Digital Hollywood

There has been a flood of big-name talent into the podcasting business during the past few years. A lot of podcasters chalk it up to the medium’s growing reach and ability to connect with listeners. While that is true, speaking during the Digital Hollywood CES 2022 conference last week, executives said podcasts are also part of a larger trend of talent using the direct reach of online media to cultivate their own brands.

“The one theme that we've seen is that the artist or the talent really does want to be in control of their persona,” said WME agent Lauren Zelner, who said the focus starts on social media and then expands from there. “There are so many talent out there that are now creating their businesses from scratch using these platforms to leverage everything that they do going forward,” she said.

That path easily leads to a podcast launch according to Paul Suchman, Chief Marketing Officer at Cadence13 and Pineapple Street parent Audacy. “You can almost think about podcasts as long form social media, particularly the unscripted shows by the bigger stars, because it's informal, it's freethought, and it's very conversational in tone,” he said. And Suchman noted that many hosts often have companion websites allowing them to have two-way communication with fans, addressing things that come-in on their website in real-time.

“We're seeing podcasts have become a way in social media for content creators to share their voice to connect with their audiences in really the most authentic ways possible,” said Suchman. “That was previously reserved for just pure social platforms, and now podcasts are where they're building some of those biggest connections with audiences.”

Zelner expects even more talent to embrace podcast as the reach of video podcasts or “vodcasts” continues to grow. She said the video format always comes up when they talk to WME about starting a podcast or working with a show they already have. “As much as audio-only is wonderful, especially if you're commuting or if you're multitasking, I think a lot of audiences still really love that video component,” she said. “It's almost like creating their own talk show, and we are starting to see these elaborate sets. And it's just becoming something so much larger than when it started.” Zelner thinks the vodcast format, similar to audio podcasts, can be successful regardless of whether they are short- or long-form.

Stephanie Fried, Chief Marketing Officer at Fandom, said as podcasting has grown, the company that is currently an entertainment wiki hosting service has looked at adding audio components. “We think that there's a real opportunity there for the real fans, especially how COVID has changed how people connect and find each other and the social experience around these shared passions and entertainment,” Fried said.

Suchman said it is not just actors and Hollywood insiders that are embracing the idea of being on camera. “We're doing the same exact thing with traditional radio celebrities in the local markets, whether it's L.A., Chicago, New York,” he said. “A lot of our talent are filming shows now and it's being broadcast at the same time, And it's even more opportunities for advertisers and more ways for advertisers to connect with more audiences.”

Audio-to-video may be the most common path but Zelner pointed out she has a WME client that started out creating YouTube content and today she has turned her video show into a scripted podcast.

“I think a lot of talent we're starting to see are looking at podcasting as a piece of their larger 360 business. Some people are creating podcast with the idea of creating a talk show and selling it to a network. It's all very custom, and it depends on what the talent’s goal is. And a big part of my job is to help strategically figure out how to kind of guide clients to whatever their desired path is,” said Zelner. “But I wouldn't ever look at a podcast as necessarily just a stepping stone. Podcasting is massive, these deals are massive, people are blowing up, and I’m sure you have seen these massive eight-figure deals in the trades. It's a huge business. And I don't think that I would ever want to think of it as just like a smaller piece. I think it's really here to stay.”

Suchman thinks the variety of options, form scripted podcasts to serial shows, is a reason for that. “From a talent standpoint, they're running to it because they can connect so intimately and so authentically, at scale. And do it on their own terms. And the conversations are often just some of the best conversations that they're having with their audiences,” he said.

That continues to spark more interest from advertisers who want to be associated with those audiences and to inject their brand into those conversations in a more organic way. “It’s not like a stopset where there's an ad and not even a live-read. The personality is weaving brands into their story,” Suchman said. “It's been a fantastic revenue in for us, and fantastic revenue for the talent. And it has been additive to the fan experience.”