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How Vox Media uses its podcast network to grow franchises

October 15, 2020 | By Esther Kezia Thorpe – Independent Media Reporter @EstherKeziaT

Vox Media has become a podcasting powerhouse, with more than 200 shows across multiple categories. From news and tech to culture, comedy and sports, the publisher is seen as a leader when it comes to building and monetizing audiences around their premium podcasts.

The Vox Media Podcast Network is well-established. However, there is a great deal of strategic thinking and consideration that goes into developing new shows. This has been highlighted recently with the launch of a new narrative podcast, Go For Broke, from Epic Magazine. 

Vox Media’s VP and Executive Producer of Audio Nishat Kurwa and Epic Magazine’s Director of Business Operations Melis Tusiray discussed the development of Go For Broke. They also explore the ways in which they leverage the power of the network when launching new shows. 

Developing Epic’s first podcast

Go For Broke is a narrative franchise that looks at the stories within historical success “bubbles.”  The idea for the podcast stemmed from a discussion of Pets.com. For those who don’t remember, the pet supply enterprise rose to fame after a sock puppet advertising campaign. It became one of the more high-profile victims of the dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s. 

“As we started talking about bubbles, it just really occurred to us at that moment that there was so much rich storytelling under this thematic concept of bubbles. It really made sense to do it as a podcast,” said Tusiray. “We could put in the audio texture of that time period, and really immerse the listeners in it. So when Epic merged with Vox Media in 2019, this was one of the first stories that we pitched.”

Hosted by BuzzFeed News alumna Julia Furlan, the series will address the ways in which the first dotcom bubble set up the dominance of the tech industry. It will also highlight how the same forces that caused the first crash are still at work in today’s tech economy. 

This is Epic’s first full podcast show. So, it will be an opportunity for the team to discover their own audio voice and style within Vox Media’s Podcast Network. The brand has a strong background in storytelling through their publications. They’ve also done film and TV work, all with a focus on telling extraordinary true stories.

“It was when we joined Vox Media and we got to know the Vox Media Podcast Team that the opportunity became very clear,” explained Tusiray. “It became the right entry point for us to do our first Epic Magazine-branded narrative podcast.”

Leveraging a network

Having a well-established podcast network is key to the success of new shows at Vox Media. “We leverage our network inventory to do a lot of audio promotion across different audio sets and different categories,” Kurwa said. 

New podcasts are frequently cross-promoted through audio promotions in similar categories. Occasionally Vox Media makes use of feed drops; it puts a trailer or whole episode of a new podcast into another show’s feed in order to attract listeners.

Go For Broke’s focus on the dotcom crash for the first season means that it covers both business and technology. These are categories which the Vox Media Podcast Network already publishes some of its biggest shows such as Pivot and Land of the Giants. “We know our audience is already interested in insightful coverage and historical narratives in those areas,” explained Kurwa. “So we took that as a strong signal that this would be a smart series to pursue.”

“That is really important when we’re thinking about developing a new show. What do we know about the audiences we already have? What do we know about the ways that we’ll be able to leverage our network to promote any new shows that we decide to publish?”

Building out franchises

One of the strategies that has made the Vox Media Podcast Network so successful over the past few years has been leaning into its franchises. This involves building out an area of focus for a brand, and then doing special series within that. For Epic, Go For Broke will play a formative part of shaping its future audio portfolio within Vox Media.

“Part of that initial pitch and development process was looking at what we can grow as a franchise,” Kurwa outlined. “As a network, we really have to develop our discipline around what makes sense for the individual brands, and what makes business sense, especially when looking at a very saturated podcast market. Where can we have success, where can we make inroads?”

This strategy plays out across other podcasts Vox Media looks to develop as well. The idea has to be able to extend across multiple seasons and stories to capitalize on the established audience. “While we’re in production for the first season, we’re already thinking about what a second, and even third season can be,” Kurwa added.

Go For Broke has benefited from Vox Media’s centralized audio team, who work across the various editorial networks to help shape their audio strategies under the Vox Media umbrella. This covers everything from the pitching and development process to support with production, marketing and sales.

Stability in podcasting

Coronavirus has not slowed Vox Media’s podcasting efforts. Like many other publishers, it has seen growth during this period, with listeners increasing by almost 50% over the past year.

At the start of 2020, Vox Media was  reportedly aiming to double their $10 million-a- year podcasting business. Kurwa wouldn’t comment on revenue specifics, but said that they were on track with the target. Most importantly, the podcast business has shown stability throughout the pandemic.

“The fact that podcast audiences have remained stable and grown so much is very encouraging for the Podcast Network,” Kurwa said. There have been changes in the time that people listen, with a notable shift from the commute to now listening in the middle of the day or in the evening after dinner.

“The listening has time shifted. But it’s grown in really promising ways,” she added.

The strength of the Vox Media Podcast Network is in knowing its audiences. Epic Magazine’s Go For Broke launches into a vertical that Vox Media already has established podcasts in. This gives the brand an edge when it comes to promotion, monetization, and developing further audio products.

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