Why kids podcasts aren’t taking off on YouTube
This is Hot Pod, The Verge’s newsletter about podcasting and the audio industry. Sign up here for more.
Hope everyone at The Podcast Show is enjoying the conference (and ignoring their jet lag). While I’m still very much across the pond (like, way across) in LA, this issue of Hot Pod leads with some news from BBC Radio. I’m also digging into kids podcasts on YouTube and an interesting announcement by Bill Simmons about Spotify’s voice cloning for ads.
But before I start — remember Twitter Spaces? Twitter’s live audio platform will make history tomorrow at 6PM PT when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hops in a room to announce his bid for presidency. As The Verge reported last year, most of the team behind Twitter Spaces has either been fired or resigned. Hopefully there will be no technical difficulties!
Kids podcasts on YouTube can’t compete with Bluey
Popular audio podcasts for adults by Slate and NPR haven’t thrived on YouTube — turns out that may be the case for kids podcasts as well. About six months ago, kids podcast publisher Tinkercast started an experiment on YouTube. The publisher behind popular kids podcast titles like Wow in The World and How to Be An Earthling started publishing episodes on YouTube and YouTube Kids, creating videos with light animation just for the platform.
While Tinkercast did reach a new (and more diverse) audience on YouTube, that group was far less than its traditional podcast audience. Tinkercast’s WowTube channel on YouTube has just over 6,000 subscribers, and many episodes have well under 1,000 views. Among the reasons may be that Tinkercast’s programming has to compete with a whole universe of kids content on YouTube — from high quality, popular children’s TV shows from Disney and Nickelodeon to amateur content like gameplay videos that may not be as enriching. So Tinkercast is in kind of a unique middle group, where it isn’t creating the type of low-stakes content that goes viral but also doesn’t have the resources of enormous animation studios.
“Being in that kids space, there’s the added dimension of when kids are logging onto YouTube, you know, we’re competing with Roblox playback videos and unboxing videos. If we don’t get kids in the first nanosecond, we’ve lost them,” Johanna Weber, Tinkercast’s senior director of brand marketing and communications, told Hot Pod.
Weber also said there’s no correlation between podcast episodes that perform well on YouTube and those that performed well on audio podcast players. Tinkercast has found that search terms on YouTube (monkey, poop, and toilet are popular) have driven discovery of its podcast episodes.
One thing I’ll note is that YouTube Kids gives parents the option to turn off the search function. While this safety feature may come in handy in case of another Elsagate — it does mean publishers on YouTube Kids will be exposed to fewer audiences.
I’ll include more from my interview with Tinkercast in Thursday’s Insider edition.
BBC Radio is opening up more podcast IP to the rest of the world
The British are coming… to Audible and Apple and Spotify. Global audiences will soon be able to stream even more British radio programs on the podcast player of their choice. BBC Radio announced today that it’s moving some of its programming to the British broadcaster’s commercial content arm — BBC Studios — in an effort to tap into a global podcast audience. The news arrived on the second day of The Podcast Show, as podcast and radio professionals from around the world gather in London.
The move signals a pretty big strategic shift for the radio arm of the British broadcaster, which turned 100 years old last year and has traditionally stuck to public programming. BBC Radio made the decision after a May 2022 review to figure out how it could tap into the global market for podcasts. Similar to the television arm of BBC, which has partnered with streamers like Disney, Netflix, and Amazon to export British content, BBC Studios has made partnerships with the big audio platforms like Spotify. The radio broadcaster is shifting programming from its factual, entertainment, and drama divisions to BBC Studios — meaning it can be offered for global distribution.
Last year, the UK government froze funding for the BBC until 2024, requiring the broadcaster to make budget cuts. The government has also decided to abolish TV licensing fees in 2027 — which accounts for almost two-thirds of funding for all of BBC, including its audio operations.
As a result of the move, more British podcast IP will be made available to outside investors, and BBC Studios can explore more collaboration and funding opportunities. “Our plan allows the BBC to benefit from the fast-growing global audio market, enabling our distinctive audio content to reach wider audiences, open up more creative opportunities and bring more investment back into the BBC. We’ve seen how world-class BBC programming that’s hugely popular with our UK audiences can go on to do great things with BBC Studios’ backing, so I’m excited to see what can be achieved by this plan, helping to put British podcasting on a global stage,” wrote BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore.
Not everyone is happy with BBC Radio’s move. The trade body for the UK’s audio industry said that now indie podcast producers will have to compete with BBC Radio in the wider market.
The group is asking that independent producers have the chance to compete to work in BBC audio productions.
“The BBC’s decision to move some speech audio production teams into BBC Studios represent a step change in its approach, with it moving production capacity to provide further competition to the independent sector. As most independent audio production businesses specialise in entertainment, factual and drama, they will now face additional competition from the BBC in the wider market,” wrote Chloe Straw, managing director of AudioUK, in a statement.
Spotify is working on AI clones for host-read ads
Bill Simmons has spilled the beans on Spotify’s AI ad experiments. On a recent episode of The Bill Simmons Show, the founder of The Ringer disclosed that Spotify was working on targeted ads that used voice cloning.
“There is going to be a way to use my voice for the ads. You have to obviously give the approval for the voice, but it opens up, from an advertising standpoint, all these different great possibilities,” said Simmons in a conversation with The Atlantic writer Derek Thompson.
Cloning celebrity voices is nothing new. Several AI companies already offer free text-to-speech tools that feature the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Snoop Dogg, Joe Rogan, and other celebrities. While these tools aren’t perfect, many voice actors, audiobook narrators, and podcast hosts have expressed concern that AI could eliminate their professions altogether. The Screen Actors Guild (which covers some audio industry professionals) included the threat of unregulated use of generative AI as one of its primary concerns to address in upcoming contract negotiations. Last week, the guild called for a strike authorization vote.
When Hot Pod reached out to Spotify, it didn’t directly comment on the accuracy of Simmons’ remarks. “We’re always working to enhance the Spotify experience and test new offerings that benefit creators, advertisers and users. The AI landscape is evolving quickly and Spotify, which has a long history of innovation, is exploring a wide array of applications, including our hugely popular AI DJ feature,” wrote Spotify advertising head in B2B communications Erin Styles in an email.
It isn’t a complete shocker that Spotify is exploring AI-generated voices for host-read ads. Last year, the company acquired Sonantic, a text-to-speech platform that has created celebrity voice clones for the gaming and entertainment industries — including Val Kilmer’s voice in Top Gun: Maverick.
That’s all for now! See you on Thursday for an Insider edition of Hot Pod.