Established in 2017, the Vox Media Podcast Network has enabled the publisher to bring together the podcasting efforts of its brands under one umbrella. Its 150+ shows span technology, news, pop culture, emerging trends, business and sports, with centralized teams to streamline production, monetization, workflows, and more.
Vox Media recently promoted two of its top podcast executives, Ray Chao and Nishat Kurwa. Chao is now SVP and GM of Audio and Digital Video, and oversees Vox Media’s digital video business as well as talent deals and distribution partnerships. Kurwa is SVP and Executive Producer of Audio, leading programming, production operations, content strategy and new show development across the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Having led a number of successful expansions of Vox Media’s podcasts into other platforms, Chao and Kurwa have a great deal of expertise in what does and doesn’t work for publishers looking to take shows to the next level. They spoke to DCN about their priorities for Vox Media’s Podcast Network this year, and what to consider when building out a podcast brand into live events, video, licensing and more.
Here are three factors that have made Vox Media’s podcast extensions so successful, and what other publishers can learn from them.
An audience-first approach
Vox Media’s podcasts have a wide range of extensions designed to engage audiences beyond just listening. Some, like tech and business podcast Pivot, have partnered to produce videos of the show, as well as launching their own tech conference. Others, like narrative series Land of the Giants, have been adapted into TV series. “When we’re thinking about extensions, everything is on the table for all of our shows,” said Kurwa.
When it comes to deciding where and how to expand, audience signals are crucial. “We get a lot of feedback from our audiences, which is really meaningful and helpful,” Kurwa explained. If they get a lot of the audience saying they’d love to see hosts on video or suggesting other ways of interacting, the feedback is all taken into consideration. “It’s a strong indicator for hosts as well when they think about how they want to spend their time,” she noted.
The audience is also the first measure the team turns to when evaluating the success of an extension. “We always ask ourselves, does this expansion resonate with audiences?” Chao said. “Is this something that our listeners, our viewers and our audiences are excited about? Are they listening and watching and engaging with the content?”
Getting this kind of feedback can be challenging with podcast listeners. It’s important to encourage communication early on – and respond – via channels like email and social media. This in turn will help when assessing which extensions will work well for audiences and the response to them.
Experimenting with video for audio
Video podcasts have become a hot topic, following studies that have shown YouTube is actually a top destination for podcasts. It’s still a fairly new area for Vox Media, who are approaching the use of video on a show-by-show basis.
Pivot is one of the publisher’s early forays into video podcasts. Their partnership with Salesforce+, an on-demand streaming service for business professionals, gives the platform four exclusive clips each week from Pivot. The partnership has been running for just over a year, and has taught the team a great deal about video production.
“You might think it’s as simple as sticking a camera in the recording room, taking that video and posting it, but it really does take a lot to get polished video, even for a conversation show like Pivot,” Chao explained. “We’ve learned a ton just in terms of video production and workflow.”
Videoing the shows has also given the team the opportunity to experiment with posting short clips on social. “It’s been so exciting for us to see how much listener engagement we have when we post short highlight clips of Scott [Galloway] or Kara [Swisher] reacting to something a guest has said on a show,” said Chao. “It’s been really beneficial for us not just for the audience feedback, but because it helps us build and foster the community in a space like a social media platform. Those videos also spread the word about Pivot for people who might not have listened yet.”
Although it’s difficult to attribute growth specifically to clips on social, Chao said that Pivot has seen a lot of healthy audience growth recently, which they believe engagement on the video clips on social media has contributed to.
The Verge has also been experimenting with video clips across its two podcasts, Decoder and The Vergecast. The team behind the shows have been taking short video clips from the podcasts and posting them to TikTok and YouTube with the primary aim of finding new listeners.
“We are very much in a test-and-learn phase with video,” he acknowledged, when asked if any other shows would be trying it out. “We’re approaching it on a show by show basis.”
The power of the Podcast Network
The Vox Media Podcast Network, where all of the podcasts are produced and supported under one umbrella rather than as individual brands, also lends strength to multiplatform extensions. “By having the network, we can pursue bigger, more exciting and more holistic growth opportunities than if it was one brand or one show on their own,” explained Chao. “We’re very connected to other parts of the business and editorial stakeholders that are working on projects and initiatives outside of the audio space.”
One example Chao illustrated this with is podcast subscriptions. Podcast Network division CAFE, which has a weekly interview podcast with former Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara as its flagship show, has a subscription product rooted in podcasting.
“We learned a ton just by operating that podcast subscription product, growing it, and working with that team,” he said. “We’re now not only applying those learnings on the podcast subscription front to other podcasts that we’d like to launch subscriptions for in the future, but we’re leveraging a lot of the internal infrastructure that we’ve built for subscriptions outside of the podcast base.”
Whether it’s New York Magazine’s established subscriptions business, Vox’s contributions model, or paid newsletter experiments at The Verge, consumer revenue opportunities can work across both audio and non-audio. “On the business side, the product side, the engineering side and the marketing side, we’re able to really share learnings and best practices across the network to find new opportunities for growth,” Chao added.
Focus on the podcast first
Despite the success of the publisher’s various podcast extensions, Kurwa and Chao were adamant that when developing new shows, the quality of the podcast always comes first.
“We don’t approach our podcast conceptualization or production thinking about television adaptation,” Kurwa emphasized, when discussing the recent TV adaptation of their podcast Land of the Giants. “We’re focused on the podcast first. And that alleviates pressure.”
It’s an important lesson, especially as stories grow of podcasters selling out arenas, landing huge licensing deals, and more. If a podcast doesn’t work as a podcast first and foremost, any planned extensions are futile.
Finally, both executives urged caution with successful multiplatform extensions. What works really well for one show may not for another.
“We’re not going down a laundry list of ‘here are all of the different things that a podcast could expand into’, but we’re trying to be thoughtful about what makes sense for the audience, what makes sense for the show, what makes sense for the host and the show teams, and what they have bandwidth for,” Chao noted. “We’re really looking for those types of opportunities that check all of those boxes for us.”
For savvy publishers, the opportunities to extend podcast brands beyond audio are limitless. But true success comes in expanding wisely.