The Financial Times is signaling it wants to carve out a bigger slice of the podcast market with the hiring of its first chief of audio and its first subscriber-only podcast. “Audio is part of our broader strategy to provide diverse formats and experiences of FT journalism to our audience,” said Renée Kaplan, the company’s Head of Audience and New Content Strategies.
FT has recruited Cheryl Brumley to serve in the newly-created role of Global Head of Audio. She’ll oversee a global team dedicated to building reach and monetization strategies through audio content. The company says the team will also experiment with ways to integrate audio into a subscription model and oversee the FT’s plans to reach and engage listeners.
“At a time when podcasts and voice are becoming increasingly important to global audiences, Cheryl brings a wealth of expertise and success in producing and delivering great audio journalism,” said Kaplan.
Brumley most recently worked at rival The Economist where she was founding co-executive producer of its flagship daily podcast, The Intelligence. Prior to that, she was a freelance producer for podcast and broadcast outlets, including Public Radio International and BBC World Service.
The Financial Times is buoyed by the success of the FT News Briefing. The daily podcast launched last October highlights the major global business stories and was designed for voice assistants and smart speakers. It surpassed one million monthly listens. While that show is advertising supported, FT is testing how else its podcast business model can evolve.
The podcast industry has to date resisted putting most content behind a paywall, with Luminary remaining a notable exception. But some podcast producers are now seeing on-demand audio content as a bonus feature which they’ll reserve for paying customers. The Financial Times this month launched The Rachman Review, a show hosted by FT chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman that only subscribers to the newspaper can access. The show brings FT’s podcast lineup to nine shows.
When the product was announced in May, FT was one of the first companies to say it was interested. “The majority of our podcast listeners are not yet subscribers and Acast Access will help us to bring tremendous value to the audio realm, incentivizing conversion for those listeners,” Kaplan said at the time.
Acast has designed its software so that podcasts will have two RSS feeds for the same show. One will be the standard, public-RSS feed and the other will be the private version of the show, or what they’re calling the accessed-RSS. The podcast publisher then decides what parts of the content are exclusive and only available through the accessed-RSS and what parts are in both feeds. Acast Access then checks the anonymized user data against the publisher’s API to determine which users are approved as either logged in or paying subscribers of the publisher.
In a statement, the paper says putting The Rachman Review behind a paywall “aims to deepen subscriber engagement with FT journalism.” Kaplan added in an interview with Digiday that the move is an “experiment” to determine if the newspaper can incorporate audio content into a user engagement model that has so far been focused on written content. “We’re interested in experimenting across a spectrum of genres and content and with different audience cohorts, including subscribers, to see what we can create in terms of audio journalism,” she said. Kaplan noted that’s different than how podcasts are often viewed by newspapers, which often see the audio content as a promotional vehicle to boost subscriber numbers.
FT’s audio-based advertising revenue has tripled during the past year. Digiday also said it has an average listen-through rate of 75%.