Why Group Nine Is Prioritizing Podcasts & Partnering with iHeartMedia
From NowThis news videos to Thrillist travel lists, content from Group Nine Media brands reaches more than 80% of Americans in their 20s, per July 2019 Nielsen Digital Content Ratings. In a move to match its audience’s content consumption habits, the mobile-first publisher has partnered with broadcast company iHeartMedia to co-produce a new slate of podcasts.
“We have enough data to know that 66% of our audience listens to podcasts several times per week,” says Brett Kushner, vice president of new initiatives at Group Nine. “We like to be where our audience is.”
Given the media company’s vast reach to consumers in their 20s, that statistic isn’t surprising. Millennials listen to the most podcasts of any age segment, and Gen Z’s listening habits are on the rise, according to recent Adobe Digital Insights.
Currently, Group Nine’s podcast roster is slim. Science brand Seeker produces two shows, and there are no podcasts from the publisher’s three other brands: Thrillist, The Dodo, and NowThis. Production studio JASH, acquired by Group Nine in 2017, has existing comedy shows.
In partnership with iHeartMedia, Group Nine is launching at least one new show for each of its brands, plus JASH. The podcasts will join the iHeartPodcast Network and be distributed across iHeartRadio properties, with the first two shows debuting in fall: “Who Is” extends a popular political biography series from NowThis into audio, and “Re-Rank (WT)” gives Thrillist writers and editors a forum to detail the making of “best” lists they’ve compiled.
Publishing Executive connected with Kushner to discuss the strategic partnership with iHeartMedia and to delve into Group Nine’s podcast development process.
Perks of the Partnership
iHeartMedia’s podcast expertise and audience reach via iHeartRadio were key considerations in the partnership deal, as was the creative freedom the company afforded Group Nine.
“Without having any real podcasting efforts already at Group Nine, working with someone who was fully established in that world that had a lot of big podcasts going and had the radio element which nobody else was able to offer was really the perfect fit,” says Kushner. “This [partnership] is the best way to launch podcasts for brands that are already established but just didn’t have that footprint in audio yet.”
While iHeartMedia is helping to finance and promote the new podcasts, Group Nine is building its own staff to produce the shows internally. The iHeartMedia team is weighing in on creative concepts and imparting best practices from a high level, but encouraging Group Nine to develop the shows that will resonate best with its brand audiences, says Kushner. iHeartMedia will take the lead on ad sales to monetize the podcasts.
“They’re also promoting the shows in ways that we can’t, on the radio and on their existing podcasts, and helping us promote to our audience using our social, web, and any other kinds of promotion that we can and should do,” says Kushner. “They have a grasp on what works, so we don’t have to guess. We can really target our audience the best way possible and get people to transition to audio on totally new platforms.”
Group Nine also looks forward to expanding its radio presence beyond podcasting, says Kushner. For example, a Thrillist podcast host appearing on a local iHeartRadio station to promote the show can also discuss regional restaurants, entertainment, or attractions that Thrillist is covering through content on other platforms.
Developing the Podcasts
Data from both iHeartMedia and Group Nine highlighted audience trends and factored into final podcast concepts, but the driving consideration in show development was brand identity.
“For these first shows there was a conversation around trying to encapsulate the sound of the brands,” says Kushner. “So many of our brands have such a visual identity – how do we translate that to audio?”
For Thrillist, a lifestyle brand that covers a wide range of topics, the team purposefully designed a podcast that could address any subject matter and be used as a testing ground for future show ideas.
“Whereas we could’ve started with a travel show that incorporates a number of different aspects of food, drinks, and things to do, ‘Re-Rank’ was an even bigger way for us to pull the whole brand in,” says Kushner. “We’ll be able to target different aspects of the brand within these shows and see what the audience is reacting to. If we do an episode about pizza and the audience loves that, then we know that maybe there’s an appetite for one of our pizza series having a life in audio.”
The podcast slate also experiments with different formats, from interview-based shows to more narrative ones. This way Group Nine can gauge its listener preferences.
After the overall concept, Kushner says the host was the second most important decision in podcast development: “This person is going to be in your ears every week, and it’s going to feel like the brand is talking to you through this person. You need someone who is really representative.”
For The Dodo that has to be an animal lover, he says, while editors and video correspondents will take the microphone for Thrillist and NowThis to provide insider perspectives.
Audio storytelling gives the brands an opportunity to tell stories they haven’t been able to tell on other platforms and in other mediums, adds Kushner. For example, The Dodo is known for animal videos, which means many stories are passed by due to lack of visuals – now they can be told via podcast.
“There are so many interesting stories that are behind the scenes,” says Kushner. “Audio allows for that type of storytelling where you don’t have to have the visual components that you would normally need.”
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