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Impeachment podcasts are about more than Trump

Impeachment podcasts are about more than Trump


Big networks are the tastemakers

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Within a day of impeachment proceedings being initiated against President Donald Trump, podcasts had already begun pivoting to full-on impeachment coverage. Now, just over a month later, there are at least eight podcasts solely focused on the process — even Rudy Giuliani is considering launching one. These pop-up podcasts might seem shortsighted because of their finite nature, but they give networks a daily or weekly relationship with listeners, and they’re only going to become more common as the podcast industry consolidates into bigger networks that can spin up shows with the slightest hint of a newsworthy event. This also means they’ll shuffle audiences from one program to another.

There are now daily impeachment shows published by WNYC, CNN, The Washington Post, and a collaboration between BuzzFeed and iHeartMedia. NBC News has an impeachment show that publishes three times a week, and both Vox Media (which also publishes The Verge) and Crooked Media offer impeachment shows that publish weekly. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon also has a daily impeachment podcast that’s published 22 episodes so far.

At least six different networks produce impeachment shows

The limited-run nature of these shows means the creators have to find and build an audience quickly, but they’re well-positioned to do that so long as they’re in the embrace of a large network. Cross-promotion — that is, being shouted out within other podcasts — is often essential to a show’s success and becomes easier to facilitate as networks expand and formalize. Plus, with a difficult discovery system for podcasts, cross-promotion allows networks to become the tastemakers, suggesting shows from within their roster to keep people tuned in. If you already listen to a political Vox Media show, for example, chances are, you’ll hear about Vox’s impeachment show, too. Pretty soon, you might exclusively know about Vox Media shows because that’s what’s promoted.

These big networks are essential for a show to rapidly gain listener reach, and the broader pop-up podcast trend demonstrates how a consolidating industry can control where people find their content. Currently, five of the above podcasts are listed in the top 50 news shows on Apple Podcast charts, which isn’t the strongest popularity indicator, but it does suggest people are listening.

Podcast buzz reached a fever pitch in 2019 with big companies gobbling up independent networks and signing deals with celebrity talent. The acquisitions not only yielded more talented producers, hosts, and editors but also more shows that can be leveraged to market new podcasts. iHeart, for instance, promotes Impeachment Today not only on its radio stations but also on shows within its growing portfolio through special segments or trailers, says Will Pearson, COO at iHeart Podcast Network. iHeart might encourage hosts on relevant podcasts to interview Impeachment Today host Hayes Brown, or it might drop the impeachment podcast’s trailer into other shows’ feeds.

Big networks move their listeners

“It would be challenging to be able to launch something like this and have it spread very quickly without an existing significant audience to be able to promote that to,” Pearson says. “We have the promotional firepower to be able to say, you know what, this may be a limited-run thing, or a short-term thing, but we feel like we have the ability to drive a significant audience to it.”

WNYC employs a similar strategy and leans on shoutouts from its show host, Brian Lehrer, who already hosts his own daily radio program. The team placed an impeachment episode in the feed for another network show, On the Media, as well, which could expose its listeners to the program and get them excited to tune in. WNYC also includes midroll ads for the impeachment program on all series that include a midroll ad placement, including The Takeaway and Trump, Inc.

Although, on the surface, it might seem like putting all this effort into an RSS feed for a show with an expiration date is unproductive, WNYC says the effort won’t go to waste, even if people stop listening to the impeachment show once the proceedings end. The feeds can be reinvented or used in the future to promote shows, according to WNYC spokesperson Brisa Robinson. Thinking about RSS feeds as promotional tools is “standard practice,” she says, even for shows the team knows will be short-run series.

This doesn’t always happen, though. NBC News and Vox Media teamed up in 2017 and 2018 to launch a Pyeongchang Olympics podcast, and the feed has remained dormant since the event ended. Granted, it still exists and still has subscribers, so if Vox Media were ever to launch another Olympics show, it could easily revive the feed.

Cross-promotion is already common for most podcasts, but it’s especially important for a show with limited timeliness. Podcast discovery is still a broken and arduous process. But when a network already has dozens of shows at its disposable, it can easily market within those programs and make sure a pop-up podcast succeeds. That just means indie podcasters might struggle to get their pop-up podcasts to listeners, and we might end up listening to more of one network’s programs than any other.