Immediate Media is one of the publishers that did very well out of the pandemic. They saw huge subscription boosts to their brands, many of which were focused around consumer passions like cooking, gardening, entertainment and craft. Publications like BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and BBC Good Food saw double-digit growth, while the business as a whole reported a 13% year-on-year growth in August 2021.

Its subscription success is well-documented. However, behind the scenes, the publisher is working on nurturing other revenue streams. We spoke to Duncan Tickell, who rejoined Immediate as Chief Revenue Officer in late 2020, with the task of accelerating revenue growth across the business. He told us how he is focusing on podcasts and webinars as both are now generating substantial revenue. 

Making podcasts (very) profitable

“[Audio] has been a surprisingly strong growth area for us,” Tickell commented. “Our History Extra podcast, we’ve taken that on a journey where it’s now going to become a seven-figure revenue stream very shortly. That gets over 4 million listens a month, so it’s become a real area of growth.”

Podcasts are a growth area for many publishers, but to be approaching the £1 million revenue mark on a single show marks Immediate out as particularly impressive. Their centralised audio team does the podcast editing for most of the brands, freeing up time for the editorial team. This also allows publications – who otherwise might not have had the resources – experiment with launching a podcast for a much lower time cost.

When it comes to podcast revenue, Tickell is currently focused on developing advertising – both programmatic and baked in – as the primary income stream for now. He noted that demand for advertising in podcasts is incredibly strong, especially for a show with audience figures as high as History Extra’s.

“When it comes to the advertising piece, what’s really interesting is that if you have a successful podcast, the demand is there from the advertising perspective,” Tickell emphasised. “Within the History Extra podcast, we have a very strong direct sold sponsorship line, complemented by some network sales of aggregated audio advertising that is building this business that’s on the trajectory very shortly to hit a run rate of over seven figures a year.”

History Extra is a very mature podcast. It launched back in 2007, and has had almost fifteen years to grow its audience and experiment with production, workflow and frequency. “History Extra has been on a long journey of building subscribers to get to the incredibly strong position it finds itself in today,” Tickell explained. “But equally within that, we found that the amount of content that you put out makes a big difference.”

“Through testing and learning, we’ve arrived at what we think is the optimal level for that product, which is four [episodes] a week. Now, we go on that journey with our other brands, which is to work out what formats work, what type of content works.”

Replicating podcasting success across other brands

Although History Extra’s success is partly down to its maturity, Tickell believes Immediate can use it as a blueprint for podcasting success across its other brands. “What we’re looking to do now is scale [History Extra’s] business into the other verticals in which we operate, be that food or gardening.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean growing each podcast to have millions of listeners. Rather, it is about optimising existing podcasts and launching new ones that are focused on Immediate’s core markets. Tickell believes there is some low-hanging fruit here.

First up with new launches is Radio Times. The Radio Times Podcast launched the first of its weekly episodes in September, where broadcaster Jane Garvey talks to top guests in the world of TV and entertainment. So far, they’ve had a number of high profile guests, from Nadiya Hussain and Jodie Whittaker to Brian Cox and Prue Leith.

BBC Gardeners’ World, which launched last year, will also be a focus for revenue and audience growth. The brand is currently experimenting with an exclusive Apple Podcast series alongside the main podcast. Billed as ‘handy audio guides’, Tea Break Tutorials with Alan Titchmarsh is available as a paid-for podcast through Apple’s new subscription tools, and focuses on practical tips like how to revive your lawn, and how to tackle weeds organically. 

Apple Podcasts’ in-app subscription tools have only been live for a few months, so this is a very early experiment for Immediate. If it is successful in attracting paid subscribers, this is unquestionably a model that would work well across many of its other brands.

Growing paid webinars

Another area of growth that might be more surprising is Immediate’s webinar business, given its consumer focus. Webinars have been traditionally confined to B2B businesses, with the name itself conjuring images of dry, clunky, sponsored presentations. But lockdown – and better technologies – have made webinars sexy again, and attractive to a non-business audience.

“One of the most interesting things that came out of that pandemic situation was that our teams, who were previously working to budgets and thinking about targets and bonuses, when the world changed, that all went up in a puff of smoke,” said Tickell, explaining where the webinar idea came from. “We actually said, ‘Let’s just think about how can we be entrepreneurial and innovative to get through this phase.’”

“We actually saw the development of a whole bunch of new business initiatives that have actually stood the test of time.”

Almost 18 months later, and their webinar business has attracted well over 30,000 paid attendees across their brands. “We’re again on that run rate to make it another seven-figure business across our portfolio of brands,” Tickell said. “The two really successful ones for that business – or the two most scaled ones – have been on BBC Gardeners’ World and BBC Good Food.”

It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a BBC Good Food webinar masterclass on how to make sourdough during lockdown which alerted Immediate to the potential of virtual classes. “It really showed us that there’s an appetite for being able to get into that place where you’re showing really high value instructional content that’s more akin to a learning business than just a straight content business,” Tickell mused.

The initial broadcast for the webinars is done live, and the majority of paying attendees engage this way. This allows more interactivity, like Q&As, although the webinar is then also made available in an archive. 

Subsequent classes on Good Food Learn have covered topics like cheese pairings, macaron making and homemade pasta.Tickets for the classes usually cost around £12, which is perfectly priced for a B2C audience.

“We’re in an incredibly fortunate position to have some very trusted brands that have incredibly deep relationships with people who consume the contents of those brands,” said Tickell, when asked how he was planning to keep up the momentum. “It’s really important that we maintain the relationships with those consumers, we continue to solve their problems, to make them get the most out of those passions.”

Webinars are something that we would have struggled to see many publishers making work effectively pre-pandemic, especially as a paid event. But with audiences now accustomed to attending events online – and handing over money to do so – Immediate is now in a very strong position to capitalise on the deep expertise of its brands.

Listen to the full interview with Duncan Tickell here (interview starts at 19.10):

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