The winner of the Entertainment category in the 2020 Publisher Podcast Awards was the Pilot TV podcast, produced by Bauer Media. We asked the editor-in-chief of Pilot TV and Empire magazines, Terri White, to share some of her thoughts on what has made the Pilot TV podcast such a success.
We’ll be releasing audio excerpts in a special Media Voices episode in August, as well as full transcripts from all the winners at a later date. For now, here are the edited highlights…
I think when we decided to launch Pilot TV as a brand, it actually seemed quite revolutionary to be launching a print mag in this day and age. And that was the more surprising element to us. I think we always knew that the podcast would have to be a really core part of the brand.
We’d seen massive success with the Empire podcast, which has been going over seven years now. And that’s moved really to the centre of the Empire brand and is vital to what we do, how we speak to our audience, and how we push out our content. So we knew that that would be an approach we’d look to do with Pilot as well.
Telly is so much – like film – about conversation… and we know from talking to (our audience) on social especially, that they love debating telly, they love sharing their opinions, they love hearing what we think, they love getting recommendations from us, throwing them back at us.
So having something discursive at the middle of it, where it was kind of not just us transmitting information to them like the print mag is really important. I see it as a long term conversation with the audience.
Pilot vs Empire
There’s more of a kind of a free flowing organic structure to the Empire podcast. There are parts of it that are all consistent, there are reviews, there’s movie news, but Chris Hewitt who hosts it and produces it, he really kind of has this spirit of free wheeling around it.
With Pilot we wanted to do something different because the podcast space is really busy now, and you really have to grip people immediately, and really tell them what your proposition is, and make sure they understand it from listening to one episode. So we have a much tighter structure.
We knew that if we could offer that structure to people, they knew what they were coming in to get every week, then we’d have a better chance of retaining them and growing them. Because I think every podcast now has to really be much sharper and have a sense of what it’s doing, why it’s doing it and who it’s for out of the gate.
My feeling is that people love a really great guest who is really interesting, has got something really great to say, maybe doing a really innovative exciting telly show. But what we didn’t want to do is have a weekly slot that we would then fill in regardless of who we could get.
At the moment we put the guests in when we have somebody that we’re really excited by. We did Sarah Phelps just before I left on maternity leave, and she was brilliant. I mean, she’s one of the greatest writers working in telly today. What we wouldn’t want to get into is kind of having a more generic guest… you end up with one of those interviews that could really sit anywhere, whereas we want everything to feel like Pilot.
At the moment, Pilot is bagged with Empire, and we use a slot in news around newsstand release, when we do publish it to promote it and talk about what’s in there. And actually, the podcast has become an important marketing tool in that sense, in terms of, we have a regular listener base, and we know, we galvanise them to go and actually watch shows that they would never have watched otherwise.
So we know we can drive (listeners) to the magazine… but I’m always really cautious of keeping that kind of tight and succinct and relevant, and not using the podcast to just flog other stuff. I think you have to make sure that each platform is a robust editorial proposition in its own right.
We had a couple of studios in the old building that Bauer used to be in at Endeavour House and we used to nick the Heat studio – thank you Heat for allowing us to do that! When we moved into our new building in Camden, they built a studio in the building, which is essentially for podcasts and any editorial audio content.
I don’t know if people think because we’re part of a big company, it’s probably quite a swanky setup, and we have producers and editors and all of that. It’s us three, James writes the scripts and hosts it, James also produces it and edits it himself, so it’s kind of all done by us.
Recording at home during lockdown
We’ve literally got a microphone, and a laptop and some headphones, and we kind of did it on the fly! And it was all right, actually. I just think people get so bogged down in kind of feeling like they need a certain level of tech. And I just think that these days, anybody can podcast.
I think we were keen when we started, just to get it out the door, to make sure that we had the proposition nailed. But we knew that the show would actually evolve as well, when it came to the content and it actually being any good.
The first couple of shows, I’m sure were rubbish, because we were finding our way. Actually when we first started, the studio hadn’t been built yet in Bauer. We just had to pile into a meeting room, this tiny meeting room on Empire’s floor which fits four people. We all squashed in there with some portable microphones, and did it in there.
