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Why Video Can’t & Won’t Replace Audio in Podcasting

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When checking in on our Podcast Planner Tool data recently, I was interested to note that 53% of over 700 aspiring and early-stage podcasters have no plans to add a video element to their show.

This is in spite of the fact that there’s been a lot of noise about video podcasting recently. Just like video supposedly killed the radio star, it’s about to do away with the audio podcaster too. Or so we’re told.

I think this is a long way from true. In fact, I think it’s quite a problematic position.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me start by clearing up two arguments I’m not making in this post.

  • That podcasts can’t be video – they can
  • That video podcasts can’t be done well – they can

This isn’t about denouncing video as a medium. Video is brilliant, it has its own unique strengths, and it’s undeniably here to stay.

But when the case starts being made that audio is, at best, a cheap and lower-value accompaniment to video, then I think we have a problem.

I don’t believe that, throughout the history of podcasting, audio has been the overwhelmingly dominant medium because video was less accessible to create or consume. I think that does a huge disservice to audio; as if it were something we had to make do with for lack of a better alternative.

Audio is every bit as powerful as it was back when podcasting started.

Just like video, audio-only podcasts have unique strengths. I think our industry needs to stop treating podcasting like it’s a competition, and video has already won.

video vs audio podcasting

Video Is Not in Competition With Audio

If the recording and production of video podcasts reach TV show-level standards, then there’s a valuable hint at what video podcasting will do – compete with TV shows for audience attention.

Why would it compete with or endanger the audio medium? There’s no logical reason for that. If podcast listeners no longer want audio-only, then it suggests that all physical or rote day-to-day tasks have disappeared from our lives. That means no walking, no driving, no washing up, no crafting, no fixing.

Streaming music was a bigger danger to audio podcasting than video ever can be. The ability to access all of your favourite songs on tap was a serious threat to podcasting’s ear-time. And yet, the storm was easily weathered. Why? Because audio podcasting is an immensely powerful medium.

watching video and listening to audio

Video Takes You. But Audio Goes With You

When television boomed in the 1950s, nobody was walking about with a portable radio player and earbuds in their pocket. Even when audio on the go became mainstream it wasn’t like folks had an almost infinite amount of shows and topics to choose from. So I’d argue that the history of TV and radio are flawed analogies for predicting the future of video and audio content.

There are very few situations where you can’t stick the earbuds in and put on your favourite podcast. For years these shows have kept us company whilst driving, doing work around the house or garden, or slogging it out in the gym. You quite simply don’t need your eyes, and that creates a massive amount of flexibility around consumption.

By contrast, there are very few situations where you can watch a video. And I mean really watch it, because if you “have it on in the background”, then it’s as well being audio.

There are always exceptions to generalisations, but video works well in shorter form and can act as a great “hook” or shareable piece of content. Audio, on the other hand, excels in the long form. Here, we can really get into a topic and explore it for hours.

The case is made for being able to see a podcaster’s face as opposed to “just” hearing them, but this argument totally underestimates the power of the human voice. Obviously, you still hear the human voice in your videos, but you’re going to have to set aside some dedicated time to sit and watch them.

Why Downplaying Audio Is an Issue

By now, you might be thinking, “well, so what? If audio is as strong as you say, then it won’t have any issues.” But I think a steady stream of insistence that it’s a poor second cousin to video will cause problems.

Downplaying audio diminishes the variety of formats and audiences. It also builds barriers to the next generation of podcasters.

All Podcasts Are Not the Same

Podcasting doesn’t begin and end with famous people interviewing famous people, or entrepreneurs chatting with other entrepreneurs.

Let’s take audio drama and fiction podcasting as an example. These shows have some of the most passionate audiences you’re ever likely to find. And here’s the thing – they work so well precisely because they have no visuals.

Or, at least, they’re not literally creating the visuals for you. I remember having my mind blown when I discovered We’re Alive back in 2009-ish. The fact that this was all audio, and yet, so unbelievably cinematic, was a revelation to me. It showed just how much could be achieved through an aural experience. I was working outdoors in the pouring rain, but I’d finish my shift feeling like I’d just walked out of the pictures.

I didn’t just listen to audio drama in that time, either. I devoured immersive documentaries, engaging long conversations with interesting people, and learned Spanish.

Doing the same thing with video in that period was totally off the cards, and it had nothing to do with it being harder to make or consume. I’d have lost my job, or, worse, caused a terrible accident.

And did it diminish the experience in any way, because it was “only” audio? Absolutely not.

Of course, this is purely from a consumption point of view. So let’s switch perspective to the people behind the content – the podcasters themselves.

podcaster facing roadblocks due to video

Podcasting Has Enough Barriers for Beginners

The suggestion that you must add video or you’ll struggle to find an audience is a needless roadblock to throw in front of aspiring creators.

Starting a podcast is challenging enough if you’ve never done anything like this before.

Sure, technology has come a long way towards making things easier, both on the audio and video front. But it’s not all about that.

Plucking up the courage and getting the right mindset to put yourself out there paralyzes many people. It’s easy to forget about this once you’ve been doing it for a long time, but impostor syndrome is a real thing, and it affects a lot of people.

Finding time is another big barrier, particularly for folks who work one or more jobs or have families to care for. Maybe your only available recording time is 5 am before the rest of the household wakes up, and the last thing you want to do is record a bloody video. Podcasters need to know that this is okay and that the very last thing they’re doing is “limiting their audience”. This is not a case of second best.

Ultimately, creating any old video won’t give you the benefits of creating a great video, either. To do this requires more than just decent software. For starters, you need extra space, better lighting, and more prep time. These are all procrastination pitfalls in the early days, and we should be wary of them.

Embrace the Strengths of Audio

Once again, my aim here isn’t to denounce video as a medium or attempt to convince people not to do video podcasts, if that’s what they want to do.

But I wanted to revisit the unique strengths of audio, and argue that video podcasting isn’t the silver bullet it’s sometimes made out to be. It isn’t the car that’ll replace the horse.

If done well, a video component to your podcast can be an excellent way to discover new listeners and add an extra dimension to your content. But producing video for video’s sake is something we should be wary of.

For anyone starting out, I’d recommend an audio-first approach to get up and running. You can always add a video element later on once you’ve established a bit of a workflow around your content. Here’s our full guide on how to do video podcasting, which you can bookmark for future reference.

Then there’s also the “video, but not quite” approach, where you can upload a static image or audiogram content to YouTube. This lets you enjoy a place amongst YouTube’s search traffic whilst still allowing you to roll out of bed and record an episode in your pyjamas.

But ultimately, embrace the strengths of audio. You’re creating content your audience will hear whilst doing all sorts of things – not all of them easy or pleasant.

That voice in their ear – your voice – can be enough to lift people’s spirits and pull them through difficult or painful situations. So let’s stop presenting audio as some low-value accompaniment to video and give it the respect it deserves.

Audio is its own unique and very powerful medium, and it’s here to stay.

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