The Week Debuts Short-Form Podcasts in a Bid for Differentiation
Three new podcasts aim not just to occupy a listener's time, but to make the best use of it.
The secret is out. The podcasting explosion is in full swing, with publishers as disparate as The New Yorker, Runner's World, and even Barstool Sports making heavy investments in the medium.
In such a saturated and dynamic media space, differentiation has become key for publishers looking to tap into the rapidly growing listener pool. To that end, The Week has announced the launch of three new podcasts, each of which can be consumed in ten minutes or less.
"I love listening to podcasts, but most of the podcasts I listen to are kind of a wandering hour," Ben Frumin, editor-in-chief of TheWeek.com, tells Folio:. "It’s Bill Simmons or Marc Maron taking you on this vibrant and interesting conversational journey, but a meandering one."
The digital content consumer, particularly when using a smartphone, has long been known to favor generally concise, short-form content, but that same idea hasn't quite manifested itself in podcasts — at least not most of those being widely distributed on platforms like iTunes. Frumin likens many of the most popular podcasts like Serial or WTF with Marc Maron to sweeping, scenic drives up the California coastline.
Sometimes, however, listeners prefer to ride the bullet train.
"That’s what our podcasts are," Frumin continues. "We really felt like there was a need among this booming podcast audience for short, concise, to the point, time-saving, and efficient podcasts that didn’t just occupy a listener’s time, but made the best use of it."
All three podcasts are produced in-house by a team led by The Week's multimedia editor, Lauren Hansen. The first is Seven Minute Explainers, in which editors and reporters address everything listeners need to know about a specific timely or compelling topic.
"We asked ourselves, 'What does The Week do really well that could transfer to audio?'" says Hansen. "One of them is breaking down complex and compelling topics into the most crucial information."
A second podcast, Seven Minute Opinions, aims to provide listeners with a diverse array of perspectives and arguments related to dominant issues in the news cycle in an effort to challenge preconceived notions and inspire new ways of thinking. Finally, This Week I Learned, hosted by Hansen, leverages the internet's treasure trove of fascinating revelations under the guise of "making learning fun again."
"This Week I Learned was just born out of my own curiosity bug," adds Hansen. "I just felt overwhelmed by things that I loved learning and wanted to share, and there wasn’t a perfect place for that on TheWeek.com. Putting it into audio format almost worked better than putting it into an article."
The three podcasts are the result of a few years' worth of playing around with the concept, says Frumin, a process which began when The Week's editors came across a January 2013 Reddit AMA in which Slate.com editor David Plotz extolled Slate's hugely successful foray into the medium. Up until about the last six months, however, any podcast activity from The Week was pure experimentation.
"It’s an attitude we’ve long taken with The Week’s digital operation," says Frumin. "We really treat our website as a laboratory. We want to try new things, take risks, and kind of learn in real time."
The idea to focus on short-form content was a natural progression, according to Frumin, who says The Week excels at providing the strapped-for-time, on-the-go consumer with authoritative, useful information in a concise and economic manner. It's something the brand already does with the content it produces for mobile devices, where barriers to exit are nonexistent and the need to hold consumers' attention for several short periods of time is paramount.
"We thought there was a space for short, tight, focused mini-podcasts, and felt that we were the best brand to do that because that’s what we do. The Week is all about concision, wit, brevity."
The three podcasts have only been out for about a month, but early returns have been positive. Seven Minute Explainers and This Week I Learned have already cracked the iTunes Top 100 chart, no small feat in such a crowded space. While the podcasts are currently free of any advertising, Frumin says sponsorships are part of the plan moving forward and that several brands have already expressed interest.
For now, the learning experience continues.
"Audio is really rich and complex and fun for storytelling," Hansen adds. "It's thinking about how you can build layers of sound and put someone into a setting, but also recognizing that its so intimate — you have someone who’s essentially whispering in your ear. It’s a lot of finding the balance between too much sound and not enough."
Listen to episode 3 of This Week I Learned below: