Even as podcasters have carved a piece of the media day—Edison Research says the medium has a 17% share of audio consumption—traditional media brands have been slow to embrace the opportunity. NBC News is one of the exceptions, having launched several original series during the past year while serving up podcast versions of its television programming. Steve Lickteig, Executive Producer of Podcasts and Audio at NBC News and MSNBC, told the Podcast Movement conference in Orlando last week that NBC now averages 18 million monthly downloads across all the podcasts it publishes.
During the past year the NBC podcast team has grown from two people, including Lickteig, to six staffers. That crew is growing again as it ramps up to launch a podcast focused on the 2020 presidential election in the coming weeks. But Lickteig said they have also embraced an outsourcing model, working with several production companies launched by podcast veterans from NPR and the BBC on a project basis.
The highest profile NBC original podcast to date is “Bag Man.” The Rachel Maddow-hosted series investigated the financial misdeeds of former Vice President Spiro Agnew. “It planted our flag in podcast land in a way that had not been planted yet,” said Lickteig. Speaking during Jacobs Media’s Broadcasters Meet Podcasters sessions, he said that the podcast typically racked up about 300,000 downloads for each of its nine episodes.
For Maddow, who landed in television after working at the now-defunct Air America radio network, a return to the audio medium proved to be tougher than what she expected. Lickteig said the MSNBC anchor expected to simply voice scripts drafted by the podcast’s producers, but soon found herself pulled into the project, listening to tapes and rewriting scripts. “All of a sudden she became a podcast host and producer,” Lickteig said. “She worked her ass off on this thing and she was exhausted because she was doing a TV show and the podcast.” The result is it may take some cajoling to get Maddow to make another show. “Rachel Maddow said she would never do it again because she didn’t realize how much work it would be,” said Lickteig, quipping to a crowd of understanding podcasters that he suspected they’ll eventually hear another Maddow podcast.
NBC has also learned that it can find success in podcasting in unexpected places. That includes “The Oath,” the Chuck Rosenberg-hosted podcast from a former Justice Department official-turned-NBC News analyst, that generated 2.5 million downloads during its first season, helped in part by an interview with former FBI director James Comey. “Rosenberg is the poster child for a broadcaster turning into the consummate podcaster,” said Lickteig. That podcast will return for its second season Oct. 10 with a wider array of guests. “The reason this works is it’s incredibly focused, thought through and things are honed to a fine point. It is not a rambling interview podcast. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end,” he explains. “It takes on you on a journey. That’s what we all crave.”
“The Oath” is also using a model that Lickteig believes will work best for NBC, one in which limited-run series are the norm and not the exception. “We have to do the big swings,” he noted, pointing to the “Bag” model as a template. That’s in part because Lickteig believes it has become tougher for an interview show to break through as the number of podcasts has accelerated past 700,000. “People have solidified their habits in podcasting in some ways, so you have to excite them to get them to listen to something new,” he said.
Steve Lickteigwas named by Podcast News Daily as one of the Most Powerful People in Podcasting. Check out the full list HERE.