Writers Strike and the Potential For a New Podcast Boom

Last time there was a writer’s strike, in 2007-2008, we saw the mass rise in reality television and unscripted content. That form circumvented the writer’s strike and its production was cheap and nimble enough to keep the entertainment economy moving in the interim. Podcasting was still in its infancy back then. But, I think that this current writer’s strike may open up a similar opportunity for the $13.7-billion podcast industry to evolve into a more dominant and crucial cog in the entertainment economy.

Podcasts have been finding their homes at big tech companies since the mid-2010s, until recently. As has been reported in the past few months companies, like Spotify, are moving away from their podcast strategy, leaving the podcast industry in an investment slump and without centralization. But it always seemed to me that podcasts would more likely flourish at the companies specializing in narrative content than the tech platforms that proliferate them. The film/television industry seems to be increasingly confirming that shift.

Podcasting has already proven to be a highly adaptable IP with shows such as Hulu’s “The Dropout” and Apple’s “WeCrashed”. Unlike books or other written IP, podcasts come pre-packaged with story arcs, serialized episodes, and developed characters – they require much less writing in order to translate to the screen. We’ve also seen podcasting as a testing ground for talk talent, for example, the “Smartless” podcast has been adapted into a six-part docu-series at HBOMax. While viewers wait for a delayed new season of “White Lotus” HBOMax has more snackable content to fill the gaps.

In the other direction, late-night talk shows are poised to go off-air or rely on dated reruns during the writers strike. Former late night host, Conan O’Brien, has paved the way for late night hosts to find a lucrative second career in podcasting. It’s not unreasonable to predict that some late night hosts might follow, bringing their audiences to audio.

Selling IP to streamers has long been the holy grail for podcast creators, but the entertainment industry may start needing podcasters just as much. Industry colleagues have told me there was even studio talk of retaining screenwriters to create fiction podcasts in order to continue production and IP development during the strike.

We’ve already seen major studios start to build out podcast arms. Recently a highly produced and unconventional narrative nonfiction podcast came out of USG Audio (Universal Studios) called “You Didn’t See Nothin”. The USG Audio division is led by their EVP of Creative Acquisitions & IP Management, not a head of production. It was clear that the show did not have a big art or marketing budget, and I doubt that USG is on a campaign to win a Pulitzer; this all signals that USG’s goal is less about finding an immediate audience and ad revenue, but more cultivating and developing internal IP that could translate to screen. I’d be curious to talk to USG and other studios/streamers, as well as agents about their relationship with building podcast IP given the writer’s strike.

With the writer’s strike putting production on pause, is this a moment for podcasts to find new more sustainable revenue streams in entertainment? Will podcast producers as creators align themselves with writers and refuse to cross picket lines? Will late-night shows increasingly shift from television and into podcasts? Will podcasts, like unscripted television during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike, find an unexpected boom? Will the 2023 writer’s strike be an inflection point for the podcast industry to evolve into a bigger, more powerful content force?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *