Launching a new podcast

Yesterday, a new daily podcast launched – The News Agents, presented by Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall, produced by Dino Sofos’ Persephonica and bankrolled by Global, the UK’s biggest commercial radio broadcaster.

There’s no doubt this is a big money launch. It’s been reported that Maitlis and Sopel have been paid in excess of £300k, Goodall likely not far behind. There’s a decent sized team working on it, and new studios are being built for it too. The year one spend is likely easily in excess of £1m. This is a big launch.

Why are Global bothering? Probably a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m sure they’re trying to build a profitable podcast. They have a successful sales team and a podcast business unit to drive revenue. They also have in the radio, their billboards and the talent they’ve hired, the ability to market the show. It’s taken a swift route to number one of the momentum-driven Apple Podcasts chart. We’ll see how long it can stay there.

It’s also a premium podcast to use to promote Global’s own app – the Global Player. The branding connected to is just that, rather than LBC, for example. I’m sure part of the launch is also a little bit of brand positioning for Global too – that they can be the home of high end journalism and not just middle-of-the-road music radio.

The show’s podcast launch today is complimented by video on third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

To me, the opportunity lies in The News Agents being a distinct news brand, rather than just ‘a podcast’. A daily show drives a lot of content that can be converted for social, but can these destinations live beyond the show, covering the news in a News Agents ‘style’? Can they build something that has cut through to the public and is a brand of news of its own?


I think the launch has been done in a different way to many new podcast debuts. Whilst yesterday was the launch episode, there’s actually been three episodes to get there. The first was your regular feed-warmer with a description of what they’d be doing. The second was a short – 7min – chat amongst the team and then third was a post-game on Maitlis’ MacTaggart speech as well as the full speech too.

I think this is a good way to start a new show. Firstly, it takes the pressure out of episode one, as there’s already some content on the channel. It’s also a useful way to show that the podcast isn’t going to be tightly formatted. The Maitlis speech episode was in the back of a cab. There’s also a benefit for early subscribers – mainly fans of the talent – rewarding them with some content. Finally, it’s useful for the Apple chart, as mini-drops help build momentum and keeps the show at the top of the charts during launch week. An important promotional spot in its own right.

The show also benefited from Emily Mailtlis’ Mactaggart speech which generated lots of discussion – both positive and negative – but acted as a way to re-introduce her after a Summer off.

The Show

What was episode 1 proper, like? Pretty good. As always, it’s mad to judge anything by its first episode, but it can be an indicator of the direction of travel.

The show is choosing to pick one topical topic to concentrate on each episode, this is couched in “listeners tell us what we should cover”. Episode 1 kicked off with the “Trump Raid”, explaining the background and then featuring short guest interviews with ex-Trump White House folks Anthony Scaramucci and Mick Mulvaney (ex Chief of Staff). Scaramucci is an entertaining relatively fair-minded, now anti-Trump bod, Mulvaney is re-inventing himself as a right of centre media commentator, after inking a deal with CBS. They also had a more traditionally democratic academic, Randy Zelin, with experience in white collar crime cases.

It was nice that the guests were an additive to the programme, rather than them being the focus – the hosts are clearly that.

If I was being picky, there was not much context setting for who the hosts are – there was no introduction of Maitlis and Sopel until the pre-rec’d introduction about 3mins. Perhaps most listeners would know who they are – but not everyone. We also had the topic set up and then re-setup with the caller.

On role definition, there was an attempt to position Lewis as the ‘fact/explanation’ guy – though it was skipped over a little bit. I think there’s probably some work to do make that more obvious, especially when the three of them are chatting.

I think part of the reason that The Rest is Politics has been so successful is that Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart have great role definition, which really support the show’s format and help to make it easy to listen to.

Of course, for the News Agents, we have the opportunity to see the hosts’ relationships evolve naturally over the episodes – and there will be five a week to do just that.


What does success look like for a show like this? It probably needs to get to 100k UK listens a day. On podcast economics – that sized audience, with three ads in the podcast, a £20 CPM and 70% sell-though rate could net Global around £1m/year.

