From earbuds to eyeballs: Decoding the video podcasting phenomenon

Is video podcasting worth the hype? PodPod editor Adam Shepherd asks the experts to examine how the industry is responding to the latest production and promotional trend – from changing consumer habits to the risks and rewards that video presents.

In 2023, podcasters have been increasingly integrating video into their creative and marketing strategies. So much so, in fact, that the very definition of a podcast may need tweaking: “In the past month, we have had to start by asking what clients mean by a podcast,” says Kate Cocker, cofounder of Purposeful Podcasts.

To discover how the industry is adjusting to the changing times – including the benefits podcasters have already seen and the concerns that are stopping others from taking the plunge – PodPod editor Adam Shepherd hosted a roundtable with several industry leaders. Experts hailed from HSBC UK, News Broadcasting, National Trust and more.

Watching podcasts is a “dirty secret”

Video is already having far-reaching impacts on consumer behaviour and attitudes, which is illustrated by the broad range of factors that decide how, why and to what degree the panellists watch podcasts.

Marion Osieyo from Black Earth podcast bases her decision on the type of content: she watches when it’s a guest-style interview but prefers listening to podcasts for a narrative. Both Nick Howard, Boston Consulting Group, and Jemma Findlay, News Broadcasting, find video too distracting to watch on their commutes, but Findlay will watch podcasts at home when she has access to a larger screen. “I wouldn’t want to sit and watch on my phone, but I will on my laptop or even on TV on YouTube,” she says.

YouTube was a gateway into video podcasts for other panellists, too. Millie Webber from Spirit Studios says she watches a YouTube series which “considers itself a podcast”, so she is a podcast watcher by default. Grant Gibson, cofounder of Material Matters, watches Sky Sport’s cricket podcast on YouTube, but calls his podcast watching habit: “A dirty secret, “don’t tell anyone,” he jokes.

Jack Glover at National Trust only consumes video podcasts on social media as part of their promotional strategies: “It tends to be short clips on Instagram or TikTok,” he specifies. Cocker is similar: “I've probably only listened to two episodes of Diary of A CEO, but I probably know every single guest because I've seen the clips all over Instagram.”

From left to right: Kate Cocker and Jack Glover Higgins

What’s in it for the podcaster?

1. You can tap into a new audience
“Discovery is better with video,” says Howard. “It’s much easier [for a consumer] to find something on YouTube, which is built for that in a way that Spotify isn’t.” On TikTok it’s even easier, Findlay says, as the algorithm suggests targeted content without consumers ever having to search for it. She says she’s been hooked on podcasts that she would never even heard of after seeing it on TikTok. As a result, you reach bigger and wider audiences.

2. You get more listens
“For us, the better our shows do on TikTok, we see a direct link to people listening on Spotify and the percentage of people listening on Spotify will increase hugely,” says Webber. Panellists agreed that guests are also more likely to shout about your podcast on their own social media channels if they have a video clip to share.

3. There’s more commercial opportunity
The visualisation of podcasts has been “fundamental” for News Broadcasting’s growth strategy, according to Findlay. For a sponsor, normally a brand or advertiser, a visual and audio package can be worth up to three times the amount compared to audio-only, she says.

From left to right: Nick Howard, Millie Webber and Jemma Findlay

What’s stopping you?

1. People tend to listen for longer
“We’ve found that levels of engagement from podcast listeners versus podcast watchers is much higher,” says Cocker.

2. Audio is quicker, easier and cheaper to produce
“The beauty of audio is it's cost effective, it's quick, it's engaging,” says Cocker. “And I think we've got to be really careful of just assuming that we've got to jump into video.” One thing to consider, she says, is the long upload and download times of video files.

“It’s a tremendous faff,” agrees Gibson. You also have to think about your background: “Ultimately it will become a zoom call,” says Sharena Shiv from START UP. START NOW. “If I don’t find it visually appealing to watch it back, would my listeners?” she asks.

3. Your content can suffer
One reason both Howard and Shiv are reluctant to introduce video is because their podcasts ask guests to share personal information, which they worry they wouldn’t do if there was a camera involved. In fact, most of the time Shiv has to reassure her guests beforehand that they won’t be filmed.

From left to right: Kate Cocker, Grant Gibson and Sharena Shiv

How to get the ball rolling:

Here are a few tips from our panellists about how to build an effective video strategy:

1. Understand your objective
Before they begin, Chris Wood, HSBC UK, advises podcasters to ask themselves what problem they want to fix and make sure that video is the best tool for the job. “If it's about extending reach, getting different audiences, then great. If it's moving the same audience to a different environment, I struggle to see the rationale behind it,” he says. Understanding these things, Wood says, will then inform how much you should invest in the strategy and how polished it needs to be.

2. Don’t cannibalise your content
Don’t share too many video clips in advance of releasing the full episode. Findlay points out: “Why would someone watch the full episode if you’ve already put out four clips?”

3. Put your audience first
Marion Osieyo’s approach to video is totally audience-centric. Her Black Earth podcast discusses climate change in-depth; so she doesn’t want a potential audience member to engage in the topic for three seconds on TikTok and miss out on the nuance her podcast offers. “We won’t compromise our purpose to fit into various social media platforms,” she says.

From left to right: Chris Wood, Jemma Findlay and Marion Osieyo

Are the days of audio-only podcasts numbered?

PodPod editor, Adam Shepherd, doesn’t think so. “While there’s many good reasons to do video podcasting, there is always going to be an audience for audio-only podcasts.” He thinks that having video as part of your arsenal – whether you release the whole episode or only short clips – gives podcasters a lot more flexibility when it comes to production and promotion. But it’s not fundamental for success. “We’re not seeing a drop off in numbers as video podcasting increases. If anything, video podcasting is bringing more people into the wider podcast ecosystem,” he says.

• Adam Shepherd, editor, PodPod
Kate Cocker, cofounder, Purposeful Podcasts
• Marion Osieyo, creator and host, Black Earth podcast
Nick Howard, podcast architect, Boston Consulting Group
Jemma Findlay, commercial podcast manager, News Broadcasting
Millie Webber, head of digital, Spirit Studios
Grant Gibson, cofounder, Material Matters podcast
Jack Glover, podcast producer, National Trust
Sharena Shiv, founder and host, START UP. START NOW. podcast
Chris Wood, global head of B2B marketing strategy customer segments, HSBC