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FT looks to US for podcast growth and reviews output as it appoints first head of audio

The Financial Times is planning to take a “close and focused” look at its podcast and smart speaker content with the appointment of its first global head of audio, focusing on the US a key growth market.

Cheryl Brumley joins the FT from The Economist, where she is co-executive producer of its flagship daily podcast the Intelligence, after a career in radio, including at the BBC World Service, and producing podcasts.

Brumley (pictured, left) will oversee an expanded FT audio team of up to eight staff as the newspaper begins to nail down a concerted strategy for its podcast and smart speaker content for the first time.

Although the FT has had its own podcasts for several years, they have until now been produced without an overall strategy outlining objectives for how they should work within the newsbrand’s editorial output.

The daily FT News Briefing launched a year ago with its ten-minute rundown of the news designed primarily for voice assistants. It surpassed 1m monthly listens in August. Norwegian energy firm Equinor has just agreed to renew its 12-month sponsorship of the briefing.

Earlier this month, the FT began another experiment with the Rachman Review, its first subscriber-only podcast which is run through Acast’s paywall podcast platform.

Renee Kaplan (pictured, right), the FT’s head of audience and new content strategies, told Press Gazette chief that foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman was chosen for the experiment because he is one of the paper’s most read columnists, driving “a lot” of traffic and engagement each week.

Kaplan said reach, engagement and revenue were the most important aims with the FT’s audio content, and put them in that order.

Explaining what will happen once Brumley joins the team, Kaplan said: “We really are going to be taking a very close and focused look at our output and want we want to be able to do is more of the right stuff and better.

“So that might mean potentially pausing some shows, that might mean undoubtedly pivoting or tweaking some shows, and that might mean launching new shows.”

Primarily the FT hopes to use audio content to attract new subscribers – particularly those in the US, and those that are perhaps not currently aware of its breadth of content away from its core business coverage.

Kaplan pointed to research which says podcast audiences are often skewed young and female, adding: “Both demographics are interesting to us in terms of exposing those segments to that breadth of the FT that they might not be aware of.

“So in the end for us, podcasts are about trying to find a way to convey a sense of relevance and value to American listeners in particular who might not be aware of it.”

In terms of engagement, Kaplan said the idea of making the Rachman Review available to subscribers only was to make them feel they are getting more value and fill a niche within their day when they would be unable to read or watch other FT content.

“We really see this as being an opportunity to meet a new need for our subscribers and hence our thought was ‘is there something within the FT experience that we know they already value, a brand, a person, a strand or a topic that is already quite successful and engaging to them that we could possibly deliver in a different format?’,” she said.

The audio team will then be tasked with building monetisation strategies for the content, particularly experimenting further with subscription models.

Kaplan said the FT’s podcast revenue was already almost at £1m in 2018/19, and that it is hoped this will be surpassed this year.

She said audio content has become essential for newsbrands, predicting a future in which voice increasingly becomes audiences’ main interface with content on their phones, above reading news feeds.

She added that it is particularly important as newsbrands compete with all digital mobile content rather than just other news outlets, in the context of a maturing podcast market and better listening technology.

“What I’d hope that we can do… is begin to put ourselves in the position to be able to experiment for that kind of content consumption world in which the new interface to our own platforms and our own properties might very well be voice and being ready to have the content that’s adapted and appropriate to that.”

Picture: Financial Times

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