Welcome to Iowa. Spotify and Vice News have announced the launch of three new original podcasts, building on their partnership in 2018 for the bilingual English-Spanish show Chapo: Kingpin on Trial. That was a project that really interested me, both for its multilingual approach to telling an ongoing story and also the windowing strategy that saw three of the eight English language episodes put on wide release and the rest kept exclusive to Spotify. (Read my full write up on that from last year here.)
The three new shows will also all sit in the broader politics/current affairs space. The first to launch will be Uncommitted: Iowa 2020, which will drop the first of its 12 episodes on 12 November and will “dive deep into the idiosyncratic process and history behind the Iowa Caucuses to bring the next generation of voters a fresh look at the state that could decide the presidency and Democratic party’s future”. Then, in 2020 there will be an eight episode series about fentanyl and “the third wave of the opioid crisis”, and then later on next year an as yet unrevealed global politics show.
Last year, a Vice News spokesperson told me that working with Spotify on the Chapo project provided a “way into the podcast world” — Vice Media more generally has experimented with podcasting, but this was new ground for the news brand. That show ticked a lot of boxes for Spotify too, not least because of its strong connection to Mexico and Spanish speaking territories where Voxnest data shows Spotify outstripping Apple as the podcast listening app of choice.
Now, after a year that saw Spotify’s major push into podcasting, the Vice News partnership is obviously still one that makes sense for the corporation, despite the acquisition of its own content creation businesses (I’m thinking particularly of Gimlet, since these new shows from Vice News are very much pitching for the high-end, narrative storytelling way of doing things). I think it’s worth noting that Spotify is still in the business of forming external content partnerships, as well as maximising the output from its own internal studios.
I know it’s too early for end of year predictions yet (shout out to list season, I see you hoving into view already), but I suspect that platform exclusivity is going to be something we talk a lot more about in the months to come.
A more digital BBC. The BBC’s Director of Content, Charlotte Moore, gave a major speech in London this week. Titled “A new vision for iPlayer, a new future for BBC television”, it contextualised a long-awaited shift in how the corporation makes content available online. Until now, most TV programmes have only been available on its digital iPlayer platform for 30 days after their initial broadcast. But now the regulator Ofcom has given permission for shows to stay up for “a minimum of 12 months”.
Given that the BBC is very preoccupied about the way streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are changing viewing habits (and cutting into its own audience), this will be regarded internally as an important tool for keeping viewers on side and on iPlayer. (See also: the ongoing barney with Google over distributing BBC podcasts.)
A good example of the digital bind the BBC is in: at the moment, if I want to watch a past season of The Great British Bake Off, I can do that on Netflix but not on the BBC’s own platform, even though that’s where the show was original commissioned and broadcast. This new rule allows the corporation to lean into a box set driven strategy. Moore’s speech also highlights the extent to which her team are now considering requests for a show on iPlayer as a significant metric for success, rather than just relying on conventional broadcast ratings.
But what does this have to do with podcasting, I hear you ask? Well, a few things. Firstly, I think it’s always interesting to get a steer from a BBC exec on where the ongoing internal battles over digital publication vs traditional broadcasting are up to, even if it’s here being applied to TV/streaming rather than radio/podcasting. I also think it’s worth just noticing that in this Variety preview of the speech, there was a suggestion that a revamped iPlayer might include podcasts as well as TV, although Moore didn’t then actually address that directly. I’ll be keeping a close eye on that, since some kind of BBC Sounds / iPlayer integration sounds fairly plausible to me, although the internal restructuring necessary to make that happen would make my head feel like it was exploding.
Lastly, I think Moore’s speech is worth paying attention to because of the BBC Sounds app and where it might go next. Both Sounds and iPlayer recently appointed their own Controllers, in another indication that these digital platforms are growing in internal significance and commissioning power. Of course, iPlayer is a much older platform, having been launched originally in 2007, and it also addresses a different need. But I do think there are things we can read across from one to the other, and this ramping up in order to fight off a perceived threat from commercial subscription companies applies as much to Spotify as it does to Netflix.
Related, sort of. Anyone looking for a depressing yet mostly accurate entry level portrait of the podcasting scene in the UK should consider reading this.
Also, this is a great survey of Arabic language podcasting in the Middle East.
Distribution challenge. The Financial Times has launched its first subscriber-only podcast, The Rachman Review. The show is hosted by their chief foreign affairs correspondent Gideon Rachman, and apparently will see him travelling the world and “asking more of his contacts to go on-the-record so that listeners and subscribers can join the conversation”.
Rather than attempt any kind of encrypted or authenticated feed system (as I’ve written about before, this particular distribution scenario is not straightforward) FT subscribers can use the company’s own apps to listen, or log in on the website to listen in their browser.
The bet is presumably that Rachman as a personality is a sufficient draw that loyal subscribers will put up with the fact that the show is not available in their podcatcher of choice and still listen. Until there is more data on whether the audience will be big enough to roll this out more generally, I suspect the judgement is that that it’s just not worth trying to develop or sign up with a Supporting Cast style system to deliver private feeds.