Publishers should not be launching podcasts “for the sake of it” and need to be putting more effort behind their ideas, according to Immediate Media’s head of podcast Ben Youatt.
Immediate Media is a publishing company that has been in the podcasting market for decades, having launched its most popular podcast, HistoryExtra, in May 2000. Since then, the company has launched numerous podcasts for its other titles, including BBC Gardener’s World Magazine podcast and The Olive Magazine podcast.
Youatt, who has been serving in his role at Immediate Media for nearly five years, told PodPod on the latest episode of the show that he doesn’t believe every media brand needs to necessarily have a podcast as part of its media strategy, especially in an “oversaturated medium”.
“If 10 years ago, it was the new frontier, it is very much the old frontier at this point; it is completely saturated," said Youatt. “If you're not going to do something that is best in class, then you're not going to be able to cut through the noise.”
According to Youatt, the reason some publishers fail to launch podcasts effectively is because they are approaching the medium from a “corporate standpoint” with certain criteria and monthly targets, forgetting that freedom and independence are at the heart of podcasting.
“It was about being able to say things you couldn't say on radio; if you want to do a three hour show, you can do it and you don't have to play music or have adverts, you can just hang out and have a chat and I think that soul of where podcasts began… is still there,” said Youatt. “And people still associate that with why they like podcasting, and why it's valuable to them, because it feels a little bit more rock'n'roll or independent in a lot of ways.”
In addition to having the freedom to be more creative with podcasting, there are other essential factors that make a good podcast, including having a solid format which Youatt compares to having a good afternoon game show and experimenting with different promotional and marketing tools for your podcast like social media, newsletters, YouTube videos, and even making big push on major podcast platforms like Spotify and Apple by making sure things like the artwork stand out and that the timing to post is right.
According to Youatt, it is a publisher’s responsibility to continue trying different things for each brand, as that’s the only way to tell what will be engaging for that particular podcast’s audience - even though it might not always be successful. One example of this is how although the use of long form video for the HistoryExtra podcast was successful, it did not work for other titles.
“[With other titles] it normally gets good engagement, but the drop off is quite short, people listen to seven or eight minutes and then they think I haven't got time to watch 45 minutes of this video just sitting on my laptop,” said Youatt. “But with history audiences, maybe it's because of the age demographic, the geographic demographic or for whatever magical reason, the video on history massively bucks trend. The videos that are an hour long or an hour plus where it's just a historian talking about a set subject do really, really well.
On a personal level, Youatt told PodPod that he would like to see Immediate Media explore podcasts in the children’s audio space that tie into some of their magazines and heritage brands such as History Revealed and appeal to not just kids, but their parents and family too. Other underexplored genres that Youatt mentioned included entertainment video games and tech as they already have a big audience and are exciting from a commercial perspective.
“Audiences who don't want the heavy academia that comes with a lot of history, they just want the stories and the emotion and the characters that are already half in play, could easily lend themselves to children's audio,” said Youatt. “And that's something that I want to experiment with, not necessarily for one specific brand, but as a wider attempt into the space.”