What’s a doc-style podcast to do on YouTube?

How to support your audio-first show for a video-first audience


Despite attempts to ignore the recent growth of podcasts on YouTube, it’s becoming increasingly clear that your podcast needs to have a presence on YouTubeYouTube is now the most popular platform for podcast consumption among weekly podcast consumers. Ten percent of all podcast audiences say they only watch video podcastsnearly six in 10 reports that they prefer podcasts with videos.

No one has been more resistant to the podcast-on-YouTube trend than I. After all, I went to school for film, then very intentionally went in the direction of audio-only documentary production. The last thing I want to do is go full circle right back into video production again. But the data doesn’t lie, and our conception of what exactly defines a “podcast” is evolving every day.

When we think of video podcasts, most people picture the Joe Rogan-style conversational podcast, recorded in a studio and largely unedited. But this model won’t work for documentary shows, which are generally highly edited and often recorded outside of studios. It also won’t work for fiction podcasts, which function closer to books than film or television in that they encourage listeners to use their imaginations to create the worlds and characters in their stories.

So what is a narrative podcast purist supposed to do with YouTube? How can audio documentary producers provide audiences with valuable video content? And what distinguishes a video podcast from a standard YouTube series?

Here are just a few ideas for things we can try.

Start small with trailers

The Edge of Sleep, Episode 3 Trailer

Conviction: American Panic Trailer

Trailers can be a great tool for narrative documentary or fiction podcasts to raise awareness about their show and provide some visual context to set the tone for the rest of the podcast. As Tom Webster puts it, YouTube is the universal search engine for content. With discoverability being such a challenge for podcasters, YouTube provides an opportunity to get in front of potential new audiences. Creating a trailer is also a smaller, less daunting investment for podcasters. Editing together 30–60 seconds of video content is far more manageable than turning 30–60 minute episodes into video documentaries.

However, there is the risk that YouTube viewers may not move over to find the full podcast on another app– it’s notoriously difficult to migrate podcast listeners from a social media platform or YouTube to an audio-first podcast player. For brands with podcasts, it’s still a big win to get a large number of eyes on a YouTube video trailer promoting their podcast series (even if all those viewers don’t move over to their podcast).here can still be great advantages in terms of brand awareness, brand favorability, and brand recognition. But for podcasts relying on metrics coming directly from full episode listens, having a popular YouTube trailer isn’t enough.

Upload full episodes with static graphics

Bring Back Bronco, Episode 1

This is a popular tactic for podcasters, especially as it requires very little additional work– and the potential payoff seems to be pretty massive. This is the tactic Ford decided to use for their show Bring Back Bronco (produced by Pacific Content), and these full episodes saw upwards of 50k views on YouTube alone. That’s 50k additional listeners who might not have come across the show on a different podcast player. It seems like a given– why WOULDN’T you publish your episodes this way as well?

However, another important piece of data offers a reason why this tactic might not be sufficient for podcasts in the future. According to the Spring 2022 Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights’ Podcast Download Report, 55.5% of people who access podcasts on YouTube are watching the video while they’re listening. This means that many listeners are not just pressing play and minimizing the screen or moving over to a new tab– they want visual content that’s engaging and relevant to what they’re listening to. For those audiences, perhaps a simple static graphic won’t be sufficient to hold their attention.

Upload a full episode with multiple still images

What can video offer listeners that would bolster their experience engaging with your podcast? Adding images that are relevant to what is being discussed at that point in the podcast episode could provide listeners with additional context and save them a Google search while they’re listening (an approach taken by history podcaster Professor Buzzkill).

Professor Buzzkill History Podcast

This tactic also doesn’t have to be a huge amount more work for podcasters but can add a lot of additional value for listeners. For example, remember in Serial Season 1 when Sarah Koenig describes what was revealed in the cell tower map? Imagine listening to this episode on YouTube, except when she begins describing the map, there is the visual of the map, right there in the YouTube video, synced with the audio description. This is a step above a full episode with a simple static graphic, but it still might not be quite dynamic enough to sustain the full attention of the 55.5% of YouTube podcast listeners who claim to watch entire podcast episodes.

Record and edit video interviews while editing audio of full episodes

A potential solution for documentary podcasters is to record their interviews in both audio and video, and later edit the two concurrently to create a dynamic full episode of a highly edited show. New tools coming out from programs like Descript and Riverside are making this increasingly easy, allowing podcasters to record and edit video along with their audio. Of course, interviews don’t always make up the entirety of narrative podcast episodes. During these parts of the episode, podcasters could use photographs or archival videos to offer listeners additional context.

The Chris Cuomo Project

The (much maligned) Chris Cuomo has recently taken on this tactic in the podcast he launched after being fired from CNN. Though I wish I could find another example of this format, it seems to be an effective option for narrative podcast producers looking to take advantage of audiences on YouTube, and as these recording and editing tools become increasingly accessible, I could see this format really taking off.

YouTube is a great home to cultivate superfans

Motherhacker | Behind the Scenes with Carrie Coon + Alan Cumming

YouTube is also a great tool for podcasters to publish additional content for superfans of the show. For example, it’s a great place for curious fans to watch bonus behind-the-scenes content.

Future of Fake News | Radio Lab

And it’s also a great place to share videos and visuals that are referenced in the podcast episode, so listeners can find these visuals and gain a fuller understanding of what they listened to.

Video podcasts are a great solution to podcast accessibility issues

The Helen Keller Exorcism (ASL Translation) | Radiolab

Video podcasts provide a perfect opportunity to provide podcast fans with accessible options. Radiolab recently experimented with providing an ASL translation of an episode about a deafblind writer who digs into the legend of Helen Keller. It seems like a given that video podcasts would provide captions, and YouTube even provides auto-generated subtitles, making this a low-investment solution to a serious problem facing the podcast industry.

What distinguishes a “video podcast” from a YouTube series? What distinguishes a “documentary video podcast” from a “documentary series?”

To conclude this blog post, I want to briefly reflect on how we distinguish between a “video podcast” and a “YouTube series”. In my opinion, the main distinction between the two is that podcasts are still inherently audio-first. While the visual component of a video podcast should be dynamic and engaging throughout an episode, the majority of people consuming that episode are still going to be mainly consuming it as audio-only.

YouTube presents great opportunities for podcasters to benefit from a powerful search engine, provide listeners with additional context, and solve accessibility issues. But at the end of the day, podcast consumers will still seek audio-first content that they can consume while washing the dishes or walking the dog– and that’s the power of podcasts. It’s what allows consumers to spend 20, 30, and 45 minutes at a time with immersive storytelling content. At the end of the day, podcasts are still all about the audio. Videos are just the supporting act.

*Thank you to Executive Producer Karen Burgess and Head of Sound Design, Shawn Cole, for helping me shape these thoughts. You can hear more about our thoughts on video podcasts at Podcast Movement 2022 in Dallas on August 25th.

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