In The Times piece with producer Dino Sofos he says: “We’ve got an idea of what Americast got and if we weren’t getting the same as that I’d be disappointed.” Americast was the fifth most popular BBC podcast in 2021.

Interestingly, the BBC used yesterday to announce that Americast is back with a new line-up.

I think lots of people will be looking at how The News Agents does when thinking about their own podcast economics and perhaps the investment needed in the hope of launching a hit show.

I think it also shows the ambition of Global in the podcast market. In the Apple Podcasts Top 200, alongside The News Agents is the Wittering Whitehalls, Spencer and Vogue, My Therapist Ghosted Me, James O’Brien’s Full Disclosure, Luanna, Restless Natives, Never Have I Ever and Chris Moyles – which is not a bad showing – and makes them one of few networks with a decent number of hit shows.

I’m hoping to catch-up with producer Dino Sofos on this week’s Media Podcast, so do subscribe to tune-in.


Speaking of the Media Podcast, you can listen to my Edinburgh TV Festival special right now.

Australians! The Australian Podcast Awards are now open for entries. Does your show have what it takes?

Are you coming to Podcast Day 24. There’s in-person events in New York, Sydney and London.

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Should we be following The News Agents’ lead?

In praise of… Scott Mills

It’s the last week of Scott Mills afternoon show on BBC Radio 1. He has not had a bad innings at the station with a 24-year run from October 1998 to today.

Staying on a youth-focused station for so long (aged 25 to 49) is no mean feat. Now, your age isn’t wasn’t signifies how long you get to stay somewhere, it’s your focus on relating to the station’s target audience.

A previous controller of Radio 1, Andy Parfitt, described the station as a conveyor belt of talent. The good ones could keep jumping back delaying the inevitable time they fall off the end. Scott seems to have been a championship player.

Most DJs, irrespective of their age, just get sick of the station that they’re on. Or have a desire to be somewhere else. Listening in I never really got that with Scott. He’s clearly worked very hard, alongside his team, to reimagine his show regularly, staying focused on delivering for the target audience. It’s something that’s incredibly hard to do. Most DJs have a somewhat singular act that stays with them – and it’s the audience that has to get used to it. Again, not the case with Scott.

There’s four elements that I think have made the show, and him as a DJ so successful:

A fundamental understanding of the rhythm of pop radio. His speech breaks are always the appropriate length for the content. He’s not afraid of short ones if it gives pace or builds anticipation. He can also handle longer form segments, but they’re usually focused to remove the extraneous fluff.

Great features. Features can be difficult on a younger-focused pop station. Capital chooses not to really have any in daytime. The balance is always tune out vs appointment to listen. Are they strong enough to keep people listening and make a habit. Scott’s had a huge number over the years including Flirt Divert, 24 Years at the Tap End and Innuendo Bingo. Knowing when to keep or kill them is also vital.

Also included is the sister of the feature, the catchphrase. Balancing these to be inclusive, rather than exclusive is pretty tough. “It’s only bley Friday” and “Love you bye” have become synonymous (for a time).

Storylines. On Radio 1 he was one of the first people to properly take listeners on a content journey over a week (or longer). A mini short-term soap opera with an enjoyable resolution. Be that the Scott Mils Bridge, a live-stream from his house for a week or creating Scott Mills The Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Partners in crime. Staying relevant or reaching the breadth of your audience can often be helped by co-presenters and side-kicks. This relationship is also pretty fraught as egos are forced to share their airwaves. Scott’s consistently enhanced his show with team members, from Chappers to Laura to now 10 years with Chris Stark. Helping co-hosts be successful always reflects well on the anchor. Something he seems to always have been generous with.

If you want a great example of how Scott does a brilliant job, do listen back to Monday 8th August’s episode on BBC Sounds. It’s an edition that I just managed to catch on that day. I’m sure there’s better shows, and worse ones, but listening in to that random pick – there’s so much in it that any budding radio DJ or producer should pay attention to.

Things I noticed in the first hour:

Kicks off with a good character definition montage of the two of them and then a scene-setter – they’re doing the show from Newquay. It’s a link less than 20 secs.

Two songs back to back and then another 20 seconder with some listener voice notes and an appeal for more.