But we knew it would take a few weeks for us to find our rhythm, for the chemistry between the three of us to kind of settle down, for the format to find its feet, for the audience to come in and tell us what they thought. And so we were kind of just like, get it out there, get it into the market, see what the response is, and we weren’t afraid to, if people didn’t like stuff, to tweak it as we went.
I think we’re always keen to evolve with, and listen to people, if people say, we don’t like this, or that goes on a bit long, or that’s actually not as funny as you think it is, then we want to listen and adapt. I don’t think you have to go out into the market with a perfect podcast.
We have a WhatsApp group, and because it’s just the three of us – me, Boyd and James – we kind of debate at the start of the week, which shows we want to do. That’s where it can often get a bit lairy because we’ll have different opinions on what we think is important to cover! James normally wants to do some sci fi shit, and I want to do something grim and miserable.
As the week’s going on, we’re kind of all keeping a watch on news and making a news list that we’re going to take to the podcast. And then James scripts it and we kind of get assigned shows to lead on. But we don’t know what’s in his script before we go in, because we like the conversational nature of it, and it unfolding in the room is really important to what we do.
Print vs podcast
There’s a lot of stuff we can’t cover in the print magazine that we only get to cover on the podcast, so in that sense, the podcast then becomes massively important… it’s the only place you can engage with these things as a brand.
For example, Netflix has a habit of dropping things with no notice or very, very little notice. So the mag’s gone to press, has been printed is on newsstands, and we suddenly get word that they’re dropping a massive show next Friday. And that’s something we’ve then missed in print. And so the podcast becomes vital because if it’s a really cool show, we have to discuss it. We have to tell people what we think about it. And so the podcast really comes into its own, I think especially with TV.
We did our first ever live podcast at the London Podcast Festival. The Empire podcast has done it for a few years, it takes one of the big headline slots, and they invited Pilot this year, which was great. And I think live events are really interesting because you’re getting out into a slightly different audience.
I think one of the benefits of Bauer is that we have a huge number of brands across different markets, aimed at different demographics. And I think looking at how we can utilise them, and especially how we can partner with for example, our radio brands, and how we can use our internal channels to kind of reach those audiences we haven’t reached yet.
I think everything you launch these days has to be with the long term view of making money. I think anybody who says it isn’t is either deluded or lying because you know, we are in a challenging media environment, and the only brands that are going to survive and are going to thrive are the ones that monetise multiple products and platforms, not just one.
So how we do that is obviously a challenge that I think everybody’s looking at right now. We have had sponsorship of the Pilot podcast, which was through Spotify, and that was great. That was essentially sponsored reads within the podcast, it was a joint deal across Empire and Pilot.
We’re the second biggest magazine podcast within Bauer with Pilot, so Empire’s number one, Pilot’s number two – put those two together and I think you’ve got a really powerful proposition of covering off TV, film, men, women from 20 to 45.
We are trying something on Empire; The main Empire podcast is still free, Spoiler Specials we rolled out a subscription to see if people would pay for it, which they kind of are doing.
There is no plan at the moment, and I can’t see one to be honest, where we charge for the Pilot podcast. I think it’s really important to that be at least one podcast within the brand where there’s no barrier to entry in terms of price. I think the reason we can charge for the Spoiler Special within Empire is you still got the access point of the main pod. But I think advertising and partners is really where the financial future of the podcast is.
I think we accepted that we weren’t going to make a fuck tonne of money initially, because it was really about growing the brand, growing the audience, growing the fame, and reputation of Pilot as a brand. Now we’re into year two, I think we have to go, okay, how do we seriously monetise this? And what does that growth look like over the next two years?
What we found is actually that it isn’t prohibitive how long the shows are. We try and keep it to an hour, an hour and 10 minutes. Because I do think that actually if you start getting to like an hour and 45, two hours, then you’re testing people’s tolerance really. So we try and keep it to an hour, an hour and 10.
We do have a bit of latitude in that the listeners are super, super engaged with the podcast. And they come in regardless of the show, regardless of the guests, regardless of the length. But I think it’s about being respectful of their time, as well. And making sure that everything in there deserves to be in there.
Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world