Bracken: “Podcasting is no longer a cottage industry”
The boss of the ABC’s radio division Linda Bracken is inviting independent contributors to pitch new podcast ideas for the division’s new dedicated internal podcasting unit.
The public broadcaster is keen to build on its current podcast subscriber base, last year creating a dedicated unit for podcasting which today launched its first dedicated kids podcast (not intended for broadcast), Short & Curly, an ethics-driven program aimed at parents and kids.
Linda Bracken, head of content and digital radio at ABC Radio told Mumbrella: “Last year we had 135m podcasts downloaded or streamed. We are starting to talk big numbers; this isn’t a cottage industry anymore – this is a professional industry.
“Absolutely (we are looking for contributors),” Bracken added. “Part of what this unit is, is to explore diverse talent and a lot of our podcasts are made with people who aren’t ongoing ABC staff.”
Former ABC Open editorial boss, Ian Walker will lead the new podcasting unit
The senior ABC Radio executive also argued that that Australian podcasting space was maturing rapidly and that the new podcasting unit, led former ABC Open editorial boss Ian Walker, would be useful not only in bringing in new talent to the public broadcaster but also in helping develop the wider Australian podcasting scene.
Bracken acknowledges that the global success of podcast shows like This American Life’s ‘Serial’ have helped, but adds: “This is a thought we had way before Serial and one that is really built off the success that the ABC has had with its podcasting for many years.
“To be really fair most of those podcasts are ‘catch-up radio, so we thought ‘what if we did digital-first radio, rather than just catch-up, so there were two parts? How do we make our catch-up radio really podcastable and also use the possibilities that podcasting is presenting?”
Bracken argues that that the unit’s products such as Short & Curly and Science Vs are examples of what happens when media companies free themselves from a linear mentality.
“This frees us from the linear (radio) schedule,” she said. “It frees us from the idea that it needs to be attached to a particular network brand and allows us to try completely new talent.
“Short & Curly doesn’t necessarily tie in to any of the network briefs but we can see there was a clear audience opportunity for some content that both parents and their kids can listen to.
“We’re asking what are the audience needs which we might be able to meet through podcasting?”
Science Vs was one of the unit’s first experiments – a podcast that was also put to air on the ABC; however, the show (created by Wendy Zukerman) was quickly poached by US podcasting outfit Gimlet.
Zukerman claimed at the time Science Vs, in just eleven episodes, achieved more than 1.3m downloads.
One of the issues with Science Vs was that the ABC didn’t own the copyright to the podcast; however, Bracken says ABC will assess issues of ownership on a case-by-case basis with those they work with on podcasts.
“It was Wendy’s concept and she brought it to us,” she explains. “Gimlet saw the success of it and vindicated our approach.
We would have loved to have made more series with her but I was thrilled for Wendy when she got it.”
Asked about the copyright issue and whether the ABC will insist on owning all copyright in future Bracken says: It depends on the scenario.
“If the intellectual property is something produced in collaboration with the ABC then we are part of that.
“However, in fairness to Wendy, a lot of that content came from Wendy and sure we helped expand that.”
Bracken notes that the ABC is already looking at a number of other potential podcasts, including a comedy podcast with comedian Nazeem Hussain.
“We really want to move into comedy podcasts and so have brought on someone who has a speciality in comedy podcasts,” said Bracken, explaining how the core of the unit is a two-person team with various skills-sets brought in on an as-needed basis.
“Other countries like New Zealand and the UK have had this wonderful pedigree where some like Monty Python will start out as a radio program and then turn into a TV show.
“We have never had that culture and it’s something I have always wanted to do: to be that place where you can test new talent or programs.”
Bracken says she expects the podcasting space to continue to grow in Australia but says media companies need to think about the various audiences and what they are looking for from the downloads.
“All of our podcasts are centred on an audience design and diversion seekers are one key audience,” she said.
“People who want to be taken to another world, other people will be a learner archetype, and want to learn – that’s where Science Vs or the Rum, Rebels and Ratbags podcast comes in others.
“There is also ‘the connector’ – connecting to other people’s feelings and experiences and wanting that personal connection, with something like Conversations with Richard Fidler.
“The great podcasts do more than one job at one time.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said there were six episodes of Science Vs. In fact there were eleven.