A reset that they’re leaving Radio 1 and this was a core place for their relationship, a nice sense of place for Newquay with a good line “if Newquay was on a dating app, what I can see would be the profile picture”. A reflect on the weather and a gag about Scott providing a 50 or a 30 factor sun cream for the team – playing to his position as the show’s ‘mum’. A quick shout of “this is a work event” into the next tune.

A great story about travelling down, via Par, and their uselessness getting some food with some great detail that the only place that would serve them had a weird playlist of “a Callum Scott megamix and the Kids Bop version of Justin Bieber”. Then into Scott always providing an itinerary for a trip (again Mum-style character) giving him the opportunity to mention loads of local place names and repeat, a now recurring joke, that it’s not a holiday but a ‘“work event”. Finally finishes with a great audio gag “and if all goes to plan, Senior Dicks” (say it out loud) before straight into a song.

We’re 23mins in so far. Some speedier links and some segues either side of the news means the next speech break is at 41mins in and we’re doing listener mentions asking Scott to play in a local Rugby team. There’s then a setup, and first execution, for ‘Stupid Street’ a returning feature about rubbish responses to vox pop questions with loads of real-people audio. Its 6mins in length – pretty long, but it’s engaging with lots of content and a variety of voices.

Another couple of songs and a reminiscence link, which again re-affirms why they’re in Newquay and a pick up of listener responses to Stupid Street before a second hit – all around 4 mins.

A couple more tunes and its the end of the hour – all that content and they still got 14 songs away. Pretty good! It’s entertaining, sharp, funny, there’s production in the Stupid Street voxes and there’s really good writing – the itinerary, the recall of the music in the trip – it’s prepared material used in an effortless way. But they’re not over-prepared, there’s room for listener comments to add to what they have planned, plus still reflect a sense of day too. To me, it’s a pretty perfect hour of entertaining radio.

Scott now moves on to Radio 2, taking over from Steve Wright. Whilst different in style, they both share a certain artistry in how they structure their shows. In adjusting what he does for a different audience, I’m sure it will be a task that Scott relishes. It help he’s now in the target group, rather than out of it. But I think the last 24 years shows he’ll rise to the challenge.


Tickets are on sale for Podcast Day 24 on Tuesday 4th October. Whether you’re in Australia, America or Europe – there’s events for you – as we hit Sydney, New York and London. Go see what’s on and get your tickets.

I’m experimenting with a new Substack feature where you can hear me read the post. Sorry, maybe I should have said that at the top. Anyway – feedback welcome, it’ll be on the web version, I guess.

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Why has he stayed at the top of his game?

RAJAR Q2/2022

Another quarter, and another deluge of data. With both Radio Today and Adam Bowie taking a Summer break, you’re stuck with my analysis! Yes, it’s RAJAR day – the UK radio ratings are out. For overseas visitors there’s going to be some specifics about radio stations you’ve never heard of, but taken together it’s an interesting snapshot of changing listener behaviour and hopefully that’s useful wherever you are in the world.

And snapshot is the right word. This captures a moment in time. With stations either reporting on 3 months of data, half a year of it, or a full year, the insights roll together listener consumption. It’s always the thing to slag off RAJAR, where the majority of listeners record their listening 15 minutes by 15 minutes over a week – either on paper, on their phone or on the PC. However that data is now combined with apps that hear what you hear and some panels too. Taken together, they’ve included over 40,000 people this quarter – a survey bigger than the UK election exit poll. If you’re a national station, it’s pretty robust! And one of the ways you can see the robustness, is that though the vast majority of respondents change each quarter, the figures stay pretty similar.

This RAJAR there’s quite a few stations that have dropped down, now whilst this may be down to listeners’ habits it could also be down to the big number at the top – that’s total UK radio listening. Since RAJAR returned after the pandemic, total UK listening has been pretty consistent – 49.4m, 49.4m, 49.7m people tuned in each week – but this time it’s dropped 750k to 48.9m. So everyone is sort of down before they’ve started. They’re playing in a smaller pool.

This drop isn’t massively demographically driven. Quarter on quarter 15-24s are down a bit, but 65 plusses are down some more.

