James Cridland

Google’s Podcast play — what it means to radio

So, Google Play Music is to add podcasts shortly to its lineup, and is now asking podcasters to add their shows into their new catalogue. But what does this mean to radio?

Android is massive

Let’s start by pointing out the raw numbers, which may surprise the iOS-toting executive. For every Apple iPhone sold in Q2 2015, six Android phones were sold. Six.

Some of those are sold in China, which aren’t “real” Android — at least, don’t have the Google services in them that Google Play Music will rely on to run. Typically (but not always), Android devices are cheaper with less memory and are connected to mobile data plans which are less generous than those for iOS. iOS users are more likely to be white collar workers (in an office with free wifi) rather than Android workers; which means less media consumption. Taken as a whole, Android owners are considerably less likely to install new apps, and certainly less likely to pay for them. But: six times as large.

To have podcasts as an integral part of the Android ecosystem is clearly a big deal for podcasting in general. Yes, you can find and use some excellent podcast catchers — player.fm, Pocketcasts, and many more. But clearly, a pre-installed app has excellent first-mover advantage. Because…

Google Play Music is installed on every new Android phone

Google Play Music is a required app on Android phones: under Google’s Mobile Application Distribution Agreement, it’s one of the 13 ‘must install’ apps on anything that calls itself Android. That means that, unlike other podcasting apps, Google Play Music will be installed on everyone’s device. That gives significant opportunities over other podcasting apps, which need a download from the Google Play Store.

It isn’t just Android though

Google Play Music is also on Sonos, and works flawlessly with Google’s Chromecast dongle to work on TVs and hifis. Chromecast Audio is being built-in to new speaker systems, too. Google Play Music also works great with Android Auto, Google’s in-car dashboard system.

Google Play Music is also on the web. That’s easy to discount, but it’s important to remember that a significant amount of podcast plays are actually done on a laptop or desktop. If Google are bright, they’ll also enable embedded players to ensure that podcast publishers can embed a good player on their own websites, too.

And Google Play Music is also available on iOS, via the App Store. iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches can all use the music system. So, this is actually rather a bigger deal than it first appears.

Google Play Music isn’t just for subscribers

Unlike Deezer and Spotify, who are also adding podcasts to their services, Google Play Music doesn’t need you to be a subscriber. You can upload all your own tracks to Google, and use the player to simply play them from the cloud. You can buy individual tracks or albums from it, too. And you can pay the $9.99 a month for unlimited subscription access.

What Google brings to the party

  • Recommendations: Google Play Music — which is now a rubbish name for the service, since podcasts are mostly not music — is apparently going to use the recommendation algorithm it acquired from Songza to power podcast recommendations, putting peoples’ podcasts in front of new listeners that might enjoy them. (I’m not, entirely, sure how this works algorithmically; but we’ll see how good it is).
  • Payments: Google could open up pay-podcasts in future. It already has lots of agreements in place with mobile networks and credit card companies through the Play Store, and millions of Android users’ credit cards. Developers can also do subscriptions through the service too.
  • Advertising: Will we hear audio advertising supporting this service? Would Google consider a partnership with acast or someone similar to add personalised AdSense-like advertising into podcasts?
  • Analytics: Will Google Analytics be part of this? Will we discover how far people get into a podcast, or whether they really did play that podcast episode they downloaded?
  • Hosting: Given Google’s massive amount of servers and bandwidth, will Google manage the hosting of the audio for a better service? Can they cut the cost of podcasting for all?
  • SEO: Clearly Google doesn’t favour its own properties in search, but imagine for just one minute that they did; and then imagine what that might mean for podcasters.

What Google might wish to consider

  • “Google Play Music” is a rubbish name for a podcast player. But then, Google is not really very good at marketing stuff. Consider ‘Chrome’, a browser; ‘Chromebook’, a laptop; ‘Chromebox’, a desktop; ‘Chromecast’, a device that isn’t a browser at all but that sticks in the back of your telly or a hifi. Oh, and then there’s “Google Play Books”, which as the name of a piece of software makes about as much sense as a small naked man standing unexpectedly in your bathroom shouting “Arthur! Arthur!” at the top of his voice.
  • A US-only plan is a little strange. English-language only to begin with might be slightly more acceptable (and, yes, I guess that gives you legal problems in Canada and other territories). But you’re a global company, and you probably should act like one, n’est pas?
  • Would you like to market this? I mean, really market it? You’ve acres of unsold AdSense inventory. Come and market individual podcasts to potential listeners.

What you should do next

Submit your podcasts: and do it now, so you’re there for launch. Google are giving instructions for podcasters to submit their content to their podcasting service in their blog post. They say “US only”; but English-language publishers the world over appear to be able to add their podcasts to the service: you simply need to be connected over a US VPN. Here’s the one I use.