Rise of Podcasts with BBC’s Newscast

  • Date25/4/2023
  • LocationManchester
Two minutes to hook ‘em or sink it: BBC Newscast’s Jonathan Aspinwall shares insights on what makes a podcast worth listening to

It’s impossible to ignore the scale of the swelling podcast industry. By 2028, podcasting is expected to become a £75.54 billion industry with an expected audience of 28 million listeners in the UK; a huge number of podcast communities for brands to tap into.

Our Head of Content, Sarah Cann, had the pleasure of sitting down with Executive Producer for BBC News podcasts, Jonathan Aspinwall, last week to discuss the suite of successful podcasts he produces at the BBC, the changes he has witnessed in podcasting, and what the future of the industry looks like. Here are the top take-outs for brands that he had to share…


It’s all in the first two minutes

The listening data podcast producers have access to means they can track the drop-off rate to a T.  According to Jonathan, the first two minutes will determine whether someone listens to the full episode or give up, therefore the importance of grabbing the listener’s attention early on cannot be understated. In this digital saturated market, people are always on the lookout for something interesting to listen to and binge on. If your first two minutes don’t hook them in, they will switch to another podcast.

Unlike TV and radio, which is mostly background noise to our daily routines and activities, podcasts require the listener’s active participation and time commitment. In a crowded podcast market, it’s crucial to differentiate oneself from competitors. Newscast has been successful in doing so by leveraging its reputation as a trusted news source with access to a vast network of reporters, talent, and authentic broadcasters. The podcast capitalises on its resources to offer in-depth, well-researched news coverage to its listeners in a short, digestible format, which is the key to its success.


Podcasts are an open door to reaching younger and more diverse audiences

Jonathan raised an in interesting point that news podcast audiences are typically younger and more male than traditional news and radio audiences. The aftermath of the pandemic meant that more people, especially those who are under the age of 35, are making a more active decision to regulate their news consumption because of the impact it has on their mental wellbeing. Therefore, those who are choosing to listen to podcasts that are news-focused or are targeting a particular topic, have already decided that they are an active listener to that conversation. (Although there’s a ruthless two-minute test for podcast producers, the result is far more rewarding if done right).

In an effort to expand their own audience, the team at Newscast (like many other broadcasters) are working on bringing in a more diverse demographic to its podcast community. It is important that podcasters diversify their audience to accurately represent society and promote inclusivity, but also to enrich the content they are offering. By attracting listeners from different backgrounds, podcasts can offer a wider range of perspectives and stories, leading to a more well-rounded news source. Fundamentally, a diverse audience can bring new insights and ideas to the table, ultimately improving the overall quality of the podcast.


A solution to ‘news fatigue’

News fatigue is another term that’s been banded around over the last three years, and that media have had to contend with and consider. As Jonathan mentioned, people want solutions and advice – they want hope in stories such as the cost-of-living crisis. Now – “tips and advice” have not always cut the mustard when it comes to pitching stories and guests into broadcast media, but the podcast medium welcomes this type of content with open arms, because it serves the needs of its audiences. 


“Insights and trusted friends” – authenticity and intimacy are the keys to building a community

When talking about the tone of the Newscast podcast, Jonathan kept talking about its mission statement: “insights and trusted friends.” As with mainstream radio, the rule of speakers talking in Laymans terms applied here, so that the listeners feel part of the conversation. But it’s also important that they finish the episodes having learnt something.

The intimacy of the podcasting medium is also crucial factor in maintaining audience engagement. Jonathan talked about how you can’t pull the wool over the listeners eyes if two podcast hosts don’t get on and have to fake their chemistry. The listeners will spot it and they’ll disengage, so it’s hugely important to use hosts who can connect with people and show personality.

The setting for recording any episodes carries weight too as guests are more likely to be authentic and transparent in a comfortable, intimate setting. Whilst podcasts have started to have visual identities in the form of short form social content showcasing snippets, turning your backdrop into a full-on TV studio can eliminate that intimate and inviting setting you’ve worked hard to create, so balance is key.


A final thought…

As a final wrap up to our sit down with Jonathan, we spent five minutes looking to the future of podcasts and his predictions for upcoming trends. His insights were all driven first by his view to look to Europe, and how podcasts focusing on children and education will continue to gain momentum, especially since they are already experiencing rapid growth in France. The BBC has already looked to jump ahead on this trend by releasing a series of podcasts on their education platform, BBC Bitesize. In addition, podcasts discussing parenting topics have been gaining popularity as they are a useful resource for busy parents. Parents can listen to these podcasts on the go, allowing them to stay up to date with the latest parenting techniques and advice.

His final word on this was to look to our friends over the pond in the states, who he believes are a few years ahead of us on podcasts, offering a clear view of the future. In America, traditional radio audiences are starting to make their descent and be overtaken by the booming popularity of podcasts which are steadily on the rise.

So, are podcasts the future for news? We’ll be keeping our eye to the west…