Now, in RAJAR, trends are what you want to really look at, rather than snapshots. This drop in all listening might be a blip, or the start of a trend. We won’t know until we’ve got more data in the future.

The Young

Some other broad radio facts, that still surprise people.

Demographically there is no massive decline in the number of young people listening to the radio. Here’s radio reach across different demographics (bear in mind there was a methodology change in Q3/2021 and a pandemic sized gap before it).

It’s down a bit, but isn’t precipitous. Where there is more of a marked change is in the amount they listen to:

Three years ago, 15-24s listened to 85m hours, now it’s 65m. 25-34s listened to 126m hours, now it’s 115m. The charts would suggest that perhaps the drops may have levelled off.

Digital Listening

As a country, we listen to radio predominantly digitally.

AM and FM radio is consumed by 30.6m people, DAB digital radio 32.4m people, and streamed radio by 20m. If you combine analogue vs all the digital platforms, analogue is the aforementioned 30.6m and digital has 40.7m listeners.

When we look at the volume of radio people listen to – it’s share – digital radio accounts for 67.6% of their hours listened to (broken-down DAB: 40.8%, Streaming: 22.3% and DTV: 4.5%) and analogue is the remainder – just 32.4%.

The Big Commercial Stations

The key change seems to have been the recovery and consolidation of Bauer’s Hits Radio network – this includes Hits Radio, the old Bauer ILRs, the ones they acquired and Gem. They’re now bigger than Capital in reach and hours, and Heart in hours too. A big success for them. Greatest Hits is also giving Smooth a run for its money. It’s closing in on reach and pretty neck and neck on hours. Sat between Heart and Smooth, GHR seems to have blown a bit of a hole in both.

Big Commercial Networks

Most of the stations above are part of broader brand networks which includes spin-off services. Heart includes Heart 90s etc, and Hits Radio Brand includes Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio networks. Historically the network effect has given all the networks growth, as digital listening has risen and new launches have appeared. As digital penetration is starting to max out though, this benefit is receding.

I would probably wager that Hits & Greatest Hits has enjoyed some success partly as they’ve stabilised relatively newly launched products, but also through introducing products with content as marketing (adding Simon Mayo to GHR) and spending some money on general marketing too. Meanwhile the digital spin offs have little in the way of talent or specific marketing. Their uniqueness and musical focus in the market was their selling point, but perhaps we’ve reached the limit of any growth that can deliver now.


Of course, the brand battle is important, but the big groups are mostly concentrating on their share of the commercial market and how many impacts they can deliver national advertisers. Over the last year Global’s added around 6m hours and Bauer’s added 8m, whilst Wireless has stayed broadly the same. For all three groups, they’re reaching a similar number of listeners they did 12 months ago.

Wireless Group

Over at News UK, it’s interesting to look at their more recent station launches.

Times Radio’s really bounced around reach-wise, whilst pretty stable in hours. This probably suggests its found a core audience but isn’t really growing that fast. Talk Radio on the other hand is seeing steady growth quarter on quarter. After years of not really knowing what it was, it’s ideologically a pretty consistent product now and is definitely building an audience.

Talk made a big change to its evening programming when merging with Talk TV, which launched at the end of April. Now that’s not entirely shown in this data, as Talk rolls its data for six months, so we’re seeing average figures from Jan to June. However, having a sneaky look into the system suggests that the new evening shows are having a positive effect for Talk Radio – we’ll see the scale of that next quarter.

Virgin Radio’s decline will be disappointing after the talent investment that it has seen. I see very little marketing for the station and things that Chris Evans or Graham Norton do, don’t seem to have much cut through to non-listeners. I think it’s predominantly a PR & Marketing problem, rather than a content issue – though some of that does go hand in hand.


Nationally the BBC’s stations are, in the most part, remarkably stable. Taking an ongoing hit has been Radio 1. Having a quick look at other youth stations, Capital is following a similar pattern, whilst the slightly more specialist stations are a little more consistent.

Pop music flow for younger audiences is very split at the moment. Research is tending to suggest people are part of more specific genre tribes. When you combine these different genre types, that’s annoying to listeners, they like one, but not the other. This poses more of a challenge for stations like Radio 1 or Capital which have previously been about mixing pop genres.

