When Your Favourite Podcast Changes its Stripes – a
Researcher’s Take

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A large part of the job of being a researcher is exploring and understanding people’s behaviours and thought processes; and it’s made more interesting when you can compare what you’re exploring with your own experiences and behaviours. To non-researchers it’s perhaps not the most exciting activity, but it’s been quite thought-provoking to go through this recently with my favourite podcast and its recent evolution.

I listen to a couple of podcasts regularly, and one of them Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, I’ve been listening to uninterrupted for about 10 years; and in various incarnations all the way back to the last millennium.

Originally a BBC radio show, it’s also been available as a podcast for more than a decade, so (like 35% of Canadian podcast listeners in The Canadian Podcast Listener 2021) I’d download it each week to listen to offline. Being a BBC show, it has a very different feel to many podcasts found outside the UK, or on commercial platforms:, it’s not only free, but also has no advertising or sponsor messaging. In addition, it complies with the BBC’s strict editorial guidelines, meaning no undue mention of specific brands (“I was at a major national cinema chain last week – other cinemas are available” being a common turn of phrase in BBC shows), and any talk about the presenters’ non-BBC engagements or project is strictly curtailed.

Despite those idiosyncrasies, it retains the essence of the best and most engaging podcasts. It has an incredibly loyal and engaged audience who feel a sense of community with the show; and there are long-running jokes, terminology and acronyms. A large proportion of the show is driven by listener correspondence covering seemingly inane and unanswerable questions as “yes but how many female pipe-smokers ARE there?” and “I saw this film 30 years ago and can only remember 3 small details about it – can you tell me what it was so I can watch it again?” A  a noticeboard element to it too, with listeners emailing in with news of births, marriages and deaths, and even coming out of comas while being played the show, all read out with sensitivity and varying degrees of lachrymosity., Despite its title, the film reviews can sometimes feel like the least important part of the show.

And, after 20 years, it ended last month: the BBC didn’t renew the radio show, so that was the end of show and podcast. Fortunately for the loyal fan base, it has been reborn as a more commercially-minded podcast. The early episodes are, as both listener and researcher, an intriguing listen, retaining the same ingredients with some notable differences.

New platform, new mechanics

First and foremost is the shift from being a radio show to a podcast-only show. While that hasn’t resulted in major content changes, it will present a significant shift in discovery; without a national radio station to drive listeners to the podcast, producers will have to consider advertising on other podcasts. Hearing about a podcast on another is the most common way in which listeners find a new podcast, according to The Canadian Podcast Listener study.

Lunch is free no more

More importantly for listeners used to the  BBC experience, for the first time in more than 20 years the show has ads. So far they’re not too disconcerting – there’s just the usual pre-, mid- and post-roll  placements, and they are at least loosely related to watching films and TV. However, they are scripted and slightly stilted, seemingly not a natural fit for the presenters; and, I’d suggest, quite dissonant for those coming from the BBC show. It will be fascinating to see how that ad experience develops: while most listeners appreciate the importance of advertising to podcasts (52% of Canadian podcast listeners agree that they wouldn’t mind a couple of extra ads per show to keep their favourite podcasts going), their acceptance of ads depends very much on the ad experience, including ad load (the number of ads per episode), relevance, and whether they feel like a natural fit with the show’s tone and topic. Research suggests that the best approach is to allow the presenters to have fun with the ads and make them a continuation of the show: two thirds of Canadian podcast listeners said they like podcast hosts having fun with the ads they read; a little under half said they appreciate hosts talking about brands, products or service that they themselves use or like.

And behind door number three we have

Probably the most incongruous addition for previous listeners is the new subscription option. For $4 a month, listeners will get a weekly bonus episode of extra content. We know that’s valuable to listeners: when asked about their appetite for paying for a podcast, only a quarter of listeners said that being able to remove ads would influence their decision of whether to pay for it, while a third said that exclusive (additional) content would influence their decision – and 36% said that bonus episodes of their favourite podcast is something they’d be willing to pay for (as highlighted in Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights’ Podcast Download – Spring 2022 Report.)

All this to say

It all adds up to a fascinating experiment in whether this long-running show can survive and thrive in its new format, and it’ll be intriguing to see how its feel and flow are tweaked to maximise its chances of success. Ideally, a shift of this scope would be complemented with listener research, to understand how prior listeners are embracing the new experience, and how new listeners feel it compares to other competing podcasts. As one of those listeners I’m just hoping it continues, in whatever guise, for another 20 years!

Signal Hill Insights specializes in custom research solutions for publishers, broadcasters and advertisers. To know more about our Brand Lift Studies or  our other research, connect with us at https://signalhillinsights.com/