Youtube recently received a new “Podcast Lead” who has been tasked with cleaning up the experience for podcasting listening and watching on the platform. Kai Chuk, an individual with over 10 years of experience at Google, has been planning something big with his team since then, and with rumors of Youtube absorbing Google Podcasts in time, it’s hard not to get excited.
Obviously, this isn’t ideal for everyone, as many, myself included, have a growing affinity for the podcasting app that used to be called Google Listen. While I can understand this aversion, the fact that the company is giving background listening away to all users at no cost instead of locking it behind the Premium subscription is obviously one bonus that comes with this potential trajectory.
The first fruits of Youtube’s labors for making podcasts a truly usable and enjoyable experience on the video streaming service are the “Listening controls” that were spotted out in the wild recently. Listening controls allow you to call up a simplified and enlarged control scheme that makes it easier to navigate and interact with the video in settings that may be less ideal for the full Youtube experience.
This distraction-free setup can now be called up by all Premium subscribers by tapping on a video, going to the three-dots “more” menu at the top-right, and choosing “Listening controls”. You can’t interact with comments in this mode, but you can pause, play, skip forward and backward, and change videos in addition to liking, changing the speed, and saving it to a playlist. The video and channel are listed at the top, although the text could be larger, and overall, it’s a fantastic little tool to make Youtube feel like a native podcasting app…but with video. I love it!
You can close out of Listening controls mode at the top-right of the popup, and access it at any time as we discussed above. For this to feel truly seamless, I do believe the controls should be one tap away instead of two, and that once enabled, it should be the default “home screen” for the video instead of an overlay. If you call up comments, those should be the overlay instead, and everything else should be accessible right from the controls. I know that would require a lot of UX and UI magic, but I believe it would make the experience better.
I do think it’s odd that Listening controls are locked behind the Premium paywall if background listening is rolling out to everyone for free over time. Either this will be a temporary decision, becoming widely available at no cost to everyone when and if Podcasts does merge with Youtube, or the controls themselves will remain a premium “perk” to get people to pay. I’m attempting to use them as much as possible, but obviously Listening controls work and feel best when you’re consuming long-form content like video podcasts or interviews.
Let me know in the comments if you’ll be using this new feature and if something like this would make you okay with moving away from Google Podcasts. If the company did merge all of the podcast episodes and creators into Youtube, I think I would be excited about that, but I’m also not too upset about changes like this.