YouTube Podcasts in the UK and the YouTube Advertising Conundrum

YouTube Podcasts in the UK and the YouTube Advertising Conundrum

This is something of a follow-up to my recent piece about YouTube and podcasts. As ever, these are my personal views and don’t represent those of my employer.

This week, YouTube officially launched podcasts in YouTube Music in the UK. Separately, some details of how advertising in podcasts on the YouTube platform might work.

From the UK launch press release:

“Users will have the ability to watch and listen to podcasts on YouTube Music without requiring a paid membership, pivoting between an audio and audiovisual experience with the ability to background listen on the go.”

The specific mention of YouTube Music is important here. Because, at time of writing, still returns a 404 error in the UK. But that’s regular YouTube, and not YouTube Music. But the fact that the link is dead suggests that we are not quite at feature parity with the US yet.

A notification I received in YouTube Music as a YouTube Premium subscriber, telling me that I won’t get ads.

In any case, it’s not just the UK that’s getting podcasts. Reports on Reddit suggest they’re rolling out in many territories right now.

Returning to the press release:

“Today, creators can either upload audio content with a static image, with a dynamic image or a full video. Later this year, we’ll offer support for creators to directly submit their RSS feeds to YouTube to distribute their audio podcasts.”

It sounds like RSS feeds are coming very soon, but more on that in a minute.

I also wanted to highlight this part of the press release:

“Alison Lomax, YouTube UK Lead, said: “We’re thrilled to be launching podcasts in the UK on YouTube Music. Podcasts have soared in popularity in recent years among all age groups, particularly Gen Z users, and there is clearly an appetite for this longer–form audio visual content.”

I think that backs up my overall concern that YouTube really thinks of podcasts as a form of video rather than an audio-first medium. To be clear, the vast majority of podcasts have no visual elements at all with the exception of their shows’ artwork and/or logo. They do not have a video component.

As an aside, I happened to be catching up with the final season of the HBO show Barry recently, and thought that the character “NoHo Hank” sort of gets the challenges of video and audio in this clip:

It’s obviously still early days for YouTube in the UK and podcasts, but I thought it might be interesting to see which of the most listened to UK podcasts, based on the recently published Edison research, are already in YouTube Music, and in what form.

Podcast TitleYouTube Music?Notes
The Joe Rogan ExperienceNTitle is exclusive to Spotify
The Diary of a CEOY
Off MenuN
Sh**ged, Married, AnnoyedN
That Peter Crouch PodcastY – only episodes until Dec 22No episodes post early December 2022
The Rest Is PoliticsY
No Such Thing As A FishY
The Therapy CrouchN
The DailyY
The Rest Is HistoryY – only episodes until Jul 23No episodes since Jul 23 available
The News AgentsYVideo version available
The Infinite Monkey CageN
Happy PlaceY
Parenting HellN
Saving GraceY – only episodes until Aug 2023No episodes since Aug 23 available
Desert Island DiscsN
You’re Dead To MeN
Stuff You Should KnowYLightly animated video version available
Money BoxN
The FellasNExclusive to Spotify (pre Spotify eps are available)
Kermode & Mayo’s TakeN – clips onlyA well maintained set of clips, but no full episodes
ImpaulsiveYVideo version available
Note that these were the case at time of writing and may change subsequently.

By my count, at time of writing, 8 out of 25 of the most listened to podcasts are fully available on YouTube. Two of the missing shows are Spotify-exclusive, so it’s not surprising they’re not there. And of course, this thing is new, so others might be going up soon. This does mean that YouTube Music isn’t quite ready as a like-for-like replacement for Google Podcasts.

And no, I don’t understand why some of the titles above have older episodes available, but don’t have more recent episodes – seemingly stopping at random dates.

But there is another very significant issue that some podcast producers might have with YouTube – advertising.

Advertising and YouTube

YouTube has some pretty tight rules on advertising – enough that it’s entirely possible that some podcast producers may not wish to upload their podcasts to the platform at all. But before digging into that too much, let’s first consider the rules for video uploads on YouTube.

What Happens With Videos?

YouTube’s terms of service do not allow video creators to embed advertising in their videos:

YouTube creators cannot include promotions, sponsorships or other advertisements for third-party sponsors or advertisers in their videos where YouTube offers a comparable ad format, including but not limited to video ads (pre, mid and post rolls), image overlays and video bumpers.

So a video creator cannot simply embed a third-party ad into their video. Only YouTube can do that.

On the other hand, a creator can embed product placements, sponsorships and endorsements into their video as long as they adhere to certain rules.

These rules are detailed as you might suspect and include prohibited categories, and the need to check a box when the video is being uploaded to YouTube to alert both YouTube and video viewers that it contains this kind of paid promotion. (These rules also have variations according to national laws, so can and do vary in different parts of the world).

