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March 13, 2024updated 14 Mar 2024 10:59am

Daily Mail podcast chief Jamie East on publisher’s rapidly expanding audio empire

The Trial of Lucy Letby kickstarted the Mail's arrival into podcasts and 19 are now in pre-production.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Mail and Metro publisher DMG Media is rapidly expanding its audio portfolio after the arrival of head of podcasts Jamie East last summer.

In less than a year DMG Media has gone from just one podcast, its journalist-led hit The Trial of Lucy Letby, to having several audio products being produced and 19 in pre-production – mostly for the Mail but also for Metro.

East told Press Gazette: “I don’t know what everyone else is up to but… I doubt very much there’s any other company in the UK making that many podcasts.”

East joined the Mail, Metro, i and New Scientist publisher in August last year as head of podcasts and told Press Gazette he has been given “complete creative freedom, which is terrifying and wonderful”.

He created a strategy deck within his first month at the publisher “and everything is now being made,” he said.

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  • Weekly football podcast It’s All Kicking Off, hosted by Mail Sport football editor Ian Ladyman and columnist Chris Sutton
  • Straight to the Comments (no connection to an independent podcast of the same name), hosted by Youtubers Archie Manners and Joshua Pieters, alongside celebrity guests, who react to Mail Online comments
  • The Sidebar, a showbiz podcast hosted by Good Morning Britain entertainment editor Richard Arnold with the name riffing on Mail Online’s well-known “sidebar of shame”
  • New series Lost Voices with the first season about the last two men to be hanged in Britain for being gay and hosted by Labout MP Chris Bryant who wrote a book about them.
Two recently-launched Mail podcasts: Straight to the Comments and The Sidebar. Pictures: DMG Media
Two recently-launched Mail podcasts: Straight to the Comments and The Sidebar. Pictures: DMG Media

The Trial of Lucy Letby showed ‘what success can look like’

But The Daily Mail’s first podcast hit was The Trial of Lucy Letby, which launched before East arrived, running for more than 60 episodes until September and getting shortlisted in the podcast category at Press Gazette’s Future of Media Awards.

Unusually it produced daily updates about Letby’s trial as it was ongoing and grappled with the legal challenges that came with that, rather than reporting on a case retrospectively as true crime podcasts tend to do.

Under East it has since rebranded as The Trial and respawns for major cases that can be similarly followed live by the Mail’s journalists. So far it has covered the trial of the killer of Irish primary school teacher Ashling Murphy, the murders of teenager Brianna Ghey, and the latest is the ongoing case of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon in relation to the death of their baby.

East told Press Gazette The Trial has had about 23 million downloads so far and there’s another coming up in around five weeks “that no one will expect and it’s just incredible – it will blow people’s minds”.

He said he is “really proud” of how The Trial has been forged into a brand and created a “completely new sub-genre of true crime”.

Referring to the legal challenges, East said the fact DMG Media head of editorial legal Liz Hartley and her team “even entertained the thought of letting us do it is a miracle in itself”.

“No-one else could do that, with the exception of maybe The Times if they really wanted to… because there’s so much at stake with a trial like that in terms of being in contempt of court and whatnot, there’s no one else that could do it the way that we’ve done it at all.

“And it shows – we’ve kept almost all of the audience that we had from Lucy Letby over the following three seasons. We’ve got an incredibly loyal and engaged audience.”

The Trial showed the business “what success can look like,” East said, although he admitted: “It’s a slight anomaly, I did say not every single podcast is going to be the size of The Trial. I’d love them to be. The Trial is a juggernaut, it’s an absolute behemoth of a podcast.”

Lord Rothermere ‘walks the walk’ on building a 360-degree company

East said part of the attraction of joining DMG was starting its audio operation almost from scratch, including building a new studio, which opened in November, and hiring a team, which is now a core staff of five plus executive producers coming in for specific series.

East said he took the job “simply because they weren’t doing anything, or nothing with any deep roots.

“I’ve worked at different publishers before, and I’ve done work for Netflix and work for Sky and worked for big places before, and when you’re given a job like this you’re normally inheriting a lot of stuff, which is sometimes great but more often than not, not great.”

East previously ran his own production company, at which he launched and hosted daily news podcast The Smart 7. (He has stepped away but the podcast continues to sound like it is hosted by him thanks to AI trained on his archive of episodes.)

In that kind of job, East said, “your dream is to be able to realise all of your ideas creatively and from an organisational and from a tech point of view. What they did here was just allow me to come and do it.”

