Pod on my TV. Last night saw the debut episode of the BBC’s Brexitcast podcast on television, with a 30-minute episode going out on BBC One and the BBC News Channel. Turning a popular audio product into a screen experience isn’t something the BBC has done a huge amount of to date, and I was particularly interested to see how this would go since it’s been given the post Question Time 11.35pm Thursday night slot previously occupied by political chat show This Week (which came to an end this summer after 16 years after host Andrew Neil stepped down from the show).
This Week’s “lighthearted” approach to political broadcasting certainly wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and Neil has himself become a divisive figure in recent times. Still, replacing such a long running property with an experimental podcast recording is a ballsy decision of the kind we don’t often see from the BBC. And I suspect they will be pleased with last night’s numbers: over a million people tuned in for Brexitcast, according to the BBC’s PR team. Although obviously the test now will be whether viewers come back in subsequent weeks.
Brexitcast gained an audience in audio for its relaxed, unscripted format — it provided listeners with an opportunity to hear from prominent BBC correspondents like Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler at greater length and with less formality than on their brief TV and radio bulletin appearances. Over time, a nice rapport developed between the podcast’s regulars, and as well as talking about major news developments they shared some personal backstory about how they were reporting stories and coping with the unendingly frenetic pace of political journalism.
In translating the show to the screen, it looks to me like producers have made decisions aimed at preserving this dynamic as far as possible. The show is filmed in what looks like a radio studio (although a nicely lit one, for once), with the four speakers sitting in a line behind a desk in front of the window to the production booth (shout out to Dino Sofos, who kept a straight face behind the glass throughout).
All of them were still wearing headphones, the microphones were out on the desk, and apart from a bit of branding there were very few concessions to the new, visual medium. It looked in every way what a podcast recording looks like, a feeling augmented by the fact that the speakers never once looked at the cameras, so there was no meta sense of them winking at the viewer.
Now, I like that as an aesthetic, and I think it’s a bold choice to let the chemistry and charisma of the hosts speak for itself like this without any added visual bells and whistles. I’m sure that existing Brexitcast listeners who tuned in would have been perfectly satisfied with the new ability to see the facial expressions of those speaking as well as hear what they’re saying.
But if the purpose of moving the show to TV — as a replacement for This Week, which had many esoteric visual gags — was for it to reach more people and convert them into regular viewers/listeners, I’m not sure this will do it. There’s also the added challenge of location, since usually at least some of the team is in Brussels, and the original announcement said the plan was to continue making episodes remotely. I suspect some split screen action ahead.
It’s a very difficult balance to strike, to move existing listeners over to a new medium but also appeal to complete newbies. More introductory stuff to get newcomers up to speed on the in jokes, a setup that looks slightly less like “just a radio studio”, and a more clearly defined purpose for the TV version would help a lot — is the idea to attract the post Question Time audience to BBC podcast content, or the other way round? I think at the moment the show felt far too much like joining an ongoing conversation part way through.
Related: Speaking of podcasts ending up on TV… The trailer for Modern Love, an Amazon series based on the podcast and column of the same name, is out. John Slattery and Tina Fey are cracking jokes in therapy and I’m ready for it.
Cross (Atlantic) Promotion. The BBC World Service and the CBC have announced a new collaboration in which they will be showcasing each other’s podcasts. It kicked off this week with the hosts of the BBC’s 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter and the CBC’s Tai Asks Why directing listeners to each other’s shows, and will apparently continue across other shows as schedules allow.
For the World Service, we were told that “this is the beginning of a showcasing pilot with other public service partners”, while the CBC have already been doing something similar for four years, with broadcasters including the ABC in Australia. It’s not quite the same thing, of course, but the World Service has already collaborated very successfully on a podcast with the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, the cold case series Death in Ice Valley.
In many ways, this is an easy win for public broadcasters, who can increase their international reach without having to navigate any concerns about incorporating or removing advertising or accidentally promoting commercial content. However, I’m sure some in the UK will be raising their eyebrows at this: why, given that the BBC has pledged to do its best to share its privileged platform with other providers, is it promoting Canadian content rather than homegrown British talent? I highly doubt it’s for lack of trying — I suspect that the concerns about impartiality and monetisation I expressed when the BBC first started talking about including podcasts from other providers in the BBC Sounds app are proving difficult barriers to surmount.
Spotify’s been busy. Everyone’s favourite platisher announced the addition of two German podcasts this week, Herrengedeck und Gemischtes Hack, which will be exclusive to Spotify from now on, although still produced by their original teams with support. The Swedish streaming giant also acquired Soundbetter, a music production marketplace with 180,000 users, and will be adding it to the Spotify for Artists dashboard.
Keep an ear out. A useful survey of the state of music licencing for podcasts from Billboard here. Basically, be cautious out there, because record labels and rights owners are getting more interested in what podcasts do with their properties. As Hrishikesh Hirway puts it in the piece: “People are paying attention to podcasts in a way that’s completely different than it was five years ago, and as a result, business interests just go along with that.”
Now you see it. Entale, a London-based podcast startup with an emphasis on rich media that I profiled about a year ago, has secured £2 million in funding from DMG Ventures (the venture capital arm of the Daily Mail’s parent company). The money will go on both tech and content, the company said, including upgrades to “its publisher platform and AI technology, as well as supporting a slate of original shows”.