published August 27, 2019

Wanted: Podcast Broker

I bang on all the time here about the differences between podcasting in the UK and the US. The tldr version is this: the fundamental differences between US public radio and the BBC, the lack of venture capital money, and so far the non-existence of major UK podcast networks, as well as disparities of scale in terms of population and advertising revenue, mean that as much as British podcasters might like to think they’re about to launch the next Serial-sized hit, they almost certainly are going to be disappointed.

There are fewer routes to monetisation via sponsorship in the UK too: Audioboom and Acast both have sizeable operations in London, but there aren’t really many options beyond that for the show in search of a sale house and insertion platform. Both of those take a pretty sizeable chunk of any revenue they generate for your show too — often in the realm of 40 or even 50 percent of everything as standard — meaning that a popular podcast can be filling all of its sponsorships slots with valuable brands yet the creators still aren’t taking home a huge check.

As a result, I constantly hear from UK podcasters who want to know if there’s a different route available to reach sponsors. A handful of creators take on the business of connecting with brands themselves, but most that I speak to are interested in teaming up with someone who would act as an independent podcast broker: essentially a freelance sales agent who could connect them for specific deals, but because they wouldn’t also be providing hosting and injection as Acast and Audioboom are, the podcaster would keep more of the cash. This comes up particularly when podcasters are wanting to pre-sell a limited series, and it’s vital to get a sponsor on board before going into production so as to know if the project is viable.

I think this idea of the broker has most in common with how a literary agent works for authors: they sell specific projects to the market and earn a commission on those sales (in the UK, it’s usually 15 percent) and also have responsibility for selling overseas rights, but they don’t by default take a cut every time the author makes money beyond those specific projects.

I can see the attraction of this, of course. The trouble is, all of these conversations I have about the viability of this end with big sighs, because I’m not aware that this mythical “podcast broker” actually exists (if it does, and you are one, please get in touch and tell me all about your business!). I see the demand for it, but not the supply, for the pretty obvious reason that anyone with a commercial bent and the kind of brand relationships that turn into podcast sponsorship deals is almost certainly better off at the moment working within a sales house, rather than striking out on their own. I do wonder what it would take to make this, the fantasy of so many independent producers and small production companies in the UK, become a reality.