Issue 178,  published September 25, 2018

In the UK, Podcasts are TV’s new BFF

TV recap podcasts are nothing new. In fact, they’re such staples that the recap podcast model is nowadays being applied to radio programmes, too. There’s one that focuses on the long-running BBC radio soap The Archers, which has been broadcast continually since 1951, named DumTeeDum after the distinctively enraging Archers theme music, and there are a couple more that spin off from Britain’s longest-running radio show, Desert Island Discs.

The idea of a TV companion podcast is a little newer here in the UK. In 2017, the BBC debuted an official companion podcast to their ballroom dancing reality show Strictly Come Dancing, and are bringing it back for the latest season this autumn. ITV experimented with the idea for the 2018 series of Love Island, which is a hugely popular dating reality show in which contestants live in a Mediterranean villa and are eliminated if they don’t couple up. The winning couple goes home with £50,000 at the end. (I tried to crowdsource this explanation on Twitter and a very smart friend of mine came up with “if Jersey Shore was 12 British strangers on an island.”) The companion podcast, called Love Island: The Morning After, is being produced by the independent production company Rubber Chicken and Acast.

That spin-off podcast stayed at the top of the UK Apple Podcast charts for weeks, and Susie Warhurst, global head of content for Acast, told me that it hit nearly 3.5 million downloads over its two-month run. Kellogg’s, the cereal brand, served as the headline sponsor for the show, and I’ve heard word that the podcast has been considered a success worth repeating by the broadcaster. Warhurst, too, was confident that other such shows will follow. “I think we’re only going to see TV tie-in audio shows increase and evolve and as a result, brand advertisers flock to them,” she said.

The digital TV channel Crime+Investigation (owned and operated by the US media company A+E Networks and BSkyB) has also begun dabbling in this space. Their new flagship true crime TV show Murdertown, presented by former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly, now has a companion podcast of the same name. Instead of inhouse talent, though, it is created by a team of independent true crime podcasters: Benjamin Fitton from They Walk Among Us (TWAU) and Anna Priestland, formerly of Casefile. Both have a pretty strong track record in this space; Fitton told me that TWAU brought in a million downloads in August.

The Murdertown podcast aims to be a companion to the TV show in a more literal sense than the Strictly or Love Island spin-off podcasts. Rather than analysing the onscreen content, it tells stories associated with the places featured in the TV episodes. There is plenty of overlap with TWAU; the Murdertown show promises “ten stories of people who might appear just like us, but are capable of evil,” which is similar to TWAU’s overarching theme that unsolved crimes are far more common than we think.

It would be perfectly possible to understand enjoy the Murdertown podcast without ever seeing the TV show — which, of course, isn’t the case for the more commentary-based podcasts. Nevertheless, Fitton and Priestland aimed for a similar aesthetic and storytelling. At the point that Fitton was brought on board the TV series had already been filmed, but the podcast team were shown early cuts of the TV episodes to ensure the feel of the podcast matched the tone.

In other ways, Fitton’s experience of making the podcast has been “worlds apart” from the process behind TWAU, an independent show in which its two creators do everything from research to editing to illustrating to marketing. He tells me that Murdertown was a more more professionalised production (that A+E retain full rights for). Fitton explained: “I’m recording the narration in a studio in London and have an audience of editors and producers which can be quite daunting. . . Also, I’m not involved in the editing process which is a change of pace, as you have to place your trust in other people, but it has been a very enjoyable experience.”

It’s not hard to see what C+I gets out of this arrangement, since working with Fitton and Priestland gives the network access to a chunky audience of dedicated true crime fans via TWAU and Casefile. For the podcasters, it’s a useful sideline, and a chance for their work to be exposed to TV true crime fans who aren’t yet into podcasts. Essentially, it’s an alternate multimedia version of the cross-promo techniques podcasts have been employing for years.