East specifically cited the vision of DMGT chairman Lord Rothermere, saying he is a rare media leader who “walks the walk” on evolving into a 360-degree company.

“What we’re allowed to do in this building is you literally can just walk over there and start making it happen… it’s about how we evolve the business, which is historically a print business and is already fast turning into a proper 360 business, whether it’s Tiktok, whether it’s long-form video, whether it’s short-form video, whether it’s audio, whether it’s digital, everything’s in the building, and being able to be the audio part of that puzzle is brilliant.

“I could immediately see where audio slotted in to the long-term plan of the business.”

[Read more: How Daily Mail went from voice of Middle England to Tiktok sensation]

The other benefit of being at DMG Media, East added, is that “there’s not an idea I could come up with in this building that I couldn’t find a home for.

“If I came up with a podcast idea that maybe didn’t align with the Mail so much, I’ve got Metro, I’ve got New Scientist, I’ve got i.”

Of his “complete creative freedom”, East said: “You wouldn’t get it anywhere [else]… I’ve worked for many different styles of publishers and media organisations, all of them like to think of themselves as ‘we nurture creativity’ and actually, this is one of the few places that actually has done that.”

Daily Mail 50+ readers ‘one of the most underserved’ in podcasts

One of East’s starting points was to use the Mail’s extensive data to look at what its readers like, with royals, showbiz and crime appearing to be obvious opportunities.

The key question was “what are they currently underserved in, in an audio world? The Daily Mail’s print readers are one of the most underserved sectors in podcasts and audio across the world. The 50-plus is the last great untapped market really with audio, with the exception of probably kids. So that’s an opportunity there.”

This is why The Sidebar and Straight to the Comments were first out of the gate: “Those two were quite easy to pull together because it was like, what is the low hanging fruit there? What can we make out of the content that we already create and already own and are already synonymous with that also allows us to be slightly meta, and also slightly unexpected?”

East agreed that the podcast market is “pretty saturated” right now but said it is “saturated with a lot of crap”.

“99% of all podcasts have less than 30 plays,” he said. “We are spoilt for choice when you go onto your Spotify or your Apple, there’s just thousands and thousands of them. But it doesn’t mean any of them are any good.

“And as I said before, it always starts off with a story. So if you’re telling a story in a different way, or in a new way, or you’re using your own platform to tell that story, such as Straight to the Comments or Sidebar. Then you’ve got a point of difference already.”

East was particularly critical of “podcasts that just have famous people on them for the sake of it, because I think that fad will die out pretty soon… I would say that that’s probably a saturated market, that there’s no room at the inn anymore for those kinds of things. So I’m looking ahead to what are people going to be wanting to listen to once they’re bored of those ones.”

As a publisher, DMG Media is “interested in ideas and stories, and IP ultimately”. This contrasts to “just getting someone well known and putting a microphone in front of them” which East said “doesn’t feel to me like a fully-formed idea”.

Showbiz does present a gap in the market, East said. He cited Goalhanger’s The Rest is Entertainment, hosted by TV presenter and author Richard Osman and British Journalism Award-winning Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, which can see them “talking about Ofcom. It’s completely different to Richard Arnold and [TOWIE star] Bobby Norris talking about Adele drinking champagne out of a shoe. There’s room for the two to coexist.”

Richard Arnold, host of Mail podcast The Sidebar, and DMG Media head of podcasts Jamie East at an event unveiling podcast plans on 7 February 2024. Picture: Mail Metro Media
Richard Arnold, host of Mail podcast The Sidebar, and DMG Media head of podcasts Jamie East at an event unveiling podcast plans on 7 February 2024. Picture: Mail Metro Media

East also cited true crime, which “hasn’t ebbed away at all, if anything it’s continued to grow, so it shows that there is room for more and more and more podcasts to coexist. Just because you like one podcast doesn’t preclude you from” listening to others, he said.

The Mail’s extensive archive of published and research material presents an opportunity both in true crime and other genres, he added.

“People like Stephen Wright, George Odling, Guy Adams, there’s some incredible journalism in this building. They have the biggest pool of archive that I’ve ever seen. So you bet your bottom dollar we’re looking at how we utilise that because the archive that DMG has is phenomenal.”

News podcasts ‘expensive and time consuming’

The other reason podcasts present an opportunity within the business is they are “completely passive” unlike newspapers, websites or videos for which “you have to literally stop what you’re doing and concentrate solely on that task”, East said.

