It has been a very busy 2019 for Wondery with a cash investment of $10 million arriving during a year in which many of the company’s high profile storytelling creations, including The Mysterious Mr Epstein and The Next Big Thing, have topped the podcast charts.
At DIS 2020 Declan will explain where he believes podcasts are heading and how media companies can not just create superb audio programming but successfully monetise it too.
Here he talks about whether podcasts have become something of a content hub, why partnerships are so important and if subscription models are an option to creators.
What’s your background? What was your personal journey to Wondery?
I have established and grown international media businesses, most notably for Nat Geo’s digital media and publishing group. I’ve been a lifelong audiophile from listening to BBC Radio4 on transistor radios to the early days of podcasts when I’d have to download The Guardian’s Football Weekly on an actual cable from a desktop computer to listen on my iPod on my way to work, then download a different one over a cable to listen on the way home! I have long been an admirer of (Wondery Founder+CEO) Hernan Lopez and what he has been building since starting the company. We originally met at Fox/Nat Geo when he was CEO of the Fox International Channels and Nat Geo Channel international. He is one of the smartest media executives I have encountered and has assembled a phenomenal team that I’m proud to join and lead our international expansion.
Wondery is three years old now – it has had a run of highly successful podcasts – to what do you attribute their success? What differentiates you from other podcast creators?
With any successful media company, it’s the quality of the creators and their stories, the execution for the platform and the marketing to support the shows that are all key. Wondery consistently creates immersive stories that, in the intimate environment of audio, emotionally moves the listener. With low barriers to entry, it’s a truism that literally anybody can create a podcast, but few can make a good one; even fewer can tell a compelling story over multiple episodes; and only a select few can tell a compelling story that moves/touches people. That’s what Wondery does. The fact that we have now had twenty two (22) #1 shows on Apple Podcasts, not just in the US, but also Canada, Australia, UK, Germany, Ireland, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina etc. is a testament to how global audiences embrace these stories.
Are podcasts now becoming a hub for a multi platform approach to media? Wondery has a growing TV/film licencing division. How has that developed?
I don’t know that they are necessarily becoming a hub per se but, not dissimilar to what we have seen in book publishing for decades, people take notice of properties that scale audiences, particularly those with passionate followings and fan bases. For producers, it de-risks the investment in development, so we have seen many books developed for TV/Film, Games, and now we are seeing the same in podcasting. So I guess rather than a multiplatform approach to media, it is more of an omni-media approach to storytelling! We are even seeing properties that have been successful podcasts evolve into publishing. So it’s a classic case of developing IP, then looking to bring that to as wide an audience as possible across as many platforms as possible.
You have recently agreed a partnership with The Athletic. How important are partnerships to the growth of Wondery?
We’re incredibly proud of the partnerships we have. In the instance of The Athletic, they’re a brand that brings incredible informative sports coverage that is key to developing a daily sports show as we have done together. It just wouldn’t be feasible for us to unilaterally establish national sports coverage for a daily podcast alone. We also have partnerships with the LA Times (Dirty John, Man in the Window, Room 20) and Bloomberg (Shrink Next Door), The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team where “Gladiator- the Aaron Hernandez Story” is a nominee for a 2019 International Documentary Association award. At the same time, most of our shows are wholly owned so the partnerships complement our originals. We recently announced partnerships with NBC News and All Things Comedy that will build out our networks news and comedy content.
What are your main revenue sources currently and what do you think they will be in the future? Do you think podcasts will soon start to mirror other media niches and we will see the growth of subscription or membership schemes?
It’s no secret that we are primarily ad funded today as are most producers in the industry. That said, going forward, we all want to build from that beachhead and explore diversified revenue streams that will vary from producer to producer. It’s really not an either/or situation, more of an and/and.
Some will participate in / pursue license fee and rev share deals on pay platforms, some have and will develop their own DTC propositions (Luminary, Stitcher Premium). Certain content genres may lean more towards subs/membership models.
The market is growing rapidly (even in the US only a third of adults listened to a podcast in the past month, per Edison). There are consumers who are quite happy with an ad-supported model and consumers who are willing to pay for an ad-free version, just as we have seen in the digital publishing, gaming and video marketplaces. And, taking a market by market approach, there may be different business models in different markets. So, there’s not a universal “standard” operating model or best practice template that exists that would make it as simple as saying “ok, we want a podcast business, so we do it this way”.
The more ways we are able to provide consumers access to audio stories and the easier we make it for them to discover and enjoy the stories they like, and the more players we have working on that, the better for us all.
The company is heavily venture backed and you recently secured $10 million in investment? How is that money going to be spent?
Yes, regarding the first part, Wondery closed a series B earlier this year with backing by new investor Waverley Capital and series A investors: Lerer Hippeau; Greycroft; BDMI (Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments); Advancit; Water Tower Ventures; and Powerhouse Ventures, joining the round. Short answer to the second part is “Wisely”! More seriously, it is not going to be “spent” but rather invested in expanding our IP development, content acquisitions, technology investments, and our global growth.
What advice would you give to media companies in smaller territories looking to expand their podcast offering?
We all are seeing an “Audio on Demand” market that is growing exponentially. It’s a medium that people can enjoy anywhere:- their commute, not just on public transport or biking/walking but in increasing numbers of connected cars and faster connectivity with smartphones; working out, walking the dog, working on that car in the garage, you name it.
Audio permeation, if you will, is expanding in leaps and bounds as we have more connected speakers in the home- living room, kitchen, bedroom (yep, easier to share a podcast together than read a book).
We have voice activated discovery and UI that is getting better and better which drives greater adoption.
We have search indexing of audio content enabling better surfacing of relevant content.
So the upshot is that this is a growth space that deserves your attention.
It’s not just about expanding podcast offerings, it is what is your audio strategy? Or more to the point, what are the audio strategies for your brands?
Experiment and learn. You could accelerate that learning through working with proven hit quality content from other markets as you develop your own storytelling originals. And I’d be happy to have that conversation!
More like this