British Podcast Awards 2023: Views from the judges

What this year’s winners say about the state of the podcast industry

The British Podcast Awards are now in their seventh year, but those seven years have seen a lot of change. When the awards first started in 2017, for example, Spotify was only just starting to experiment with podcasts, and the format was still regarded by many as a comparatively niche media platform.

Over the last several years, the UK podcast industry has grown dramatically, with a surge in activity from advertisers, media organisations and tech companies. It’s seen trends like a growing move towards subscription revenue, the evolution of different formats, and a continual improvement in the variety and quality of the content on offer.

Some things, of course, have remained more or less constant, including the dominance of true crime and comedy as the most popular genres - and the popularity of RedHanded, which has walked away from this year’s British Podcast Awards with its third consecutive Listener’s Choice award

The podcast space can be a fast-moving one, and difficult to keep up with at the best of times, With over a thousand entries in total and a shortlist of more than 150 nominees, analysing the entrants to the British Podcast Awards can reveal a lot about the overall direction of travel within the wider podcast industry - so we asked our judges what they took away from sifting through this year’s winners and nominees. 

One thing that clearly stood out to all our judges was the overwhelming talent of the podcast community, with many reporting that they’ve come away with new favourite shows, or in some cases, new favourite genres.

“Pre-judging, I’d considered my podcast consumption as neatly well-rounded, ticking all the right boxes with healthy doses of daily news, politics and sport mixed in with a decent true crime epic and the odd interview series,” says IAB UK CMO James Chandler, “but as it turns out, I was barely scratching the surface. Judging the BPAs introduced me to the world of podcast fiction, children’s stories, and deep dives on topics like climate, parenting, and wellbeing.”

This year’s shortlist was also an example of the versatility of the podcast format, according to many of our judges, and the breadth of different topics even within the same category was something that Masala Podcast host Sangeeta Pillai was particularly gratified by.

“This year's winners embody a real diversity in voices and experiences, covering a whole spectrum of love, sex and relationships across age, cultures, gender and sexuality,” Pillai said. “The themes covered went from love to breakups, from racism, depression, addiction to death - with each podcast making me think and re-think what I knew. I'm so thrilled to see the British podcasting landscape cover so many important topics.”

As the sector matures, tensions between solo podcasters and production houses with more commercial backing have been bubbling away, and the variance between the two ends of the scale was keenly felt by several judges, including Chandler. 

“Our judging privilege meant we got to lift the lid on the numbers to reveal staggeringly huge weekly listens in their hundreds of thousands up against other shows in the same category that have episodes in the low hundreds. And while the differences in production quality and talent are often clear, it still always comes back to the intimacy of a conversation, the rawness of the subject matter (that so often gets lost in video) and podcasts’ unique ability to move you to feel something or think differently.”

“Within the two categories I judged this year, every single entry was exceptional,” adds Sandra Ferrari, head of content and production for Message Heard. “Notably, there were some tough entrants taking on some weightier (read: well-resourced) contenders. And in a space where indies are competing with companies with blockbuster-style budgets, there is an obvious disparity in terms of their reach, production output and perhaps the type of stories these creators can tell.”

On the other hand, one of the key points that Ferrari noted as part of the judging process was the techniques that independent podcasters are leveraging to stand out from better-resourced counterparts in the same space.

“Great talent is still showing up,” she says. “Indie makers are pushing boundaries, working harder to stand out. It can cause friction as the industry continues to find its feet but ultimately it’s fundamentally evolving the space for the better. Creators are pushing themselves to tell stories in sound in beautiful ways and reinforcing the evolution of the craft.”

This was also recognised by Acast chief communications and brand officer Lizzy Pollot, who highlighted that the sector is as vibrant and surprising as ever.

“What encouraged me listening to the entries is that it showed me creativity and experimentation is very much still thriving in UK podcasting.” she says. “It was incredibly refreshing to discover shows tackling new themes - or difficult ones - in creative ways.”

Many of this year’s awards were won by new shows, or even new podcasters for whom this year marks their first in the industry. Rising Star winner Chanté Joseph, for example, had never hosted a podcast prior to launching Pop Culture with the Guardian, and she’s not alone. It demonstrates that podcasting is still an industry which gives new talent a chance to break through and quickly make their mark. 

However, as Economist editor Chris Impey notes, this was also balanced this year by previous newcomers that showcased a remarkable amount of staying power.

“What I noticed this year was how the podcasts that broke through several years ago have managed to maintain their success,” he says. “There’s a risk that formats and ideas (and presenters) can tire, but several of those trailblazers have been able to maintain their audience and actually improve on what they offer.” 

“Having these now-familiar shows prove longer-term success is possible is encouraging for everyone in this still-developing industry.”

A common thread among our judges - many of whom have been part of the judging process for previous awards - was that this has been one of the hardest group of nominees to choose between. In most categories, judges agonised significantly over which submissions to award the top prizes to, with the differences in overall quality often being marginal. 

“This year’s awards entries really have felt stronger than ever,” says Ben Firth, creative director of Factory Originals. “Overall production values have increased and the quality of narrative within the shows being produced feels much more engaging to the listener, a fact certainly exhibited in the Documentary and Climate categories I have been honoured to judge this year.” 

“This trajectory, if maintained, will surely mean podcasting will continue to be recognised as one of the fastest-growing media formats. Based on this year's output, I’m really excited for what we’ll hear being produced in 2024.”

“Ultimately, my takeaway after judging the BPAs this year is that this is an exciting, sometimes confusing, time to be a judge,” adds Ferrari. “To be on the front lines of this, though, is such an honour. I'm so inspired and encouraged by what I'm hearing; I'm feeling galvanised to encourage change in areas where I'm not hearing what I want to hear; and, honestly, it's just fun to be part of it all.”