The other BBC station that faces challenges is Five Live. Its combination of news and sport has always been slightly annoying for people who are either in the news or sport camp, the other one is always seen to be interfering in what they like. I think this is more of an issue now, when there’s stations like Times, LBC or Talk Radio that can scratch the news itch, and a more consistent talkSPORT and talkSPORT2 seemingly with an ever increasing range of sports rights that can do sport pretty well too.

Internally the BBC have wanted to split Five Live into two stations but have been stymied by regulation (and pressure from competitors). With the upcoming switch off of Five Live’s AM service and its re-emergence as a digital only brand, is it time for Sports Extra to become a full time Five Live Sport, and the regular Five Live to becomes Five Live News?

Regional Shows

We’re probably moving closer to some further deregulation of commercial radio. A reminder that it’s the government’s intention to remove most programme-related regulation, so networks would be free to network all programming, providing they have a commitment to localised news and travel. Of course the government is in flux at the moment, but we could see that legislation next year. Whether the radio groups that have local shows will remove them is still an unknown. Whilst the opportunities for costs savings are there, having regional shows to deliver more localised S&P is seen as valuable for the relative cost, particularly now many stations have been regionalised. I thought it might be interesting to look at the scale of some of these shows.

The London shows aren’t as strong as you would assume, though clearly they have more competition in those markets. The share figures in some of the regional markets are also pretty impressive for the localised shows. Now we don’t know what putting a ‘high quality national’ show in the regions could do to ratings – good or bad. But if you were looking at some of these you maybe wouldn’t want to mess too much with the big ones.

Rich Clarke’s Drive show in the South on Heart currently beats every regional drive and breakfast show across Capital, Smooth and Heart, other than Heart London (it’s even got a bigger reach than Capital London Drive). It’s also a reminder how strong the Smooth breakfast shows are around the country.

That’s it for my quick look through. If you’ve noticed something interesting, why not leave it in the comments.

I’m able to do all of this as a subscriber to Octagon, from Hallett Arendt, which is my invaluable RAJAR analysis tool.

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Who’s up and who’s down?

In Praise of the Story Arc

Most of what we all do is the day to day. It’s somewhat repetitive. But often it’s the consistency that your listeners/customers/users buy into. If someone likes your politics podcast and then one day it’s all about Love Island, they would be a bit shocked. Similarly with radio shows, benchmarks in a breakfast show are essential as people arrange their routine around your features. It’s mad when you think about it. But it’s the consistency that bends the listener to your will. If a family know to be in the car on the way to school when you do the Secret Sound, you can’t keep moving it around.

However, saying all that, mixing things up a little is never a bad thing. Providing there’s context for it. You can break the rules to mix things up if you understand the rules and why they are there. If you know about your listener, care about how they use you and provide all the right context, there’s nothing to stop you doing new, fun and special things.

The UK’s Radio 1 had recently gone off-plan and done something special, a stunt with their breakfast DJ, Greg James. The station sent Greg off to Brighton on Monday 18th July and stole his breakfast show off him. The only way he could win it back was to find 20 jigsaw pieces that would form the Radio 1 logo. They were hidden around the UK and listeners had to find them and transport them to Brighton. It took them six days to complete it.

Greg remained ‘on’ the breakfast show as a guest across the week (Scott Mills and Chris Stark took over) and the jigsaw piece discovery ran across daytimes each day.

Radio 1 partly choose this week as they understand their listeners – as for many it’s the start of the school holidays. This means a decent chunk of their audience’s schedule shifts, and that they’re around to potentially listen more and join in. Radio 1 has also changed quite a bit of their schedule recently with lots of new people. This was a good opportunity to introduce them through the different challenges.

Throughout the week the main structure of the radio station stayed the same. Mostly the same people, on at the same time, doing their regular things. But that was overlayed with a story that listeners could follow along with.

The producer, Chris Sawyer, who designed much of it, explains their planning in a recent tweet thread.