An example of this kind of integration might be a creator selling their own video sponsorship of an upload, as long as they create the ad themselves. While the advertiser may provide assets for the creation of the sponsorship credit, the creator can’t just include a 30 second pre-made ad supplied to the creator. For those, the advertiser must go through YouTube.

It’s also worth noting that YouTube Premium subscribers don’t get any YouTube advertising on the platform. No pre-rolls or mid-rolls. But creator-embedded sponsorships still reach YouTube Premium subscribers.

What About Podcasts?

This is where it gets interesting – and likely quite problematical for some podcast producers – because the same rules broadly apply.

First of all, although YouTube is due to roll out podcast RSS ingestion, it should be made very clear that it is not RSS pass-through. That is to say, when the podcast is uploaded to YouTube (using the RSS feed to get it there in the first place), a single file is uploaded once and only once to YouTube who then host the audio. This differs from most other podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, because in that case, Apple and others don’t host the audio, instead redirecting listeners to the podcast’s hosting platform for the audio each and every time the audio is requested.

YouTube hosting its own audio means:

  • Only a single copy of your title is ever requested from your podcast host – YouTube is hosting the audio for all its listeners
  • In turn, your podcast host will no longer know the total number of download requests

    Currently, if you look at your podcast host’s analytics platform, you can get a good overview of overall downloads/streams achieved by your title across all podcatcher apps. While the analytics platforms of Apple and Spotify add some extra levels of detail (demographics, completion rates etc), your podcast host still has the fullest overall picture currently. That would no longer be true with YouTube. (And YouTube may count differently too!)
  • Dynamic Ad Insertion from your podcast host or sales partner won’t work

    Dynamic Ad Insertion is a growing method of delivering relevant advertising based on the time the podcast was requested and where the listener is located. When podcasting started, the only ads were “baked in.” That is to say, the audio for the advertising was in the same file as the programme audio. Every listener got the same advert. And once the show had been finished, it couldn’t easily be changed. Dynamic Ad Insertion means that the final “assembly” of the podcast with its advertising is carried out on the fly when the request is made. If I request a podcast in London today, I may get a different advert from you requesting the same title, tomorrow, in New York. If a single copy of a podcast is hosted by YouTube, then this breaks down. Except, as we will see, YouTube really doesn’t like anyone else aside from itself inserting advertising on its platform. Later update: IAB research in the US suggests that in 2022, 92% of all podcast advertising was Dynamic Ad Insertion by revenue. This is what does not work with YouTube!
  • If you make changes to your audio after publication, YouTube’s version will not automatically be updated.

    Perhaps you made a mistake, or there needs to be a correction to the audio? With regular RSS, you update the audio with your podcast host, and all future listeners get the updated audio without intervention automatically. That’s not the case with YouTube where ingestion takes place once.

    From YouTube:

    “Once YouTube has downloaded an episode of your Podcast, it will not re-download that episode, as defined by the episode’s globally unique identifier (GUID), even if the URL changes, unless you direct YouTube to do so in YouTube Studio.”

    If you do make changes, you will need to make sure that YouTube reuploads the audio manually.

But the main issue is also spelt out by YouTube:

“To comply with YouTube’s Terms of Service, podcast content you upload to YouTube cannot contain advertisements.”

That’s right. You can’t upload podcasts to YouTube with advertising. That includes audio advertising.

“If your podcast includes paid promotions (like host-read promotions), sponsorships, or endorsements, you’re required to let us know and comply with all applicable policies.”

It seems as though they are allowing host-read adverts, but not regular pre-recorded advertisements. If you have a host-read, then you need to check a box in YouTube Studio.

The ban on including adverts in podcasts going to be a massive problem for many major podcasters.

To date, the podcasting ecosystem has been built on the basis that the producer creates the podcast, and then either sells advertising themselves, or works with a sales partner to do that for them. Then, the title is distributed, advertising embedded into it, across various podcast apps where consumers listen. There is no real difference between me hearing a title in Apple Podcasts or Pocket Casts. The same advert is delivered regardless, and priced in the same way.

And to date, no podcast platform has dictated which adverts are, or are not, included in podcasts. For example, Spotify does not require anyone who lists their podcast on the Spotify platform to embed Spotify’s own ads into that podcast.

But YouTube’s rules mean that only YouTube is going to be able to sell advertising on its own platforms. If you’re, say, Spotify, with a massive podcasting sales team, and you want your RSS-delivered podcasts to appear on YouTube or YouTube Music, then you’re going to have let YouTube’s sales teams monetise those listens – at least the non-host read advertising.

For smaller companies, and individuals, this might not be a problem – YouTube’s overall monetisation policy is well understood by many creators, and liked by most of them. Smaller producers might happily take whatever advertising revenue is offered to them.

But for a large podcast producers with big sales contracts in place, YouTube’s stance could be a lot more problematical. For a start, as podcasting develops, we have seen growth away from reliance on host-read advertising. Some advertisers want consistent messaging that they are in control of. Beyond that, Dynamic Ad Insertion is a growing part of the business meaning that “evergreen” audio that doesn’t instantly date itself can monetised for years onwards – an episode of a history podcast on Henry VIII is as relevant in five years’ time as it is today. And beyond that, programmatic audio more generally is growing part of podcasting, which again relies on pre-recorded audio for delivery.

