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?

Launch

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.

Success

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.

AOB

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