Home / Tech / Inside Vice Media's audio strategy, which is focused on longform reporting and exclusive Spotify podcasts

Inside Vice Media's audio strategy, which is focused on longform reporting and exclusive Spotify podcasts

Vice News Kate Osborn

  • Vice Media started podcasting about five years ago, but recently the company has solidified its audio style with deep-dive podcasts related to its various digital properties like Vice News.
  • Vice News is known for worldwide reporting, so the company partnered with international streaming giant Spotify to produce three exclusive shows after the success of their first joint podcast, “Chapo: Kingpin on Trial.”
  • Spotify’s podcast audience has doubled in the past year, and after acquiring Gimlet Media and Parcast, the streaming service is focused on expanding its original podcast catalogue in 2020.
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Micro-bulletins, news roundups, and other daily news shows have become formats of choice for media outlets looking to break into podcasting. 

But Vice Media, which was founded as an alternative punk magazine and has become a sprawling new-media giant, is taking a different approach to audio expansion.

When Vice started podcasting about five years ago — after “Serial” but before “The Daily” — it focused on creating companion content for its existing digital coverage, said Kate Osborn, Vice’s global director of audio and a former producer for MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and NPR’s “On Point.”

Now, Vice is more focused on documentary-style reporting in audio format, and has a team of about eight to ten people dedicated specifically to original audio, as well as freelancers, developers, and various international reporting teams that contribute to podcasts, Osborn said. 

A pillar of Vice’s audio strategy is its partnership with Stockholm-based audio titan Spotify.

Vice first worked with Spotify last year on “Chapo: Kingpin on Trial,” a podcast about the former Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the drug wars in the US and Mexico.

After the success of “Chapo,” Vice News pitched to Spotify again, Osborn said, and struck a deal to distribute three more podcasts exclusively on Spotify.

Original, exclusive podcasts are part of Spotify’s strategy to stand out from competitors like Apple Music, said Liz Gateley, Spotify’s head of creative development focused on original podcast content.

“Originals are your opportunity to define your brand, and for us, to drive must-have listening and to drive people to the site exclusively,” Gateley said.

While “exclusive” music has generally not been a winning strategy for audio streamers, podcasts present these companies with the chance for a format they can use more like Netflix or HBO use original TV programming. Platforms like Luminary are even betting on exclusive podcasts to build audio subscription services similar to Netflix.

Most podcasters rely predominantly on advertising to make money, but exclusive deals in which platforms commission original podcasts from producers provide a different opportunity for podcasts to monetize, sometimes without selling ads themselves. In this case, Spotify sells the ads, not Vice.

Vice is betting on deep-dive podcasts that mirror its digital reporting style

Instead of daily news recaps, Vice is focused on documentary-style reporting that provides a close look at national and international news, Osborne said. In the past two or three years, Vice has honed in on specific topics that are well-suited for audio and relevant to its various verticals.

Its podcast about cybersecurity features interviews with reporters from its tech vertical, Motherboard, and “Queerly Beloved” is cohosted by the editor of its gender and identity section, Broadly.

Vice has eight international bureaus and a global audience that increased by about 17% when it acquired Refinery29, bumping unique views up to about 350 million per month, the company said. 

As part of the company’s effort to capitalize on this global reach, Vice and Spotify produced the “Chapo” podcast in both English and Spanish. Vice is also exploring podcast production in Japanese and Korean, Osborn said.

“You will almost never hear a product that we make in audio be something where someone sits in a room and says, ‘Here’s what’s going on in Indonesia,'” Osborn said. “You will go with us to Indonesia.” 

Spotify’s international podcast audience is on the rise as the company looks toward producing original audio

In 2019, podcast consumption on Spotify doubled, with a 39% increase in the last quarter alone, Gateley said.

Spotify podcasts are available in 75 countries and territories, which makes the platform an attractive choice for Vice to disseminate its international reporting.

Spotify has an audience of primarily 18- to 34-year-olds, Gateley said, which matches Vice’s typical demographic of young readers.

“We weren’t sure if that audience would convert over to podcasts, but they’ve been a big part of our success,” Gateley said.

Spotify recently acquired podcast creators Gimlet Media and Parcast, and its deal with Vice News rounds out its original, nonfiction podcast slate, the company said.

“What Vice does really well is tell that immersive, boots-on-the-ground, inside story that comes with having hundreds of reporters every day working around the world,” Gateley said.

The first show produced under the exclusive deal, “Uncommitted: Iowa 2020,” launched last month and tells stories about the upcoming presidential election through the lens of the Iowa caucus.

In 2020, the two companies will produce a podcast about fentanyl and the opioid epidemic as well as a series on the global rise of authoritarianism, Gateley said.

SEE ALSO: Broadcasters see big opportunity with podcasts, but risk being disrupted by new players like Gimlet, Wondery

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