A real twist: are celebrities ruining podcasting? | Podcasts
EEarlier this year, two men launched a podcast of meandering conversations about their friendship and the state of the world. Nothing unusual there. Of the approximately two million existing podcast series (48 million episodes and more), a large proportion are groups of men talking to themselves and laughing at their own jokes. The difference in this case was that the friends were Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. By launching the Spotify Renegades series, they brought together two distinct audio trends: the old-friends-chew-the-fat series and the now ubiquitous celebrity podcast.
The celebrity streak has been an area of growth for some time, but the past 12 months have sparked a wave of personality projects that have found themselves in a deadlock over lockdown. While much of the entertainment industry has been devastated by the pandemic, podcasting has proven to be largely virus-proof, making it an attractive proposition for those who, a year earlier , might not have taken a second look. As a result, the celebrity podcast has become the bindweed of the audio industry, sucking budgets, threatening to stifle competition, and in some cases, heralding a disheartening drop in quality.
Right now, it’s almost easier to count retired actors, comedians, influencers, musicians, reality TV stars, and politicians who don’t have a podcast than those who do. Along with Barack and Bruce, recent converts to the audio cause include Louis theroux, Jeremy paxman, Bill clinton, Katherine ryan, Julie andrews, Pilot Minnie, Gary Kemp, Rob brydon, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Joss Stone, Paris Hilton, Rob lowe, Jason bateman, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their brand new audio adventures join long-standing projects like David tennant, Oprah, Jessie ware, Chelsea peretti, Kate hudson, Snoop dogg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lena dunham and many others.
For podcasting networks looking to make a profit, this all makes perfect sense. Big names equal a big audience, and advertisers are more likely to pour money on a podcast with an A-lister attached, as opposed to a niche series on pen delights or chameleon property (yes, both exist). Renay Richardson, the founder of Broccoli productions, a London-based podcast production company, is seeing “laziness” in terms of commissioning.
“Companies are reluctant to get down to work to find new audiences and get them into podcasting,” she explains. “It’s easier to rely on an established audience rather than learning what it takes to create a new one. Whether it’s a large network or an independent, neither of you know how to market a new podcast, so the answer becomes “Let’s put a celebrity in there and rely on their years of experience building their own.” own brand ”. “
Meanwhile, the daring new world of audio is proving to be a lucrative side project for A-listers who can allegedly order millions of dollars for unscripted pods. In the opening episode of Sorted with dyers, an advice series starring actor Danny Dyer and his reality TV daughter Dani, Dyer Sr has no doubts about his motives: “Let’s say well, we’re gaining a crust,” he says, elated. But being a successful actor, or a comic, or even a royal escapee doesn’t automatically make someone a good interviewer – and interviews are the dominant format in star pod realms.
Among the many afflictions of the celebrity interview series, there is a reluctance to tackle difficult topics or cut down on bleak chatter. Listening to Kate Hudson’s podcast Sibling Revelry, in which she talks to famous siblings alongside her brother Oliver, is hearing the Hudsons talk about themselves, speaking above their guests, and generally treating. the whole business as a private cocktail. Rob Lowe’s podcast, Literally !, which promises free-wheeling conversations with his Hollywood friends, is also weighed down by shared reminiscences and unnecessary chatter. Fun for them, yes, but yawn for the rest of us.
Equally annoying is that the same names invariably appear in celebrity-hosted series. Fans of comedian Katherine Ryan will have been thrilled with the arrival of her podcast series Telling Everybody Everything, although their excitement may wane once they hear it on Samira Ahmed’s. How i found my voice, Scroobius Pip’s Distraction pieces, Brandi Glanville Unfiltered, Menu Off with Ed Gamble and James Acaster, and James O’Brien’s Full disclosure. Indeed, inviting a celebrity friend to your podcast seems to come with a similar etiquette to middle-class dinners, where guests have a duty to ask their hosts to return. I enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s appearance on Fearne Cotton’s Happy place? You can also hear Day interviewing Cotton on his own series. How to fail. Really, podcasting is breaking down.
