‘We’re serious about audio’: The Economist launches daily news podcast with 8 staffers

The Economist is the latest publisher to launch a daily news podcast in order to broaden its reach in audio and ultimately drive people to subscribe.

Starting Jan. 29., at 11 a.m. U.K. time each weekday, the publisher will release a 20-minute daily global current-affairs podcast, “The Intelligence.” The podcast will consist of three parts: an analysis of a prominent news story, a more in-depth feature and a lighter item to end. The show has been a year in the making and is hosted by Jason Palmer, co-editor of Economist Espresso, the publisher’s daily digest app, supported by a team of eight newly hired editors and producers.

In a competitive market — The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post all have daily podcasts — The Economist plans to differentiate by delivering stories with a world view, drawing on its global correspondents as well as covering news that doesn’t always make the headlines but still has significance. Case in point: During pilot episodes, it featured how the changing sales of mooncakes — sent as gifts or sometimes bribes in China — act as a barometer on the health of the economy.

“That encapsulates what we do — it’s amazing and unusual but casts light on important global issues,” said Tom Standage, head of digital strategy and deputy editor at The Economist. “This is central to what we do and a great way to introduce the nature of our journalism to others. We absolutely believe in the power of audio.”

The goal with “The Intelligence” is to broaden The Economist’s reach among podcast listeners who will then go on to subscribe. The Economist has five weekly podcasts that fit into verticals like science and tech or business and finance, collectively fetching 7 million average monthly listens or downloads in 2018, according to the publisher. The general news topic of the daily podcast will be broad enough to entice new audiences, and the regularity will be simple enough for it to cut through on social media and other marketing platforms. A core challenge for The Economist, in the U.S. in particular, is brand recognition, said Standage.

The publisher launched its first podcast in 2006 and an audio version of its text articles in 2007, and a daily edition is the next logical step. As well as the five weekly podcasts, it runs a monthly future-gazing podcast and has a joint venture with Slate in the U.S. called “The Secret History of the Future.”

According to Standage, monthly revenue from podcast ads served by platform Acast has increased 50 percent over 2018.

“The commercial model for podcasts is really good, much better than video pre-roll, which is a horrible business. Video is expensive to make, and the CPMs are low. Advertisers want to reach podcast listeners.”

Susie Warhurst, global head of content at podcasting platform Acast, said that podcast CPMs in the U.K. and the U.S. have been going up over the past year despite new entrants into the market: “The demand from brands and agencies is higher than ever; pricing is at a premium. Even the advent of programmatic won’t decrease the pricing. They are quality brands in safe environments with engaged, loyal audiences.”

“The Intelligence” will pay for itself with third-party ad revenue, said Standage, through ads served via Acast’s platform, while brand sponsorship offers another revenue line. Intel is a current sponsor of podcast series, “The World Ahead,” which was the first time the publisher has sold sponsorship packages for podcasts and replicates the commercial model for Economist Films. In 2017, the publisher tried selling podcast series sponsorship to luxury brands with no luck. The demand from advertisers and the awareness from sales teams have developed over 2018, he said.

The daily news podcast market is filling up. In the U.K., the Guardian’s “Today in Focus,” The Financial Times’ “FT News” and the BBC’s “Beyond Today” launched in 2018. The market has watched the New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast reach 5 million listeners, plus other entrants like The Washington Post launch their own version, but The Economist’s global outlook and tone of voice will set it apart from other daily news podcasts, said Warhurst.

“There’s room for a spectrum of approaches in podcasting,” she said. And U.K. podcast listeners are growing: According to stats from the Radio Joint Audience Research, 6.9 million adults, 13 percent of the adult population, listen to a podcast in an average week, up from 5.5 million in 2017. However, there is fear that the market for daily news podcasts is reaching saturation point.

“We see bubbles before, and we don’t know how committed people will be and whether they will stick,” said Standage. “But you can look at our track record and see we are serious about audio and always have been.”

Image: courtesy of The Economist via Facebook.