Inside Studio71 UK’s podcast push

In the U.K. digital studio network, Studio71 is building up its podcast slate, using audio as a springboard for growing franchises from the network’s YouTube talent.

The studio’s core model is talent management, production and development of shows for TV and online in millennial, lifestyle, parenting and kids verticals. The release of two podcasts last week brings its total to four shows, with another launching before the year’s end, and it’s planning an additional 10 in 2019. “Power Hour” is hosted by fitness coach, influencer and global Adidas ambassador Adrienne Herbert, and focuses on realizing personal and career goals. The second, “F**ks Given” comes from YouTubers Florence Barkway and Reed Amber and aims to break down taboos around sex. According to Studio71, they spotted a gap in the market for young female-fronted shows.

“We’re broader than a TV production studio, and we don’t always want to wait for commissions for the privilege to make something; that’s where podcast comes in,” said Jody Smith, creative director at Studio71. “We know the type of audience who are watching that talent through our YouTube network, we understand millennial viewers and we’re focused on that.”

Until a few months ago, Studio71’s podcast efforts were more ad hoc, now the focus is growing a diverse slate quickly. Its first show, “Educating Josh,” where YouTube creators Luke Cutforth and Lucy Bella Earl discuss the week’s news with Josh Winslade, launched in April. The show has had downloads in the six figures, according to the company, and growing each week. This August, Studio71 hosted a live recording during London’s online video festival, “Summer in the City,” to 800 people, and it recently announced plans to take the show on the road. The studio said in total, podcast streams are up 30 percent from last month, and from its four current podcasts, it’s expecting 1.5 million streams over the next 12 months.

“It’s about how can we build IP around it,” said Tom Payne, head of video at the network, adding that it’s quick to build an audience in audio. “Podcast’s themselves don’t make a ton of money; it’s what else can we do with it, whether that’s a TV show, a live tour, books, merchandise. It’s a starting point to build a brand. We want them to all to feel they live in a similar world.”

The network followed a similar path in the U.S., announcing the Podcast studio division in July this year. As creators can move their audiences from one platform to another, the thinking is Studio71 doesn’t need a big marketing push to amass an audience it could sell to advertisers.

In the U.K., Studio71 has a deal with Acast where it monetizes the shows through ads. “This makes it a decent enough revenue source; it’s a sustainable business, but it’s really about exploiting the format beyond the audio show,” said Payne. The company is in the development stage with three more shows with a U.K. comedian. The next release will be a scripted comedy and entertainment podcast. More scripted series are starting to gain traction in the U.K., although at a slower rate than in the U.S. where there are more mature examples of podcast companies selling film and TV rights to their shows.

European broadcast giant ProSiebenSat.1 has a 70 percent stake in Studio71. Studio71’s U.K. expansion kicked off in July 2017 with the appointment of James Stafford managing director of U.K. operations, who served as SVP of Europe at StyleHaul and, before that, head of branded content for EMEA at YouTube. At this time, Studio71 also received strategic funding from French TV network TF1 Group and Italy’s Mediaset to set up in those regions too. The U.K. team, mostly in creative and production roles, has grown from eight at the beginning of this year to 30. The company said that it’s worked with 100 brands this year, and total revenue is up eight times year-on-year but didn’t share exact figures.

The podcast landscape is crowded, and the low-cost and quick turn-around appeal of producing podcasts has lowered the barrier, letting in a lot of dross. This extends to the artwork, which are usually pretty uninspiring, Studio71 has creative teams working on the podcast artwork in the hope this helps them stand out.

“We’re not creating shows where people sit in a room or putting [podcasts] out for the sake of it,” said Payne, adding it wants to use formats that deviate from the traditional weekly episode. “It has to have the format to draw in the audience. We’re turning down as many as we’re taking on.”

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