This week we’re joined by Chris Stone, Executive Producer at the New Statesman. Chris is in charge of the podcast and video strategy at the publication, and his experimental approach has seen monthly podcast downloads double, video views reach 8 million a month, and huge growth on their YouTube channel. More recently, he has been leaning into video podcasts on YouTube, figuring out what works for the New Statesman as the platform doubles down on its support for podcasts.

Chris takes us through some of his boldest experiments with podcasts at the New Statesman, from consolidating them into one feed to publishing audio and video versions to YouTube. He also talks about how they’re adapting to wider trends in the podcasting market, the potential use cases for AI in podcasts, and whether others will follow in the footsteps of The Economist and move all their podcasts behind a paywall. As economic conditions continue to put publishers under pressure, he gives some advice to publisher podcast teams facing budget cuts.

2023’s podcasting trends and their relevance to publishers will be one of the chapters we explore as part of our upcoming Media Moments 2023 report. Find out more and pre-register for the report here.

Here are some highlights from the episode:

How the New Statesman’s approach to video podcasts has evolved

When I started at the New Statesman, they already had a podcast that was doing well. They didn’t yet have any video. My background is initially from broadcast and then from publisher video. So I was doing video before I was doing podcasts. And at the New Statesman, it was, here’s a podcast, we don’t yet have a video strategy, can we do anything with that?

So to begin with, we were experimenting with what our video strategy should be. We produced a bunch of different content and  used a number of different platforms to see what worked. I was initially very sceptical about long form interviews or long form conversations on YouTube, very sceptical. My broadcast head was like, ‘Well, why would that be interesting? Where’s the pictures?’ But I was really quite surprised to see how popular some of our long form conversations were very early on.

Over time, it became clear that although some of our location features had done quite well in video, some of our explainers that we produced with somebody talking to camera – explaining a subject maybe based on an article that they’d written, with B roll and archive and stills and graphs and things to illustrate – although some of those also did reasonably well, the stuff that got the longest viewthrough and the greatest traction was some of our interview content, which really surprised me. That’s partly I think, because YouTube rewards viewthrough; it takes that as a signal of audience satisfaction, and therefore promotes that video to more audiences. As long as the content is compelling, and drives that view through

But when it came to deciding, okay, how are we going to make this strategy work long term, really the deciding factor was, this stuff’s getting good view through. And we’re already producing all of this spoken word content in podcasts. So let’s bring the two together. And now really, the podcasts are the spine of our audio and video strategy.

Understanding YouTube’s podcasting plans

So this for me this year has been has been sort of a game of trying to understand what YouTube were doing with their podcast platform…for me, at least, it was confusing to know whether YouTube were after audio podcasts that they would publish as an audio experience, or whether they wanted us to continue making video podcasts, and I wasn’t quite sure what this feature was going to be.

So for a while, we experimented with publishing our content as both video content and an audio only experience. And that failed abysmally. That was a successful experiment because it proved what not to do! But it was absolutely killed our channel growth. So by by publishing effectively duplicate content, we were publishing the the less engaging audio only experience… and then later, because it took longer to make we were publishing the video version of that.

What would happen was the audio only piece would go out, it wouldn’t get much viewthrough which the algorithm would take as a negative signal. So it wouldn’t promote it to as many people. And then we publish the same content later in video. The algorithm presumably would look at that and go, ‘Well, I’ve already tried that content on these people. And they didn’t like it. So I’m not going to promote it as much.’ So it completely killed our growth. There was a horrifying moment when I saw our subscriber growth go into negative numbers. And I thought, ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to do something now.’ So we just switched off the audio only [option]. And it went back up.

[A YouTube rep] explained to me that the new feature was going to have a toggle, the all important toggle. You could toggle between watching it or listening to it, which is what is present now in YouTube Music and is a brilliant interface. It’s such a relief because you don’t have to publish audio only versions. You publish the video version, and the viewer or listener decides how they consume it, which is much better. The minute we stopped doing the audio only versions, our growth returned to normal.

Is the podcast hype over?

If you call it a ‘hype cycle dip’, I think potentially you could take that as a sign of a maturing market. When something feels new and fresh, a lot of people want to get involved in it, and maybe treat it as an experiment; don’t really have necessarily a strategy, figure it out. Then those that find it useful continue with it and those that don’t, stop.

So there’s part of a cycle going on there where it’s big, it’s new, it’s exciting. There’s a growth thing and everyone sort of goes, ‘It’s not really working for us. We’re going to try something else.’ And some people go ‘Well, it’s really working for us, so we’re going to double down on it.’

I think there’s definitely something about what’s been going on for the last year or so. There is a tightening of the purse strings in publishers all over the place. I think what that means is that CEOs and boards are looking at return on investment very closely. In a boom period, it’s fine to speculate – you’ve got a bit extra, you can speculate in different areas, see what works, see what doesn’t. But with a contraction, naturally, we’ll look at quite closely where our profit margins are, and what’s costing us money, what’s bringing money in, and then we adjust our strategies accordingly.

So for us that’s been, the speculation bit is launching new feeds. And the contraction bit is, well, let’s try doing it all in one feed, and maximising the return on investment that we’re getting. We have the benefit of having a successful podcast that’s been running for a long time already, thanks to the work of people that have come before us. So that’s a really, really beneficial position to be in. If I was just starting a podcast department in a new organisation that didn’t yet have any audio, and I wasn’t yet seeing any return on investment for that, then I wouldn’t be surprised for it to be getting a tap on the shoulder, and sort of what do we do? Is this really the best use of our time?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *