a native Android app is definitely going to help, but I would caution those who think it's going to open up a floodgate of new listeners. I've been analyzing the space for over a decade now, and I've seen a lot of data on platforms, listeners, and more importantly, what makes those listeners tick. There is no question that Google's decision to embrace podcasting removes a significant hurdle to Podcasting's growth -- but I would argue that there are five hurdles to Podcasting's growth, and a native Android client is the least significant one. Here are my thoughts on those hurdles, in increasing order of importance:
The Five Hurdles to Podcasting's Growth
1. The Lack of a native Android app.
This is going to help, as I noted. But I don't expect to see the slope of podcasting's growth curve change appreciably on this news alone. There have always been Android podcast listeners, and once upon a time the ratio between iOS and Android listeners was significantly less than it is now. The ratio did get more lopsided over time, but that isn't because Android got worse, it's because Apple got better, thanks to their continually improving native app. If Google gets behind the medium in the same way that Apple has, the opportunity is there for listener growth. But that growth isn't going to happen automatically.
2. The Car.
At Edison, we have a lot of data on how in-car listening differs from listening in other locations. In particular, we have a lot of data on the incredible growth of streamed audio (Pandora, et. al.) and how online-only radio has grown to become a mainstream medium everywhere...except in the car. The fact that online radio lags in the car is not because we are different humans when we get in a car. It's all down to technology, friction, and the fact that we don't buy new cars very often, and that lag compared to other listening locations is a clear sign of pent-up demand. As new cars get purchased, more humans gain access to online audio through their smartphones or even connected dashboards. Clearly, these patterns will have an impact on Podcasting, as well.
3. The Name.
I've written at length about the name "podcasting." The simple truth is this--while podcast consumption has steadily grown over time, awareness of the term "podcasting" hasn't grown in five years. Prior to Google's announcement, it was a charming anachronism. Now, the name just seems silly. Will we listen to Googlecasts on Android? In the early days of podcasting the name was a benefit, and conveyed information to early adopters. Today, I don't think it's helpful.
Yes, I know there are a lot of old school podcasters out there who will dispute this. And you should keep calling your shows podcasts, because that's what your audience calls them! But ultimately. the name isn't breaking out, and research project after project I've done with humans tells us that humans are confused by the name. Here it is in a nutshell: Podcasts are to audio what TiVo is to TV--a way to watch the shows we want, when we want to. We don't call those shows "TiVoCasts." We call them shows.
4. Content, Part One.
Content issues are so large here that they warrant two hurdles, not one. The first has to do with the differential between iOS and Android listeners described above. It's tempting to pin that disparity entirely at the feet of the lack of an Android client, but this is a very, very simplistic reduction. Here's what I and any technology researcher in the mobile space can tell you: iOS users and Android users are different types of humans. This may not be true at an individual level, but across the population I can assure you that it is. A glance outside an Apple store on the day of a new iPhone is all you need to tell you that iOS users are early adopters, and actual stats of course bear that out. iOS users are also on average significantly more affluent than Android users. According to our most recent Infinite Dial data, 35% of iOS users have a household income that exceeds $100,000 per year, compared to 18% of Android users. Similarly, 22% of iOS users have advanced degrees, compared to 13% of Android users.
Let me be crystal clear, here--I am not suggesting anything here other than the fact that iOS humans and Android humans (that sounds funny...) are different types of humans on average. For Android users, being "first" with new technology is not that important. And lo and behold, many of the podcasts with the largest disparity between iOS and Android users are about technology, aren't they?
What I am suggesting here is that there is a lot of content out there that appeals to iOS users--it's been self-selecting, perhaps, because of the lack of Android support--and that simply adding an Android client isn't going to change that.
Let me give you a stark picture of exactly what I am talking about:
- 60 Minutes
- Big Bang Theory
- Dancing With The Stars
- The Voice
Top 10 Podcasts in iTunes, Oct 28th:
- This American Life
- TED Radio Hour
- Stuff You Should Know
- Fresh Air
- Women of the Hour
- The Bill Simmons Podcast
- Hidden Brain
These two lists look nothing alike. Now, TV shows aren't podcasts, and there's nothing here to say that any or all of these podcasts won't continue to be on the top 10 in the years to come--they are all great, and continuing to be discovered by new audiences every day. But as the medium grows, there are going to be more and more avenues for podcasts to pursue and grow new audiences.
The Android audience is a more mainstream audience. Are there affluent, well-educated, early-adopting Android users? Of course! And, it turns out, that segment of Android users is likely to already be podcast consumers -- there are just fewer of them. Podcasting needs more mainstream shows. It will get there, by the way, but to wrap this point up: iOS usage might correlate with podcast usage, but it doesn't cause podcast usage. Good shows cause podcast usage. The Android client is a wonderful opportunity for content producers to make all kinds of appealing new shows, both for niche and for mainstream audiences. But hoping our existing content "explodes" because there's a new client in town is not a strategy.
Honestly, this could be the biggest hurdle, given that podcast adoption has always been driven by content, not technology, but it's only the second-biggest hurdle, because of...
5. Content, Part Two:
According to every iteration of Edison's Share of Ear® research series, Americans listen to about 80% music, 20% talk. If you try to podcast music, a lawyer will shoot you in the face. That is an un-ignorable hurdle.
The Bottom Line
Don't get me wrong--the lack of a native Android client is a significant hurdle, and I am pleased that Google seems to be in the process of tearing that hurdle down. But we mustn't forget the fundamentals of audience development and audience marketing. Our potential new Android users aren't going to burst through the floodgates. They aren't behind the dam. They are on another tributary, and it's up to us to find them, and give the people what they want.