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Nov. 1, 2017, 9 a.m.
Audience & Social

With its new podcast network Jetty, Al Jazeera will use Facebook Watch to rope in new listeners

“We should get into the habit of thinking about audience in terms of customer relationship management and building communities around our shows’ audiences, versus just monetizing them.”

Launching a podcast these days is easy; getting a critical mass of people interested in and loyal to your show is far more difficult.

Kaizar Campwala, general manager of audio at Al Jazeera, is well aware of this reality, which is why Jetty, the organization’s new podcast network launched this morning, is putting both audience acquisition and development at its center.

The new audio brand will go live later this month with Closer Than They Appear, a hybrid interview/narrative show hosted by writer Carvell Wallace, who will interview actor Mahershala Ali in the show’s first episode. Other shows will follow early in 2018. The Game of Our Lives will use soccer to explain global economics and culture, while other programs will focus on freedom (Freedom Stories, featuring Melissa Harris-Perry), sex (The Virgie Show), and global music (Movement). A snippet of Closer Than They Appear is embedded below; you can hear a taste of the other shows in a trailer here.

As with Al Jazeera as a whole, at the heart of all the new programs is a desire to “groom some new voices and bring more perspectives to the table and embrace diversity in all sorts of ways,” Campwala said. “We think in podcasting there’s definitely room to bring in more of those voices and put some high quality production resources behind them.”

While Jetty is being formed as its own production team, it will share insights and resources with the team at AJ+, Al Jazeera’s social-friendly news and current events brand. Campwala said that, while AJ+ has excelled at building big audiences for video on the major platforms, Jetty will focus on building deeper relationships with those readers and viewers.

“Compared to what works on Facebook, the dynamics of podcasting and the audio space is almost the reverse,” Campwala said. “In podcasting, acquisition is very expensive, but if you do it right and produce good content, you can have incredible retention numbers. You can really build real loyalty. That’s a powerful thing and something we’re really interested in understanding and getting good at.”

Campwala, who joined Al Jazeera last year, cut his teeth in the podcast industry as head of business development at Stitcher, which was acquired by rival Deezer in 2015 (and again by E.W. Scripps last year). There, he was in charge of both facilitating content deals and leading the platform’s user acquisition efforts. He said the role gave him an overview of the overall podcast marketplace, particularly when it came to how podcast producers were failing to market their shows and acquire new listeners. In his estimation, Campwala says he’s bringing “a bit of Silicon Valley rigor” to the whole operation. “Podcasting is a high-value, bottom-of-the-funnel product. We should get into the habit of thinking about audience in terms of customer relationship management and building communities around our shows’ audiences, versus just monetizing them. Stitcher is an app, so we were always thing about audiences in those terms, rather than the way that a lot of traditional media thinks about their audiences.”

Out of the gate, Jetty plans to experiment with new ways of pushing its social audience to listen to its new podcasts. Closer Than They Appear, for example, will launch with its own Facebook Watch page, where the Jetty team will convert snippets of the show’s conversations into videos that can spread more easily on Facebook. Campwala said that the central hope with these videos is to entice non-podcast listeners to embrace both Jetty’s shows and podcasting as a whole. (It’s not an entirely new idea; podcasters have been trying to figure out social media distribution for years. WNYC, for example, has experimented with social audio and last year open-sourced its Audiogram Generator, which made it easy for podcasters to convert their audio shows into social-friendly videos.)

“It’s in our DNA to not take user acquisition for granted,” Campwala said. “Instead of trading and cannibalizing existing podcast audiences and playing in that same ecosystem, we’re going be very aggressive about doing things on the video side to bring more people in. We think there are some opportunities to mix video and audio in very interesting ways.”

POSTED     Nov. 1, 2017, 9 a.m.
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