Podcasts are heading to the cinema

Podcasts are heading to the cinema
Help I Sexted My Boss' Hanson and North (Credit: Audio Always)

Agony-aunt comedy podcast Help I Sexted My Boss will broadcast its live show in cinemas next month in what it claims is a UK podcast first.

The show has been hosted by radio DJ Jordan North and etiquette coach William Hanson since 2017, with more than 3m monthly downloads and 1.5m social media followers.

It is produced by Audio Always, which negotiated the deal that will see live cinema screenings of the upcoming London Palladium show distributed across the UK, Ireland and select European cities by Trafalgar Releasing.

Trafalgar Releasing was the cinema distributor behind the Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concerts, among many others. Spiritland is also involved in the Help I Sexted My Boss cinema relay.

Analysis: All about community

Podcasts were perhaps once seen as simply a radio spin-off, but they have now become multiplatform and could be short- or long-form content spanning social media, video and live events.

At the IAB Podcast Upfronts in 2023, industry execs spoke about how the medium was moving “beyond” audio formats, involving live events and licensing deals with film and TV networks.

So is cinema the natural next step?

Stuart Morgan, managing director at Audio Always, said the idea for broadcasting in cinemas came after the current Help I Sexted My Boss tour sold 15,000 tickets in three hours. Meanwhile, he saw successful examples of live stage productions shown in cinemas, in particular a show about the England football team that was beamed from a London theatre.

Morgan told The Media Leader: “We then got to thinking: ‘Well, how do we enable people anywhere to get involved and be part of it?’ Because live tours can also be quite exclusive. If you’ve got a live tour and, in our case, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of listeners, you don’t want people to feel left out because they haven’t got a ticket.

“So we wanted to try and do something around the tour, which would enable people to come along and be part of that experience. We could have released the audio episode, but it felt like there’s something quite special about the community element of bringing people together.”

This community element “underpins the success” of Help I Sexted My Boss and the whole podcasting industry, he stressed. A satellite truck will be transmitting from the Palladium for nearly 400 cinemas nationwide to dial in and connect to.

More accessible

Morgan highlighted that the cinema live stream will not be just for “die-hard podcast fans” but also those who may not have listened to Help I Sexted My Boss or even podcasts more widely, because the cinema is more accessible.

Acknowledging that it would have been “really simple” to record and organise a pay-per-stream on social media, he said the team wanted to “create that event and that moment” that goes back to “the community element” in real time.

Indeed, despite the original idea being a recorded show shown in cinemas, Morgan explained that the team at Trafalgar Releasing recommended doing it live to “create community moments”, social buzz and interaction.

“To our knowledge, no podcast live show has ever been streamed into cinemas before,” he continued. “For us, it’s a really exciting way of bringing together these two fantastic ways of connecting with audiences and bringing people together to get it on to lots of big screens everywhere.”

Morgan hopes that a wider broadcast across the US and Australia would be possible in the future and that this endeavour will serve as “a blueprint” for other podcasts.

Commercial opportunities

In terms of advertising, there will be a pre-show build-up to the cinema broadcast and a 25-minute interval that brands can utilise. Morgan saw this as “a test” and emphasised there are “lots of opportunities” around the cinema release and the tour for commercial partners.

He added: “From a scope for creative marketing opportunities, we’re going to have 2,500 in the Palladium and thousands of people in nearly 400 screens now across the country, so there’s going to be a captive audience of people who will make the choice to spend their evening going and seeing a podcast in the cinema on the big screen for the first time.

“So absolutely if there are any brands who want to be part of that, we would happily find ways of making it work.”

A natural evolution

Will others follow suit by taking podcast shows to cinemas?

Josh Woodhouse, regional managing director for UK and Ireland at Acast, Help I Sexted My Boss‘ distribution and monetisation platform, said live stream was an idea that was “toyed with” when he worked at Pearl & Dean.

He told The Media Leader: “It never got off the ground to the level of what Help… are achieving, which is probably a sign of the times, to be honest. Now the industry has moved on, not only probably with regards to technological capabilities, but also audience demand.”

Woodhouse described the deal as “a phenomenal feat” for Audio Always, particularly in terms of the number of cinemas secured.

He explained: “The reason why it’s so relevant is it’s an incredibly natural evolution of how podcasts are moving into more of the visual video space, certainly, and social is being explored across the board by more and more podcasts, not only as a discovery platform, but [for] short-form consumption.

“We’re seeing a lot of podcasters that are cutting down existing clips of their shows and Help… are one of the shows that do this better than any.”

One viral social clip last year of the hosts answering a listener question almost doubled the show’s listenership.

Woodhouse added: “Podcasts certainly are not an audio-only format. We’re long, long, long gone from the days of people just listening via podcast apps that they have on their phone. People are capturing and consuming podcasts in any way that feels relevant for them.”

From ears to eyes

Patrick Dolan, activation director at the7stars, echoed this sentiment as he called the move to cinemas “an innovative distribution method” marking “a transition from ears to eyes for podcasts” — something that has been “a gradual evolution”.

He explained: “The emergence of regular podcast tours in the UK indicates their integration into everyday life, demonstrating a clear demand for interactive experiences.

“While the US leads the visual podcasting trend, with YouTube claiming a dominant 31% share of the market (as opposed to 15% in the UK), recent announcements such as Google’s closure of its podcast app signal a shift towards video content.

“This transition is mirrored in the UK, with more podcasts expected to embrace video formats over the next year to reach broader audiences.

“This new opportunity to stream podcasts in cinemas offers a national platform to showcase podcasts, enabling tailored and flexible activations that resonate with specific passions and audience demographics, leaning in to the customisable nature of podcasts themselves.”

Looking ahead, Woodhouse saw opportunities for entertainment and live sport podcasts in particular to follow this cinema path.

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