That’s not to say all celebrity podcasts are horrible. Grounded With Louis Theroux, who offers conversations with Michaela Coel, Jon Ronson and otherss, is excellent, in large part because its host has made a career of interviewing people and isn’t shy about asking tough questions. In the United States, the audio side of Alec Baldwin Here is the thing threatens to outdo his daily job, with the actor revealing himself to be an insightful interviewer who reassuresly digs deep. As with any heavily-subscribed genre, quality inevitably varies between series. The problem is the sheer volume of podcasts, all attached to the same format and often having the same conversations.
This celebrity obsession creeps into other areas of audio as well. A growing feature of documentary podcasts is to get stars to tell the story instead of using the journalists who wrote them and researched them as presenters. Recent examples include Wondery’s Bunga bunga podcast, in which actor and comedian Whitney Cummings tells us about Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to political power in Italy; and the BBC’s Fight of the Century, on the fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden, presented by rapper Nas. The latter was probably written to give the show some sparkle, which seems like an odd move considering its subjects are some of the most famous sports people on the planet. By parachuting into famous storytellers, editors show little confidence in listeners whom they obviously feel unable to generate interest without a big name attached.
Podcasting has long been hailed as a unique democratic medium, which means anyone, famous or not, can try it. But earning a salary or building a community around him is another matter. Whether the proliferation of celebrity pods stifles competition or not depends on who you ask. Talk to the big networks and they will invariably use the metaphor “rising tides lift all boats”, insisting that anything that brings new ears to podcasting is a good thing.
But that can be of little comfort to independent creators trying to gain a foothold in a crowded industry. Helen Zaltzman, the host of Answer me that!, a listener-answering podcast that launched 14 years ago, says that in some ways starting now would be more difficult “because there are millions of podcasts competing for people’s time.” But in some ways less, because in 2007 we had to explain what podcasts were and how to get them and why they might want it. Discovery has always been difficult, and an issue the podcast’s gold rush has yet to improve. “
Richardson argues that the problem is not market saturation, as is often claimed. “People have to stop saying this unless they really believe there are too many books, movies, TV shows and records. As the podcasting audience reaches the level of other media, the reliance on top celebrity content will decrease and creativity will increase. “
In the meantime, no one is suggesting that all famous podcasters should hang up their mics, though, for the sake of all of us, they might need to ask themselves a few questions before embarking on their sparkling new side project. These could include: are they a natural diffuser? Who is their series really aimed at? And, if they want to chat with their friends, have they considered picking up the phone?
Five celebrity podcasts worth listening to
The Adam Buxton podcast
It’s not for nothing that comedian Adam Buxton calls his interviews “gossip”, with episodes of his hugely popular series often exceeding 90 minutes. Nonetheless, much like his former pal Louis Theroux, his success as a podcaster lies in his sensitive and curious interview style, and a varied and interesting guest list.
Ian Wright’s Everyday People
It’s celebrity-hosted, yes, but the real stars here are ordinary people who have amazing stories to tell. Among those interviewed by Wright are a soldier who walked 700 miles barefoot to raise money for research into an incurable genetic disease, and a Grenfell Tower survivor who set up a community kitchen and prepared her way. through his trauma.
Dear Joan and Jericha
Who needs celebrities to have a serious chat with their friends when we can hear Julia Davis (of Nighty Night fame) and Vicki Pepperdine (Getting On) like agonizing aunts giving out dismissive relationship advice? Gasp as Derek and Clive from podcasting view these puzzles as sagging breasts, misplaced spouses, and the optimal way for a woman to flash her genitals on a train.
The fact that Clara Amfo had a lot of radio experience was always going to make her a decent podcaster, but there’s also a clear emphasis on This City, which finds its host talking to famous London residents about places that mean something to. them, be it restaurants, places or green spaces in the city.
Be curious with Jonathan Van Ness
In the galaxy of celebrity pods, this one aims higher than most as it sees the Queer Eye star seeking to broaden his intellectual horizons. With the help of guest experts, Van Ness examines art, economic equality, trans rights, the racial wealth gap, early Chinese history and more.