Podcasters weigh the cost-benefit of producing video podcasts

podcast listening

Platforms like YouTube and Spotify are investing in products to help podcasters tie their audio shows to the accompanying video they produce. But is the cost of producing video a necessary investment for publishers with podcasts? Three podcast executives at publishing companies said they are weighing the costs with the potential benefit of reaching a large, video-seeking podcast audience.

Video has the potential to bring new listeners to podcast shows (one of the biggest challenges for podcasters), as YouTube’s search and recommendation algorithms can help surface video podcasts to users on the platform. More views can lead to more ad impressions too, and podcasters can monetize videos with YouTube ads.

Recent studies have shown the adoption of video podcasts among listeners. A poll from Morning Consult released in January found nearly a third (32%) of Americans prefer listening to podcasts with video — that goes up to 46% among podcast listeners who listened to a podcast in the last month. One in three podcast listeners who were polled said YouTube is their most preferred podcast platform, followed by Spotify and Apple. 

A Podtrac study from last May found 22% of the top 250 podcasts from its rankings post video podcast episodes with people talking on camera to YouTube, and 11% post audio-only episodes with a static image or waveform visual.

In its fall 2022 podcast report, Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights found that while 43% prefer to listen to podcasts without any video, 28% actively watch video while listening and 29% play video in the background or minimize on their device while listening. Interestingly, podcast newcomers (who started listening in the past year) were more interested in watchable podcasts — only 42% said they prefer audio only, compared to 47% of those who started listening to podcasts four or more years ago. Weekly podcast listeners who prefer to watch podcasts skew younger and more male than those who prefer audio only, the study found.

But is the cost worth it?

The cost of uploading an audio podcast onto YouTube with a static image or a sound wave visualization is one thing — it’s another thing to produce high-quality video, such as multiple video shots of a podcast recording. (For what it’s worth, a YouTube spokesperson said video and audio-only podcasts are not weighed differently by the platform’s recommendations algorithm.)

Betches Media is planning to have more podcasts with video content on YouTube within the next 90 days, said CRO David Spiegel. The challenge with producing full video episodes is the need to hire producers to film people onsite and edit the video to match the audio recording, which can “run up costs,” Spiegel said, later adding, “The opportunity cost and labor involved has to be seriously thought about.”

Last October, Betches Media brought the “U Up?” podcast to YouTube – its first foray into producing an in-studio podcast video, Spiegel said in the Digiday Podcast. The channel has grown to over 7,000 subscribers. Betches will continue to promote its podcasts with short-form vertical video, such as YouTube Shorts, and will “eventually staff for more full episode videos on a show by show basis,” Spiegel said. Betches has hired 15 people across the company in the last month, he noted. 

“I don’t want to film [an interview over Zoom]. I don’t think this is a good experience,” he said.

Another podcast executive — who traded anonymity for candor — said their team was still undergoing a cost-benefit analysis of creating fully-produced video podcasts. 

“If you’re significantly adding to your production costs to have a very polished-looking video element, then at a certain point that might make it harder to have a profitable podcast,” the executive said.

Some of their company’s podcasts are posted on YouTube with static images or waveform visuals. The company is testing filming some of their chat shows over Zoom with higher-quality web cameras. 

“We’re curious to see how those perform… But the question we’re asking ourselves is, how good of a test is this, if we aren’t going all the way and doing proper camera and lighting and everything?” the executive said. “We’re debating what a real test looks like, and if we need to invest a little more to see if it makes a big difference on [YouTube].”

Pushkin Industries recently upgraded their video podcasts on YouTube from moving sound wave animations to custom moving animations, said Eric Sandler, vp of marketing at the audiobook and podcast company. Pushkin also publishes podcast videos with transcriptions.

“We’re trying a bunch of presentations to see what’s sticky with the audience,” Sandler said. “But it’s not custom video or anything like that… It’s definitely meant for leanback listening, not [for] someone actively staring at it,” he added. Pushkin Industries has 109,000 subscribers on its “Broken Record” podcast’s YouTube channel.

As platforms like Spotify begin to integrate more video, Sandler said he sees “an opportunity to try full video episodes and it’s something I look forward to experimenting with.”

Despite podcast executives’ plans to test out more fully-produced video podcasts in the future, one of the executives who spoke with Digiday was worried about the impact a shift to video might have on the medium itself.

Podcasts are “very intimate, and they’re very unselfconscious because you don’t have a camera in your face most of the time… And if all of a sudden you have lighting and cameras and you have hair and makeup, you might lose some of that,” the executive said. “You don’t want the fundamental creative of the thing to suffer, just because you’re trying to exploit it on other platforms.”

They added: “But then if that could help you find millions of more listeners, well then maybe that’s a worthwhile trade off. I think that’s what we’re all going to have to weigh as this continues to evolve.”


More in Media

AI Briefing: Senators propose new regulations for privacy, transparency and copyright protections

A new bill called the COPIED Act aims to pass new transparency standards to protect IP and guard against AI-generated misinformation.

Media Briefing: Publishers reflect on ad revenue midway through 2024 

Some publishers say ad revenue is pacing 15% up year over year while others are still managing their expectations for how 2024 will shake out.

Teads is exploring sale options as M&A in ad tech heats up

Sources state the Altice-owned stalwart of outstream video has recently held talks with private equity and strategic players.