Issue 235,  published November 19, 2019

In the UK, the election pod season is here

How do you know when a news event is significant in 2019? Why, when multiple podcasts are launched to cover it, of course. (See all the Epstein pods.)

Sometimes, depending on the news event, a few of these podcasts will even adhere to a daily publishing cadence. That’s how you know it’s especially important.

I’m being slightly facetious here, of course — but only slightly. I do genuinely think that decisions to quickly turn around highly specific pop-up podcasts is a good way of gauging how much of an audience publishers think there is for a particular topic. (Note: not how much of an audience there actually is, but how much media outlets think there is. An important difference.)

Of course, the raft of impeachment-related shows that have launched in the last month or so are a good if obvious barometer for how big a deal that process is. The Latest from the New York Times is the latest (whoops) to join a flowering lineup of daily pods that already included WNYC’s Impeachment: A Daily Podcast, CNN’s The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch, iHeartMedia and BuzzFeed’s Impeachment Today, and many more.

The iteration of this that intrigues me more, though, is the appearance of daily podcasts in the UK pegged to the upcoming general election on 12 December. As I’ve explored in previous newsletters, the UK has a rather different podcast context compared to the US, with major legacy publishers generally practising severe caution when investing in audio products. It isn’t a given, then, that new daily shows appear every time something newsworthy happens. Indeed, over here, there are plenty of major publishers who haven’t even considered dipping their toes in daily audio at all yet.

Yet when Britain’s unending Brexit trauma produced our second snap general election in two and a half years, a small crop of daily podcasts appeared to cover the six weeks of campaigning and the results. As far as I’m aware, new to the scene are: Electioncast from the BBC (which shares a feed with the weekly Brexitcast show); Calling Peston from ITV, which is built around their political editor and host of a Wednesday night political interview show; and Campaign Unwrapped from Sky News. In addition, existing daily shows from the Guardian, BBC Radio 4, The Economist, the FT and the Evening Standard are all leaning heavily on political coverage during the campaign.

There are even several independent offerings, evidence of just how far this trend has spread. There’s Matt Forde’s Political Party, temporarily publishing every day until election day and Cheerful Election Daily, a spin off of the Reasons to be Cheerful show co-hosted by former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

Election campaigns — especially somewhere like the UK, where the event all gets wrapped up inside two months — are traditionally when newspapers and current affairs magazines expect to see an uptick in traffic and subscriptions as more people want to read political coverage than usual. The case for adding in a daily podcast to that offering, if it can be staffed properly, is clear. It’s yet another way of reaching potential customers who might be persuaded to stick around once the election is over. (Maybe.)

The material point is this, though: just over two years ago, the UK also had an election called in the midst of febrile Brexit votes and negotiations, yet there was little or no dash to launch daily podcasts to cover it, by either major publishers or independents. This recent appearance of new shows is a small indicator, then, of how far the UK podcast industry has evolved since 2017.