IP Freely: Can branding carry a podcast?

Pod Save The UK is an interesting test case for podcast franchise-building

Last weekend, I got round to listening to the first episode of Pod Save The UK, the latest addition to Crooked Media's portfolio of politics podcasts, precipitated by the perennially popular Pod Save America. I'm going to be watching this podcast's progress particularly closely, as it's an interesting test case for just how important IP and brand value is in the realm of podcasts.

For those who aren't familiar with it, Pod Save America is a smash-hit politics podcast from the other side of the pond, started by three former Obama staffers as a way to process their despair and outrage following the election of rancid spam gargoyle Donald Trump to the US presidency. The US is awash with political punditry and satire, but part of what made PSA stand out so much from the noise was that its three hosts had been part of the machine; they'd been on the inside and seen how the sausage gets made, which gave them an insight that the likes of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart simply didn't have.

The team behind PSA also launched Pod Save The World, looking at US foreign policy and global politics, as the show's first spin-off, but Pod Save The UK is their first spin-off that doesn't include any of the original cast. Hosted by comedian Nish Kumar and journalist Coco Khan, the podcast aims for humour without quite tipping over into outright satire, balancing the laughs with informative and thoughtful commentary from expert guests, as well as the hosts themselves. 

It's superficially similar to Kumar's previous work on The Mash Report, in that it's a deeply political and openly partisan comedy show, albeit a bit more sensible and straight-laced with it. When it comes to the podcast charts, however, its biggest competition is likely to be Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart's The Rest Is Politics, which is much closer in spirit to the original PSA, thanks to its hosts' insider perspective. 

Stewart and Campbell have the advantage of having absolutely dominated the UK charts for the last year, but Crooked Media will likely be banking on Kumar's well-known status (especially within a certain segment of politics junkies) combined with Pod Save America's prior popularity to give them an added boost over similar shows. 

The big question will be whether or not it works. I've been a fan of Kumar's for many years, following his work on podcasts like The Bugle, as well as The Mash Report and numerous panel show appearances, and his trademark wit and vigour are on full display here. Doubtless there are many like me who'll be tuning in to hear that, if nothing else, but it does leave me wondering how much the other side of that equation will hold true. Pod Save America was fantastically popular, but how much of that was tied up in the hosts themselves; their knowledge, experience and chemistry with each other? Will that popularity follow this new show based on the strength of the brand name alone?

I don't want this to sound like I'm rubbishing Crooked's newest show; I actually enjoyed the first episode of Pod Save The UK quite a lot. It's not quite a must-listen, but for the first episode of a new series, it's an enormously impressive effort and producers Reduced Listening should be congratulated for its immediately distinct and engaging audio identity. It'll likely get even more impressive as it finds its groove, and I hope it gets given the space to grow. 

The audience it does ultimately find, though, will almost certainly be down to the hosts' charisma and personality, not the name-recognition value of Crooked Media's other shows. Wider franchise-building might work for the Marvel movies, but as any fan of those films will tell you, it's really the creative team behind a project that makes or breaks it, and building a loyal audience is about more than slapping a familiar name on the top of something.