Why aren’t there more podcasters on TV?

Podcast hosts have more to offer TV producers than just IP

Right now, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is in full swing, which can mean only one thing: a swarm of producers and commissioners descending on the festival, traipsing up and down the Royal Mile in an attempt to spot their next hit. The Fringe is always a popular option for TV companies looking for a new project, as it gathers together a large chunk of the country’s comedy and theatre creatives in one place.

One of the groups performing this year is Drunk Women Solving Crime, the “true-crime lite” comedy podcast that pairs investigation with intoxication. The creators have just announced a deal with production company True North to turn the podcast into a TV show, but the three co-hosts won’t be helming the TV version.

While some podcasters would rather chew their own legs off than leave the comfortable security of the audio medium and move to an on-camera gig, I was somewhat skeptical that the Drunk Women wouldn’t want to star in the screen version of their hit show, given their penchant for live performances

One quote from Taylor Glenn about the process stood out: “The nature of this industry is that when you pitch anything you need high-profile people,” she said. The subtext is that, while the show’s concept and/or public profile is evidently enough to merit the attention of TV execs, for whatever reason, the original creators aren’t as appealing.

That got me thinking about a surprisingly complex question: why aren’t there more podcasters on TV? Although plenty of streamers and TV networks have raided the podcast charts for IP to turn into new programmes and movies, it more often than not tends to be true-crime investigations which are then dramatised with established actors. 

TV personalities launching their own podcasts has become a common trend - whether it’s reality stars like Sam Wicks, broadcasters like Louis Theroux, or comedians like Romesh Ranganathan - but the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. The list of podcasters who found fame in audio before moving to TV is vanishingly small. 

There's examples like Song Exploder’s Hrishikesh Hirway in the US - although he was a musician first - and Diary Of A CEO host Steven Bartlett - who was arguably already a social media celebrity before becoming a podcaster. In fact, the best example I can recall of someone who parlayed their podcast career into wider TV success is none other than Karl Pilkington, whose memorable contributions to The Ricky Gervais Show landed him a string of TV projects. 

Without wishing to cast any shade on Mr. Pilkington, though, the fact that the podcasting explosion of the last few years hasn’t given rise to more successful examples is somewhat perplexing. Why have TV producers yet to identify the goldmine of talent that the industry can offer, rather than just using it as a proving ground for IP?

The first argument that might be presented is that they’re not well-known enough to be a draw for audiences, but that’s countered by some fairly compelling evidence. Firstly, podcasters are building up big audiences, with almost a quarter of UK adults aged over 15 listening to podcasts on a weekly basis according to the latest RAJAR results.

Additionally, younger people’s broadcast TV viewing has fallen by two-thirds over the space of a decade, according to Ofcom figures, but while 16 to 24-year-olds aren’t watching traditional telly, they love them some podcasts. If broadcasters want to start clawing back some of the younger generation’s interest, calling on popular podcasters may be just the ticket.

There’s also the fact that comedians are regularly plucked from the stand-up circuit (which hardly boasts the biggest audiences in the world) to appear on various light entertainment shows, often leading to eventual hosting opportunities.

Another potential argument is that hosting an audio show is a different skillset to on-camera presentation, but not only is this contradicted by the number of radio broadcasters that have jumped over to TV, it also ignores the fact that an increasing number of podcasts do actually include a video element. GK Barry, of the Saving Grace podcast, has just starred in KFC commercial, so what’s to say she couldn’t host an on-air chat show?

TV is facing increasing criticism over being stale and unadventurous, but if it wants to start taking more risks and shaking up some old, tired formulas, then pulling from podcast talent is the way to go. It’s not just the formats that have appeal - the stars themselves are a big part of the reason behind most podcasts’ popularity, and it’s high time producers recognised this.