What I like about it is that there was a story arc. They knew mostly what would happen over the week, with key moments planned out, but it also had enough ‘give’ to allow some surprises (to everyone) along the way.

The other great story arc over the past couple of weeks is that of the Lionesses. As a football tournament it has a natural story – how far will they go, but layered on top was that the fact this was the England Women’s team playing against the well-worn storyline of the country’s decades long failure to take home a trophy – until now. The end point is a match against long-time rivals Germany, that goes to extra time – and when we would usually fail at likely penalties, the team instead won! Extra time on the arc was the great invaded press-conference and a Trafalgar Square finish.

For me the key media thing with any good story arc, is that it needs to reinforce your core brand. Radio 1’s puzzle leaned into the presenters, the listeners and doing a fun thing together (which is much of their programming). The Euros success clearly delivered on the brand they wanted it to be, and has obviously done a great job of rounding out a number of years of building for the Women’s Team.

Over in politics-land the Conservative Leadership battle is a great example of zero forethought in building a compelling narrative and storyline for the candidates (or the party).

The inevitable defenestration of Boris Johnson still seemed to leave challengers a little on the hoof, even when they had registered their domain names and made their videos in the previous months.

The clash of the competitors instantly meant any benefits their history had, or ‘successes’ of the previous administration were immediately trashed. The ‘blue on blue’ action left somewhat bruised competitors. The Labour Party’s video using their own words to demonstrate how bad a job the Tories had done over 12 years is telling:

Down to the final two, they now have six weeks of time that is unlikely to have any pre-planned moments. The hustings process is repetitive and the competitors will continue to clash. At the same time they have to target their policies at a small sub-demographic (old, white, mostly male Conservative party members) that’s not representative of the country, or the people they need to keep on board (red wall folk).

It’s like most political campaigns that you see in America, where Republicans go hard right to win a primary and then rush to the centre to try and win over their local area. The trouble for Liz and Rishi is the victor will have strongly positioned themselves in a place that’s harder to win a General Election.

Fundamentally they are not thinking about their core audience. Their ‘doing something different’ (campaigning etc) doesn’t re-enforce their brand values, it drags away from it. Non-political centrists who didn’t mind Rishi now get ten weeks of him as a hard-right figure. All the work he put into his previous brand, signatures on social media and all that, has been superseded by being off-message for over two months.

If Liz Truss wins, at the next election, all the Labour party comms will be her own words saying that the government (that she was one of the longest serving ministers in) had done a bad job of loads of things.

All of which is a long way of saying how consistency is essential to build audiences, and if you break away from that, it’s got to be true to your brand and your listeners.

Podcast Fun

It’s been a busy time at Podcast Awards HQ. The British Podcast Awards was a huge success, crowning lots of brilliant winners, including the BBC World Service’s Dear Daughter as Podcast of the Year. Idris Elba even turned up!

Over in Ireland, we announced the nominees for the inaugural Irish Podcast Awards. Again, a great list of shows to check out if you want to freshen up your podcatcher. Tickets are now on sale for the ceremony on Friday 16th September in Dublin.

AND, we’re now firmly into Australian Podcast Awards planning. I know there are lots of Australian followers here, if you want to get involved or your company fancies partnering, get in touch by hitting reply and we’ll tell you more.

Spotify’s Rowan Collinson speaking at Grow

The day before the British Podcast Awards we held a new conference event – Grow. It brought together about 200 people looking to grow their podcast with loads of great speakers from Apple, Acast, Audiboom, Spotify as well as production companies and entrepreneurs. It was a great day.

If you missed it, the next big conference is going to be Podcast Day 24. On October 4th there will be in-person events in Sydney, London and New York. As part of your ticket you’ll also get access to videos of all of the sessions worldwide.

The Coronacast session from Podcast Day 24 in Australia, last year.

We did the first Podcast Day 24 last year and it was an amazing bunch of speakers and sessions. We’ve announced a few of the speakers, with lots more great people to announce.

We’re expecting most of it to sell out, but you can grab an earlybird ticket for the next two weeks. If you want to know what’s happening in podcasting in your territory, and around the world, you need to come along. You’ll save £100 if you buy your ticket now.

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Why story planning is essential for success

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