Why News UK halved the number of podcasts it produces

In an effort to focus its resources with fewer, more specific shows, News UK cut the number of podcasts it produces in half, to 22 last year. One year in, the result: Double the collective downloads and triple the ad revenue.

“People want high-quality, distinctive shows,” said Jimmy Buckland, managing director of Wireless Studios, which has 11 people working on audio production and monetization for News UK. “Brands like talking to passionate people. In order to deliver meaningfully for advertisers, podcast brands individually need to get to a level of scale. It’s better to have 10 shows with 100,000 listens per episode rather than 40 shows with 10,000.”

The publisher took earlier audio bets than other U.K. publishers. In 2016, it bought audio production company Wireless Group for £220 million ($275 million), which included radio stations like Talk Sport — owner of valuable Premier League audio rights — and Virgin Radio.

In early 2018, after taking a more strategic approach on where to focus resources to drive more effective results, News UK finessed its roster. Now, the parent company to U.K. tabloid The Sun and subscription publisher The Times and The Sunday Times publishes 22 podcasts across its brands: seven podcasts for The Times, three for The Sun and 12 for Wireless Group’s radio brands.

The publisher was unwilling to share specific numbers, instead saying that the 22 podcasts collectively have several million listening sessions per month, but that fluctuates.

Ad revenue from podcasts has tripled for News UK to become “meaningful”, according to Buckland, who wouldn’t share details. This is from a range of different campaigns including spot ads, host-read ads and brands co-creating podcast shows, these are also bought as part of a wider campaign or just podcast campaigns.

In the U.K., and the U.S. where the podcast market is more mature, there has been a broader base of advertisers coming to the sector beyond direct-to-consumer brands driving direct response objectives. For instance, News UK has run co-created podcast series with Sky and series sponsorships for makeup brand Benefit Cosmetics. U.S. sports publisher The Ringer made more than $15 million (£12 million) on podcast ad sales in 2018, figures that are still mostly out of reach for U.K. podcast publishers.

News UK is not averse to launching more podcasts. In early July it launched two, “Giles Coren Has No Idea,” following regular columnist Giles Coren and how decides what to write about in his weekly column, and “The Pivot, Tales of Silicon Valley” focussed on technology and society on the West cost hosted by journalist Danny Fortson.

Like a lot of publishers, between 50% and 60% of News UK’s podcast listens happen on Apple’s podcast platform. While it’s early to share figures, 12 hours after the first episode launched, “Giles Coren Has No Idea” reached No. 1 and “The Pivot, Tales of Silicon Valley” got to No. 14 in Apple’s U.K. podcast chart.

Both new podcasts are from The Times — News UK’s subscription news title —  which shows News UK’s line of direction in working out how podcasts can drive subscriptions. Anecdotally, when The Times speaks with its subscribers it knows that podcasts are valuable to them, but that’s all it’s willing to share at the moment.

“Over the next 12 months we’re looking to integrate audio more fully into The Times and integrate audio products within the experience we offer subscribers,” said Buckland. What form this will take and whether podcasts are behind a paywall or subscribers get early access to them is still to be decided.

Working out the link between audio and subscriptions is on the priority list for a lot of publishers. The New York Times has given subscribers early access to podcasts. The Economist sees other podcasts are an effective marketing funnel for its own subscription. And The Guardian has been running ads asking for donations in its own daily podcast for some months.

For now, podcast analytics are limited to data like the volume of listens and downloads and split by platform and geography, which makes working out attribution even more tricky.

“For a data-driven business and a subscription-driven business, the opportunity is to know customers more deeply,” said Buckland. “News IQ [the media company’s data platform] seeks to provide ads with a more targeted proposition and we want to bring audio into that product.”


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