Comparing the Australian and British Podcast Awards

How different and similar is audio across the world?

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One of the things that I enjoy doing the most is helping to nurture the British Podcast Awards. We’ve just had our fourth ceremony and it was the biggest yet, even though this year it had to be virtual.

The UK podcast sector is pretty diverse, from established radio operators like the BBC, to print publishers like The Times, from indie audio companies to individuals as well as some of the biggest technology companies in the world. Our job is try and create something that reflects them all and provides a meeting place for the sector. We are, as we often say, a big tent.

We’re just in the process of gearing up for the Awards next year (get in touch if your company wants to be a sponsor!) and it will no doubt be even bigger than 2020. Our plans for it certainly are.

About this time last year we’d been having some discussions with the Australian Podcast Awards team where it was suggested that we might be a suitable home to manage the day to day running of it.

Our view is that Awards should be very representative of the sector, so we worked out a way where a lot of the creative elements, particularly the judging was managed locally, whilst we looked after the administration (and the risk!)

Even though it was perhaps not the best year to take on an international events business, we’ve had a great time doing the awards, which had its ceremony a few weekends ago.

As an audio geek it’s also been fascinating to see some of the differences, and similarities, between the Australian and UK sectors.

Content-wise it’s very similar. Lots of high quality work from both corporates, independents and individuals, with budgets not inhibiting much of the best creative executions. There’s been the rise of daily podcasts in both countries, with new entrants appearing to challenge the status quo. Fiction podcasts remain an under-exploited area, with mainly independents taking risks with complex projects and a growth in platform exclusives from the like of Spotify and Audible.

In both countries diversity can be lacking, particularly when the barriers to entry are supposed to be lower than other media. In Australia, our indigenous category was designed to promote entries across the board with First Peoples producers and presenters, rather than create a specific content category for this group. We think much of the value the Awards can bring to the discussion is to showcase and highlight work and provide a place for everyone to be able to see themselves. We also work to make the judging reflective of each country’s population.

In the UK we’ve tried a number of different efforts over the years to ensure we represent diverse audiences, from judging make-up to sector outreach. This year we’re going to be investing a more formal 5% of our budget into diversity initiatives and measure the effect it has. Our aim for the sector is to show that podcasting is for everyone, and for the Awards is to demonstrate that black, indigenous, and other people of colour should enter and feel that they can win. We’ve written a bit more about that here.

The big difference in the two countries is the effect of the public broadcaster - the ABC in Australia and the BBC in the UK. In both places they’re big content creators and strong competition, but the ABC has no real history of commissioning third parties to make audio for them; at the BBC this has happened for years.

The result is the UK has a much more well-established independent audio production scene. Production companies like Listen, TBI, Somethin’ Else have generated scaled businesses because of earlier BBC commissions. Now there are more buyers with Spotify, Audible and others commissioning work alongside ad-funded podcast opportunities. These indies are now in a good place to benefit from this growth. These new buyers exist in Australia too but there are fewer production companies of scale.

It’s interesting to see a new initiative - ABC Fresh Start Fund, which is commissioning $5m worth of public service content (including radio and podcast material) from individuals and production companies. Much of it seems to be targeted at smaller operators with $10k budgets, a good start, but it’s the big commissions that help companies get bigger and become more adventurous.

In Australia, commercial radio has been more aggressive at taking on the role that companies like Acast, Audioboom and Global’s DAX have done here, with the main groups forming ventures that ‘rep’ third-party podcasters as well as their own.

SCA operates PodcastOne Australia (combining their own, third party and US material), Nova and NewsCorp work together selling their own shows and ARN with iHeart are repping many third-party podcasts alongside their own and Audioboom’s podcasts. Also in the market, Acast have a strong line-up of local programming and podcasts from around the world, Ranieri sell US shows from Wondery and NBC and Whooshka look after local shows and Stitcher material.

Teams at commercial radio stations on both sides of the world seems to stick very much to their own brands with limited experimentation outside of ‘catchup’. Whilst I’m sure all will point to these exceptions, I find it fascinating that the people responsible for so much successful radio output are directly creating so few new podcast ideas.

I’ve talked before about how efficient and focused the commercial radio ‘machine’ is and that there seems little time for non core projects. It’s perhaps not a surprise that where radio groups are producing new material, it’s often not from their station teams. Perhaps its showing that the only way to grow is to create separate groups of people to drive this audio content?

Another difference was how our Australian Listeners’ Choice vote was driven by women and Instagram. This was the first year that Australia used our voting system, which makes it very easy for shows to court votes and for consumers to submit them. This category rewards passion. It’s not always the biggest shows, it’s the ones who can activate their listeners.

The top four in Australia were Life Uncut, Happy Hour with Lucy & Nikki, Mamamia Out Loud and Emsolation with Em Rusciano - all women and all with strong Insta followings who campaigned across Stories, grid posts and their shows to get people voting. We’re interested to see if that is reflected in the UK public vote next year.

Overall though, doing both Awards, we’re incredibly lucky to hear so much brilliant material and are delighted when winners get in touch to say how much it has meant to them, or what it’s done for their listens or business. You can hear the Australian winners here and the British winners here.

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