Is Talent In Control?
Does the rise in opportunities, re-balance the relationship?
Another week and more news of talent transfers. This morning Dan Walker, erstwhile host of BBC Breakfast is leaving the sofa for Channel 5. Over in podcast land, the BBC’s not having better luck, with departures of That Peter Crouch Podcast and Kermode & Mayo.
The BBC, particularly, are being squeezed from two sides. On one side you’ve got less money and more scrutiny, as many in-front-of-mic performers are having to publish their earnings and on the other side, there’s significantly more interest from an emerging suite of competitors as well as the ability to ‘monetise’ their talent directly.
The challenge for the BBC (and other established broadcasters) is that they have been slow to realise that the balance of power has shifted and they are unable to change their own structures (and thinking) fast enough to stem the bleeding.
A common complaint I hear from BBC podcast talent, and something that seems to have been a key issue for Peter Crouch and Co are the touring rights for shows. The BBC’s inflexibility to create easily manageable ways for talent to profit from their shows makes it hard for them to stick around.
What the BBC (and other broadcasters) have not been used to doing, is creating dynamic businesses with their talent, rather than just employing them. In Netflix’s world they’ve signed output deals with talent like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and Adam Sandler - to keep the hits coming. Closer to home, many agents have created companies with their talent to help them develop podcast, and other, programming that they all have a stake in.
Kermode and Mayo have been two of the UK’s longest serving podcasters, producing notionally a film podcast, but at the same time creating a large audio community. They’ve decided to bring the radio programme to an end, but keep the show going as a Sony-produced podcast.
The Megaphone-hosted show will allow the production company, Sony Music’s Somethin’ Else to sell sponsorships and live reads directly. There will also be a second weekly episode for Apple Podcast paying subscribers.
Both Peter Crouch and Kermode & Mayo re-launches have found themselves at the top of the Apple Podcasts charts, as listeners subscribe to their new feeds. However, it’s interesting to note that the same can’t be said over on Spotify. There, K&M have only jumped to 28 in the TV chart, and Crouch is nowhere to be seen. Just an algorithmic oddity, or recognition that the shows appeal to that older core BBC/Apple demographic?
The challenge for both shows will be to build beyond its historic BBC-derived audiences. Without broadcast plugs and BBC Sounds pushes, the shows themselves will have to join the podcasting marketing fray to keep their audiences growing.
Indeed, for Peter Crouch, the BBC allowed an incredibly generous final episode, 11 months after the last one, which talks about the new series starting and that ‘due to gremlins’ listeners will have to re-subscribe (to what will be their ad-funded operation). Over on Kermode and Mayo’s BBC Film Review, Jason Issacs plugged that their show was carrying on too, with many more hints carrying on throughout. Whilst both may feel that the BBC owe them as much, I would suggest the cool winds of the commercial sector would not have been so generous.
The more competitive nature of today’s audio sector makes what was a somewhat staid world into more of a replica of television, where format-owners, be they talent or production companies, move shows network to network.
In the case of Kermode and Mayo, the rights to the show is relatively difficult to determine. A relationship between the two hosts that started on Radio 1, became a feature of Simon' Mayo’s Five Live show, and then when Simon left 5 for 2, a re-birthed film show on Five was something tendered and commissioned to Somethin' Else in 2011. They now will continue to make, and commercialise, the programme in partnership with the hosts.
Does this activity harm Somethin’ Else’s relationship with the BBC (they’re the corporations biggest producer of independent radio programmes) or would the Sony Music subsidiary sooner be making programmes that it owns or co-owns the IP of, anyway?
For me, all of this is a good reminder that celebrity-led programmes are great short-term for any organisation, but their ability to move from outlet to outlet, makes it hard to build a sustainable business on top of them. As a comedy agent said to me “we keep all our talent with podcasts on one year contracts, and just keep jacking up the price”.
To build reliable and long-lived audio businesses, owning the IP of the idea and its execution is key. I would much rather have a show built around an idea, than one solely built around a person.
News last night that the government is going to try, again, to privatise Channel 4. Notionally to “help Channel 4 compete with Netflix and Amazon”, it will also happily allow the government to give a kick-in to a perceived enemy. When 60,000 viewers write in saying that they want it kept as is and all TV production companies and advertisers agree, it is a bit of a stretch to say Nadine knows best.
The likelihood is that an American company, perhaps Viacom (owner of C5), will probably get it, alongside some PSB-ish commitments that will be watered down in time. A model that takes no profits, doesn’t make it’s own programmes, and lets producers keep rights is unlikely to be a new owners core strategy.
The current owners - us - are unlikely to get a better deal than the one we get at the moment.
Personally, I think the best owner for the UK would be BBC Studios who already run the commercial UKTV operation. A BBCS-owned C4 would mean that any profits would be reinvested into either C4 or the public-service BBC. If the government truly wanted competition for Amazon and Netflix (whilst helping build UK production) that would be the way to do it. Of course, they dislike both, so I doubt we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.
On The Media Podcast this week, Edelman’s Karin Robinson and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt talk to me about the big media stories of the week. Plus Dan Taylor-Watt runs through the latest streaming news. Get it on your podcast app!
Love newsletters? Subscribe to The Sample and get something different in your inbox each day.