Can Pods Save America?

I had almost forgotten how much I missed the wit and banter of late night television hosts, not that the term “late night” is really all that applicable any more.  When they were in production, like the majority of those who collectively still watch the Jimmys (Kimmel and Fallon), Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Seth Meyers, I consumed their content via YouTube clips and delayed viewing, which in my case meant I listened on my phone as I drove and went on my morning walks.   Occasionally, I’d be aware of something visual that may have happened–a particular sketch or interview which I’d view when I wasn’t moving.  But for the most part my late night viewing was early morning listening.

But since the WGA went out on strike on May 2, these shows have been in repeats, which now seem far more outdated that ever and my morning habit has been disrupted enough that I’ve gravitated toward actual podcasts.  Fortunately, since most don’t involve writing and there’s no formal restriction against participating in them by SAG-AFTRA, podcasts have actually been in production, providing timely and often necessary insights, escapes and, yes, even inflammatory political content during a summer which, at least on the calendar, comes to an end this weekend but, with no foreseeable end to either union’s actions, will make this an Indian summer.  And for those who rely upon these shows for income, a truly dire fall, one where even the lure of pumpkin spice coffee will be beyond many means.

Which is why the news and the debut of the newest and, per yesterday’s Apple I-Tunes download data released via Podcast Insights is already #1 on is charts, was so welcome.  Per the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Alicia Rancilio:

Something interesting: Stephen Colbert has in his possession a pair of pants belonging to the late Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza. It’s a long story, but his mom dated Somoza when she was younger (before he became a dictator, says Colbert).

Speaking of pants, Jimmy Kimmel once bought a pair of Gary Coleman’s pants off eBay.

These are just two of the wonderfully weird factoids shared by late-night hosts Colbert, Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver and Seth Meyers in a new podcast called “Strike Force Five” — named after their personal text chain — which debuted Wednesday on Spotify.

Because their respective shows have been dark since the Writers Guild of America went on strike in May, all profits from the podcast will go to their respective staffs. The show is sponsored by Mint Mobile and liquor company Diageo, and Kimmel said the money will “largely” come from them. Kimmel served as the inaugural moderator and that responsibility will be shared among the hosts.

So these personalities are the newest, but certainly not the last, examples of talent and brands with TV experience to turn to podcasting.  A look at the same I Tunes chart shows that among the top podcasts with hundreds of episodes already produced that are still among the most popular include SMARTASS, a comedic tour de force that pairs Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, THE DAILY, the New York Times’ six-day-a-week habit which I’ve touted many times previously and makes the hire of the executive who championed it, Mark Thompson, an all the more hopeful hire as CNN’s new chief (we promise to have more on that soon), and DATELINE, whose 480 produced episodes to date, which already is among the most syndicated and profitable TV content in the NBCU portfolio, because Keith Morrison’s over-the-top narration plays just as well even without a cheap reenactment of blurred images.   Your mind can create far more compelling imagery than any reality producer can.

And there’s an awful lot more out there that you can discover, which given how bleak current prospects for a traditional fall TV season are you may find will be a highly desired choice.  And as VULTURE’s Nicholas Quah recently wrote, the industry could use your attention because for as cost-effective and strike-proof as it may be, it isn’t without its challenges, either:

It’s been a pretty rough six months for the podcast world. This year began with serious anxieties about the state of the biz, and much of those worries ultimately came to be. Layoffs rippled throughout the scene, talk of contractions is now pervasive, and some of the celebrity talent megadeals that defined podcasting over the past few years exploded in very public fashion. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, the Speculative Podcast Boom is over. But there is the business — and then there’s the actual stuff. And the thing is: There are still really interesting, fun, and memorable podcasts being made by talented teams and individuals, from powerful investigative pieces and portraits of malls to ongoing projects of media critiques that operate at a very high level. We’ll come out of the other end of this industrial slump at some point, but for now, there’s hope.

Quah went on to detail a slew of options worthy of consideration which I encourage you to peruse.  I recently found Popcast Deluxe, a brand extension of yet another outstanding New York Times digital audio series, and actually get excited when a new episode drops.

They’re hoping to achieve even a smattering of the scale of the other Top 100 which Podcast Insights details.  And if you must go down the political rabbit hole, which as we’re reminded often by those good old fashioned Nielsen ratings still occupy the minds and eyes of most Americans, you have plenty of options on both sides of the aisle.  POD SAVE AMERICA, which is hosted by several former members of the Obama election strategy team, is an enjoyable an “inside (political) baseball” gabfest as anything available on a mainstream network.  But, to be sure, it ranks #17 while THE BEN SHAPIRO SHOW, effectively its counterpoint, ranks #10.  If you’re as scared by that reality as I am, I urge you to add that to your playlist ASAP as well.

And you won’t be among the first to the dance if you do.  I wrote earlier this week about The Streamy Awards, which honored the best online talent around and included many podcast personalties.  I snarked at how under the radar it was and how it was unavoidable if one clicked on a story in any Penske-owned news site, which include THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, DEADLINE and VARIETY!  Well, look how my mouth was shut by this story that dropped last night on GOLDDERBY courtesy of Marcus James Dixon:

The 2023 Streamy Awards was one for the record books. The two-hour-plus ceremony, hosted by MatPat from the Fairmont Century Plaza, nabbed 15+ million views across all platforms in its first 48 hours…At 15+ million views (Live+2 Day), the 2023 ceremony is now the most viewed Streamy Awards of all time since its debut in 2009. The previous viewership record was in 2021 when that year’s kudos nabbed 9.7 million cumulative views (Live+2 Day).

Yeah, I know, a “view” is not necessarily a viewER, so don’t you go thinking like a certain orange indictee that that kind of audience is rivaling SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.  But show me anything, anywhere, off a substantial base such as 9.7 million (not the number of reported cases of coronavirus in Los Angeles this week , Rong-Gong and your Hyphenates!) that has posted an increase of more than 50% over its all-time high in recent years.

You’d likely have to go back pretty far to find a worthy example.  But perhaps not quite as far as the era that this podcasting boom has echoed.  Think for a moment about the last time an emerging industry based upon audio entertainment was beginning to take root in America to the point where it was disrupting previously established forms of entertainment enough to be significant.   Indeed, any fan of old-time radio will tell you that many of the exact same entertainment touchstones that podcasts offer were true of the kinds of shows families gathered around a crystal receiver in their living rooms to enjoy.

Maybe the way we’re consuming it is a bit more private and personalized in 2023 than it was in, say, 1923.  But I’m also as healthy as I’ve ever been, and if my grandparents and great-grandparents had been able to walk off their tea biscuits and schmaltz the way I can walk off my meals, I’ve sure they would have chosen that option.  At least I can hope they would have.

Me?  I was already saved by SAG-AFTRA and WGA talent. Now those members that work for the Strike Force Five are also on that lucky list, because even free mobile service is a plus.  Wouldn’t mind sharing a pumpkin spice latte with them anytime soon.

Until next time…

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