Issue 241,  published January 14, 2020

The Broccoli is Served

One of the big 2019 developments for UK podcasting was the announcement of Sony Music’s joint venture with producer Renay Richardson, which takes the form of a London-based production company called Broccoli Content. Given that Sony seems to be seeking out quite a few of these strategic partnerships at the moment — others formed so far include Jonathan Hirsch’s Neon Hum Media and Adam Davidson-Laura Mayer’s ThreeUncannyFour — it felt significant that Richardson had attracted similar investment in the smaller British podcast market.

On Sunday, Broccoli Content dropped the first episode of its first show since teaming up with Sony. Your Broccoli Weekly is a current affairs show, with host Diyora Shadijanova welcoming two guests on each episode to break down the three most significant news stories of the week. To learn more about the project, I caught up with Richardson and Shadijanova on the phone late last week, just as they were heading into the studio to record the first episode.

The way Richardson explains it, the original inspiration for a Sunday current affairs podcast came from an old housemate. “He used to do his ironing every Sunday — it’s the day when you reset,” she said. “If you’re going to start again and try and be better, that’s when you do it. Your meal prep, your ironing, whatever.” She wanted to make a podcast that would help a healthy news habit fit into this kind of routine, and initially approached Shadijanova last autumn, before the UK general election was called for December.

“What with the election, with Brexit — which is supposedly going to be done by the end of January, whatever that means — and everything else, I really wanted this be the first show we launched,” she continued.

Broccoli Content is now based out of Sony’s Kensington offices in London, and the partnership has given Richardson access to resources she hasn’t had before, including four full-time staff (plus more hires expected in the future). She wanted to aim the new show at young professionals under the age of 30, and Sony’s insights team was able to provide her with research that suggested that this demographic was underserved by existing current affairs programming from other publishers, especially the BBC. Media regulator Ofcom has been tracking this trend for a while; a report last year suggested that young people had abandoned TV news “almost entirely.”

Although there are plenty of news-based podcasts, she felt like there was a gap in the UK for a wholly diverse show catering to younger people in an ambitious way. “There are people doing conversations about the news with their friends, and then there’s top journalists doing stuff like [the BBC’s] Electioncast and so on. I see this is as going in between those two things,” Richardson said.

Your Broccoli Weekly will be full of opinionated conversation, backed up by guests’ substantial knowledge of their subjects. The show will also dare to go where other outlets hold back: “There’s no such thing as ‘balance’, especially when it comes to racism,” Richardson explained. Shadijanova agreed, pointing to their decision to cover Prince Harry and Meghan’s recent announcement in light of the latter’s race and the way the media have treated her.

The title of the show links in directly with the name of Richardson’s company. She explained in a Hot Pod Career Spotlight back in 2018 that it came from the negative responses she received when trying to pitch her award-winning series About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge to major outlets: “I was told the idea was ‘broccoli,’ meaning “it’s good for you but no one wants to eat it,” she wrote at the time. Now, the knowledge that she was right that there was an audience for that show has become a guiding principle for her work. The first thing you hear from the new show is the company tag-line: “This is broccoli. Content that’s good for you.”

Such is the thinking behind Your Broccoli Weekly — rather than pretending the news is entertainment, Shadijanova and her guests are deliberately taking things seriously and trusting that their audience will appreciate the value of being well informed when they head into the office on a Monday morning. Also, people are just wrong in the way they characterise broccoli as a vegetable, Richardson says. “People think broccoli is boring, but throw some garlic on it! It’s great.”

They’ve also made the decision to make the show inherently British, tackling stories that matter in the UK, rather than trying to pitch at a global audience. “There are hundreds of thousands of shows made by Americans covering America better than we could, because they’re there,” Shadijanova said. “For instance, if we talked about Iran this week, we’d just be talking loads about Trump, and there are already loads of people doing that. So instead we focus on what we can do best, what’s going on in the UK.” And that doesn’t mean people elsewhere won’t tune in, Richardson added, saying she felt there was a real hunger for in depth, homegrown coverage of topics like Brexit elsewhere.

Your Broccoli Weekly is a mission statement, then, for what Richardson wants to do with her company. It will be the “flagship show” for Broccoli Content, she said, with its ongoing weekly production schedule ideal for launching other shows and cross promotion. By coincidence, another show she’s made has also just dropped: Money 101, a commission for BBC Sounds. She started working on that last summer, before the Sony investment, but sees its educative sensibility as something she will continue through the company’s other output.

In a British media landscape that is anxious and uncertain about how to operate in light of young people’s evolving news consumption habits, Richardson and Broccoli Content stand out with a confident vision for this audience. It’s a bold ploy, unashamedly pitching the seriousness of news at an audience that plenty of other outlets are wary of alienating further from current affairs. I suspect an awful lot of people in audio and even journalism more broadly will be watching to see if this “broccoli” approach can succeed.