Long form audio programmes: Creatively fulfilling. Great fun to produce. Wonderful to listen to. And, until recently, as a business model, utterly pointless.
Loss-making projects used to be my speciality. Most of my very proudest, most creatively rewarding work has made absolutely no financial sense. I’ve produced brilliant Sony-award winning shows that have worked out at around £2 per hour. I’ve spent months on New York Festival Gold Medal winning programmes where the cost of entering the awards used up all the programme’s profit.
Why? Because up until around 5 years ago ... no, three years ago, there was only one buyer for what we did. The BBC.
As small independent radio producers, we’d fool ourselves that it made sense, but a BBC documentary was almost always a vanity project. We did it for the kudos, the awards, the joy, and the promise that it might mean being considered for another loss-making project in the next commissioning round.
Then along came podcasts.
And, do you know what? There’s now an actual business model to be had.
That’s not to say it’s obvious, or easy. But it’s there. And it’s a revelation. There are:
- Forward-thinking brands willing to explore adventurous concepts in an experimental medium;
- Media owners excited about new creative solutions;
- Cultural organisations looking to engage their members, or prospective members, with high quality editorial content;
- Corporations and government bodies discovering that engaging audio content is a lot more digestible than a 50 page report;
- Talent looking for ways to pilot ideas or pursue passion projects;
- Advertisers understanding the unique appeal of a digitally-engaged audio listenership;
- Platforms like audioboom and acast willing to sell big ideas into large agencies;
- Audible, bringing serious money to invest in ambitious concepts.
All these opportunities can be serviced with broadcast quality research and production, emboldened by an editorial freedom that was previously impossible. The value for the client is fantastic, partly because it costs a fraction of video, but mainly because we know how to create superb content efficiently.
We can still create work to be proud of, win awards, and push the boundaries. But do you know what? As a business, we can make a bit of money too. So podcasts with brands can be sustainable, ambitious projects can be viable, and the medium can thrive.
And why do we win this business? Because we spent years honing our craft and building our reputation by making financially pointless programmes for the Beeb.
Oh. Maybe they were worth it after all.
Sod it. Of course they were.