“It allows us to access our readers and listeners and viewers… in ways that we haven’t been able to access them before,” he said, citing as examples when people are in the car, in the gym or on the dog walk.

Despite the opportunities overall East said he is “not at the stage where we’re looking at news podcasts, because they’re very expensive, they’re very time consuming, and it’s really saturated”.

East is working with Mail Metro Media chief revenue officer Dominic Williams on monetising the new podcasts but said there is “no dark arts to commercialising podcasts. It’s host reads, it’s sponsorships, it’s programmatic, it’s all of the above at the same time, and as many of them as possible”.

But he added: “You can’t commercialise podcasts until you’ve got growth, so we’re concentrating more on growth than commercials at the moment. But it’s healthy. We’re making money, because we’re doing 22 million downloads. So just as a by-product of having that size audience, you make money.”

From left to right: Mail Metro Media's media director of video and podcast Guy Edmunds and head of category for ents & media Tracy Stanton with DMG Media head of podcasts, Mail Online director of video Lisa Snell, podcast host and journalist Richard Arnold, and Mail Metro Media chief revenue officer Dominic Williams at an event for advertisers on 7 February 2024. Picture: Mail Metro Media
From left to right: Mail Metro Media’s media director of video and podcast Guy Edmunds and head of category for ents & media Tracy Stanton with DMG Media head of podcasts, Mail Online director of video Lisa Snell, podcast host and journalist Richard Arnold, and Mail Metro Media chief revenue officer Dominic Williams at an event for advertisers on 7 February 2024. Picture: Mail Metro Media

East also has no immediate plans to put out full-length visualisations of DMG’s podcasts on Youtube, although the team does produce many social clips. “From a commercial point of view it’s pretty straightforward. You make far less money on Youtube than you do on Spotify,” he said.

“It’s as simple as that. The brass tacks of it is from a CPM point of view, it’s incredibly expensive to make video, and you don’t really make a lot of money from it. You have to achieve huge scale in order to do that. Whereas actually comparatively you can make a lot more with a lot less in audio. It’s a lot cheaper to make, and it’s a lot quicker to make.

“And if you’re great at making audio, it doesn’t mean that you’re great at making a video and vice versa. There are cases to be made for certain titles to be cross platform. But I haven’t got there yet. We’re still pretty young.”

Aim for podcasts to be ‘fully integrated’ into Mail publisher

Asked where he’d like audio at DMG to be in a year’s time, East said for it to be “fully integrated” into the business.

“I mean genuinely plugged in,” he said. “One of the big things that I’ve been working on since I started was how can we plug into Mail Online? That’s where our audience is. Global have their outdoor business, they have their radio business, we have Mail Online.”

As well as a podcast player on the website, East said they would want to be able to connect podcast episodes to relevant content in the Mail Online archive. “It’s about work smarter, not harder.”

There is also Mail+, the recently-launched partial paywall on Mail Online which sees readers charged £4.99 per month for up to 15 premium articles a day and a curated newsletter.

East cited Wondery, which gives paying users ad-free listening, exclusive episodes and early access to podcasts that will later be free to all, as a potential model to incorporate in future.

“Both podcasts and Mail+ are really in their infancy and I think both need to mature before we can use each other to the best of our abilities,” East said.

“So if I have five podcasts and they’re all number one hits, then there would be a really strong business case for putting ad-free versions on Mail+ or bonus versions on Mail+. Until I get there, there’s no point in creating that but that’s certainly in the back of our mind.”

In the meantime East is aware that not all of the upcoming releases will work – but said: “As long as my strike rate is good, that will make me happy.”

And he told publishers: “There’s no shame in cancelling podcasts and I wish more people did that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying a podcast for three months and realising it’s not going to work, let’s just switch it off and try something else.”

Non-DMG podcasts admired by Jamie East:

  • Reply All – East said “they made what I consider to be the best podcast episode of any genre ever”, The Case of the Missing Hit, “that for me crystallised everything that’s amazing about podcasts”
  • Dissect– A “super nerdy” music podcast
  • The Adam Buxton Podcast
  • The Louis Theroux Podcast
  • Some of the Goalhanger The Rest Is… titles
  • Smartless – hosted by actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, East said it is a “great example of that eavesdropping genre… when you can genuinely tell that people are friends it makes the world of difference”
  • How To Fail With Elizabeth Day
  • Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV on BBC Sounds

See more podcast listening tips given to Press Gazette this month by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby here.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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