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Feb. 26, 2014, 12:02 p.m.
Reporting & Production

All Alternatives Considered: How Slate thinks a daily podcast can fit into your evening commute

Plenty of podcasts attract a loyal audience on a weekly basis. Slate wants Mike Pesca’s daily show to be as big a part of your drive home as All Things Considered.

When Slate decided to get into the daily drive-time podcast business, they decided to take a cue from a proven winner: sports radio. At least the public radio version of sports radio: Specifically, they decided to hire NPR’s Mike Pesca for the launch of a new daily podcast — a departure from Slate’s other podcasts which are delivered mostly in weekly installments.

Podcasting has been a growth area for Slate, and the site’s collection of shows now grab around 2 million downloads a month, according to Andy Bowers, Slate’s executive producer of podcasts. By going daily, the site wants to grow that audience further and continue to capitalize on a growing source of advertising for Slate.

“Slate loves podcasts,” Bowers said. “They do really well for us, and everyone wants to be involved. We want to figure out how to smartly grow without overextending ourselves, but we’re going to keep growing.”

Pesca’s new podcast is one step towards that. Everything from the host to the format to when the show will be released, is designed to try to capture the best possible audience, Bowers told me. The currently unnamed show will run 20 minutes (as opposed to up to an hour or many Slate podcast episodes), and be delivered to listeners in the afternoon just in time for the evening commute home, Bowers said. Expect it to launch in April.

This means building a new habit in Slate’s audience, moving listeners used to a weekly fix to a daily routine. While Slate releases podcasts nearly every day, no single show is produced on a day-to-day basis. Most of Slate’s podcasts are released overnight, and listeners typically download them in the morning, Bowers told me. By releasing Pesca’s show earlier in the day, they hope to push people into developing a regular habit.

Bowers said the show will be topical, with conversations and interviews on the day’s news, recognizing that people already get their breaking news in other ways. They want the show to fill in the lines of top stories a little more. “We thought it would be fun to take the most interesting things about the flood of information coming across the screen and drill down more,” Bowers said.

Though Pesca was already a host for Slate’s Hang up and Listen, it’s his previous life for NPR that will be helpful in not only making the show lively and accessible, but also in delivering something timely, Bowers said. Slate also plans to bring on a dedicated producer specifically to work on Pesca’s show.

The genesis of Pesca’s new show came from an experiment with the popular Political Gabfest podcast in the fall of 2013. During the government shutdown Slate decided to take the show nightly, with a recap of the day’s developments on the budget talks between President Obama and Congress. Bowers said the Gabfest Extra shows, which lasted the duration of the shutdown, proved successful, drawing in what he said were “big numbers, much bigger than expected.” (Bowers declined to offer more concrete figures.)

Gabfest Extra proved Slate’s listeners had an appetite for a higher dose of shows. They’ve since produced “Extra” installments of other podcasts tied to timely events or news. “It made all of us realize there could be a market for a kind of evening, drive-time companion to the day’s news,” Bowers said.

An audience pulling down 2 million downloads a month (granted, downloads is a somewhat murky metric for gauging listeners) may not seem like a lot in comparison to a radio audience. (NPR’s All Things Considered — probably the most popular evening drive-time option among much of Slate’s audience — gets around 11 million listeners a week.) But at the scale of what Slate is doing, the number looks good. More importantly, advertisers are paying to get on Slate’s shows. Slate publisher Matt Turck told Business Insider that podcasts now make up between 5 percent to 10 percent of Slate’s advertising revenue.

“We’re making money, there’s great advertiser interest, and we have a lot of ambition for other things we can do,” Bowers said.

Pesca’s show is likely a sign of things to come for Slate, with another new show planned to debut later this year. Slate’s investment in new shows follows bigger trends in podcasting, as hosts and producers are building networks to help grow audience as well as the business end of podcasts. Pesca said people who work in audio are trying to find ways to capitalize on the growing market opportunity that’s come with the rise of smartphones and other devices. “I think in years to come, we will see podcasting audiences, or on-demand radio audiences, that are bigger than radio audiences,” Bowers said.

Photo by mbschn used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 26, 2014, 12:02 p.m.
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