In essence, YouTube is not positioning itself solely as a distribution platform, but is inserting itself into the sales mix here and it presents a few obvious challenges for some big podcast producers:

  • A major podcast’s existing sales partner is no longer the exclusive partner to buy advertising from. Podcasts have historically maintained high CPMs – the standard pricing methodology of podcasting. If you’re the exclusive vendor of advertising on a popular podcast, then you can set high rates and know that advertisers have no other way to reach that audience except by paying those rates. But if advertisers can now approach YouTube’s sales team and reach the YouTube proportion of that podcast’s audience, then that rate advantage might not be maintained. YouTube could potentially undercut you.
  • Additionally, the podcast producer is forced to share potentially more of their revenue. The standard YouTube revenue split is 55% to the producer and 45% to YouTube. But if a podcaster has a better deal than that with their existing sales partner, then they’re potentially giving up more to YouTube. (And if the CPM rate is lower too, then it hurts even more.)
  • And how do you actually manage this process even if you agree to it? Your default RSS feed from your podcast host might come with dynamic ads included, but YouTube doesn’t want them. So you have to go to your host, and turn them off those dynamic ads for the initial RSS feed ingestion, and then turn them back on afterwards. But what happens when you publish new episodes? How do you prevent dynamic advertising going into episodes that YouTube grabs? Do you end up doing everything manually as a workaround? Do you create a second RSS feed solely for YouTube ingestion? This all gets very messy, very quickly.

And that’s before we consider things like Minimum Guarantees that some sales partners pay big podcasters for the exclusive rights to monetise their titles. YouTube doing its own monetisation does not benefit those sales partners in any way and may cause problems with contracts over sales exclusivity, and the amounts that get offered in the future. Currently, most podcast hosts offer a solution for podcast producers themselves to determine appropriate mid-roll slots. I’ve no idea how YouTube will manage podcast mid-rolls, finding an appropriate spot to slot in ads.

Will things stay like this?

Will some big titles stay off YouTube and YouTube Music precisely because of these issues?

I don’t know, and only time will tell.

But it does present a significant problem. And while there’s a massive opportunity for YouTube and Google to gain ground in podcasting, it won’t be straightforward. YouTube is seen as significant growth partner, but it’s somewhat unproven as a consumption partner. Google Podcasts was a Top 10 podcatcher; but it wasn’t a Top 3 podcatcher.

The other thing to wonder is whether this is the start of the end of the old ways of doing things?

I said earlier that Spotify doesn’t insist that any podcast served on its platform use Spotify advertising to monetise it. That’s true today, but if YouTube can force the issue, Spotify is potentially in a much more powerful position as the number #1 or #2 podcatcher app (depending on how you count). Perhaps it too will decide that every podcast on its own platform must allow it to add advertising? And maybe then Apple will too?

What is clear is that as Google Podcasts shuts down and the platform redirects users to YouTube Music as a replacement, the rules are very different. Google Podcasts didn’t have any of this in place. If I listen to The Daily in Google Podcasts, the ads in it are sold by the NY Times (or a sales agents on its behalf). If I listen in YouTube Music, then Google/YouTube conducts the sales.

That’s a big difference.

A reminder to those reading in the future that the above was the case at the time of writing. Things can and do change over time.






4 responses to “YouTube Podcasts in the UK and the YouTube Advertising Conundrum”

  1. […] I’ve subsequently written a follow-up piece examining the launch of podcasts on YouTube Music … […]

  2. Stephen Devincenzi avatar

    Bravo. Great read.

    I had my suspicions about whether this was going to be the way the Youtube Music was going to be rolled out, and you have confirmed it. I am not going to be adding my podcast to YouTube Music for now because of the downsides you’ve mentioned, particularly, (1) the fact that I wouldn’t have direct control over my DAI on Youtube (I use DAI a lot). (2) It wouldn’t automatically update episodes like other catchers do (3) I’d be scared of undercutting myself by allowing people to listen on YTmusic, where almost certainly a listener is less valuable in terms of ad revenue. (4) I don’t like the idea of YT controlling the ad selling process. I like it as it is – that no matter where you listen you get ads controlled by me or my ad provider.

    I know that the search function of Youtube is great and could be very useful in bringing a wider audience, but that doesn’t make up for the downsides.

  3. adambowie avatar

    Thanks for the kind words @Stephen.

  4. […] If nothing else, this is a big moral boost for podcasters who prefer audio, and shows us the video isn’t essential to be a popular podcast. The emphasis on video podcasting has been increasing in recent years, and particularly as YouTube turns its attention to podcasting. But of the top 25 most popular podcasts in the UK, only eight are fully available on YouTube according to this article by Adam Bowie. […]