YouTube Embraces ‘Eyes Optional’ Podcasts While Testing New AI


As YouTube becomes a hotbed for podcast audiences, particularly first-time and younger listeners, the platform is seeking to become a more “eyes optional” experience. YouTube Chief Product Officer Johanna Voolich described the shift of ideals in a recent conversation.

The chat on YouTube’s Creator Insider uses Murder, Mystery and Makeup, a creative podcast that merges true crime storytelling with makeup tutorials, as an example. This dual engagement model capitalizes on YouTube’s strength as a visual platform and demonstrates its effectiveness in maintaining viewer engagement, while also being double-faceted content that can be enjoyed without video.

Voolich explains how YouTube is tapping into traditional, audio-only podcast experience through its YouTube Music app, which has been optimized to better support high-quality, production-rich podcast content after the sunsetting of Google Podcasts. This perspective acknowledges that while podcasts are traditionally audio-centric, the addition of visual elements can significantly enhance the listener’s experience.

YouTube’s algorithm is also heavily at work here, recommending shows with the same learning AI that they use to keep people on the site to watch related and tailored videos.

Another AI initiative is to change how audio-only content can be presented. In response to a question about supporting older podcast formats on the platform, Voolich revealed that while YouTube currently allows audio-only uploads with static images, there is ongoing consideration for employing AI to create dynamic visualizations for such content.

Last year, Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights reported YouTube has overtaken Spotify and Apple as the leading platform for podcast consumption in the US. 608 weekly podcast listeners indicated the platform’s robust search capabilities make it a favorite for podcast discovery, especially among heavy users and newcomers.

While 14% of weekly podcast listeners now exclusively watch video podcasts on YouTube, the platform’s diverse device usage extends beyond smartphones to laptops and TVs. Despite its popularity, YouTube could face challenges in retaining listeners, as many express willingness to switch platforms for exclusive content.


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