published June 26, 2020

Insider: June 26, 2020

– “Movies” for your “Ears”

– New BBC Podcast Unit

– Freelancer Pay… and more!

Cadence13 launches new podcast studio. Cadence13 and Endeavor Content have signed a partnership to create a new podcast studio called C13Features. The aim of the venture, they say, is to bring a “traditional Hollywood blockbuster movie creative approach to construct audio features at scale” — that’s according to the press release written up at Variety. The output will be “feature-length stories of all genres” — fiction, I’m inferring — that have “a beginning, a middle and end, all wrapped into one podcast episode, similar to a movie arc”. The studio will make use of Hollywood writing, acting and directing talent, and each 90-120 minute episode will standalone, although there is the potential to organise them into “franchises”.

The catchy name for this format proposition is “movies for your ears”. I have to say, I’m personally sceptical about whether people want a movie-style experience from their podcasts, and I’m sure plenty in the audio drama world are going to be raising eyebrows at the framing of this. However, I can see two very clear motivations for why this project, at this moment.

The first is obvious: coronavirus has shut down Hollywood in a pretty drastic way. Shows and films aren’t going to be able to shoot at pre pandemic rates for a while still, cinemas are closed or operating at an extremely limited capacity, and as a result the whole pipeline is backed up and there’s a lot of underemployed talent floating around. Podcasts, however, can be produced quickly, cheaply and safely, and we now have a reasonable body of evidence that suggests people still listen to them even if they’re not commuting. There’s a suggestion in the Variety piece that this podcast studio will be looking to scoop up unproduced scripts originally destined for the screen as well as working with original material, and I think that kind of says it all, really.

The second justification is one we’re all really familiar with, so I don’t need to bust it out in detail again: the podcast to TV IP pipeline, of course. Hollywood will eventually get going again, and there will be studios very interested in buying concepts that have already been cheaply tested with the audience in audio drama form. If they already have talent associations and franchise potential, all the better. It still strikes me as strange that this is a podcast venture closely mimicking and borrowing from the film and TV industry that is partly aimed at selling stuff back to the film and TV industry but… stranger things have happened. And speaking of, Cadence13’s Chris Corcoran said that the Netflix show Stranger Things is an example of something he thinks would work really well in this audio format. So, there’s that.

BBC launches new podcast unit. The BBC Radio in house production unit will relaunch on Monday as “BBC Audio”. Formerly known as “BBC Radio & Music Production”, this rebrand is yet another manifestation of how the corporation is moving away from a radio first model for its audio output.

The move also includes the creation of a new creative development unit based in Bristol that will focus on producing podcasts. The core team of four producers there will continue to make shows for radio stations and BBC Sounds, as well as working with “teams and individuals new to podcasting on pitching and development”.

Graham Ellis, Controller of BBC Audio, stressed that this new unit will augment the existing work going on with podcasts at BBC Sounds and elsewhere rather than replacing it, saying that “The new unit supplements rather than supplants the development work which goes on every day in our departments and allows us to bring our world class staff together around specific ideas in a way which isn’t limited by structures or genres.”

The production department in Bristol has been responsible for some big name BBC podcasts in the past, including 13 Minutes to the Moon for the World Service and Forest 404 for Radio 4. And while this story does in some ways seem like a classic BBC process story — new names for existing teams and organisations, etc, we’ve all seen W1A, right? — I think it is worth noting the change from Radio to Audio in the operation’s title as an indication of the way things are moving internally there.

Related, sort of: The BBC has also this week pledged to spend £100 million on increasing diversity in their TV output, both in front of and behind the camera. The fund will kick in from April 2021 and commits the corporation to making sure that 20 percent of off-screen talent is from under-represented groups. I haven’t yet seen a similar move for radio/audio.

Majority 54 to Wonder Media. Majority 54, a popular US politics podcast that ran from November 2017 to August 2018 with Crooked Media, has relaunched this week as a Wonder Media Network show. Original host Jason Kander, an army veteran and politician who dropped out of public life to get treatment for PTSD, returns along with a new co host, Ravi Gupta.
Vice News partners with iHeartMedia. The Hollywood Reporter has the write up on this one: Vice News is joining forces with iHeartMedia to produce a weekly half hour investigative podcast called Vice News Reports. The show will be distributed via the iHeartRadio network as well as in all the usual podcast places. The show will debut in Q3.

Related, sort of: Conde Nast, amid making pledges about “inclusion” and suspending staff members, is also apparently launching a branded podcast network.

Freelancer pay transparency. A group of audiomakers from the UK are working on a transparency project around pay in the industry, inspired by a similar effort recently in the US. Those working on audio in the UK are asked to fill in this anonymous survey here, and the responses are being uploaded for everyone to view here.

Recent happenings like the Equality in Audio pact and the row over Another Round’s archives really underline how inequity thrives in secret. Sharing what you’re paid for your work, especially if you occupy a position of privilege, is a concrete way in which you as an individual can help those from underrepresented backgrounds push back against unfair remuneration. If you work in the UK, please consider taking part, or passing on to someone who can.

Caroline Crampton is a UK based journalist who has been writing about podcasts since 2014. Her journalism has appeared in publications including the Guardian, Lenny, the New Statesman and the Millions. She is a regular speaker and media commentator on the state of the podcast industry.