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Podcast producers are creating their own version of the Oscars

Podcast producers are creating their own version of the Oscars
Entertainment
Hernan Lopez, founder and chief executive officer of podcasting startup Wondery, wants to create the Academy Awards of podcasting.

Lopez has recruited 10 of his peers to form the Podcast Academy, a non-profit group modelled after similar organizations in film, TV and music. The association will host a new awards show, the Golden Mics, in 2021 to honour the top shows and craftspeople in on-demand audio.

Born in the halls of public radio, podcasting has emerged as one of the fastest-growing businesses in media over the past few years. An estimated 62 million people listen to a podcast on a weekly basis, according to Edison Research, and podcast advertising sales are projected to eclipse $1 billion (U.S.) in the next couple of years. Spotify Technology, the world’s largest paid music service, has spent more than $600 million to acquire podcasting companies in the past 12 months.

As podcasting transitions from the fringes of society to the mainstream, its practitioners hope this awards show will bring new attention to their best work — and encourage advertisers, media executives and consumers to take the industry more seriously.

The biggest awards shows become an industry onto themselves, with consultants getting paid millions of dollars to help win awards. There are months of campaigning and hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising. And the payoff is measurable: Sales of the latest Grammy winners jumped 100 per cent the day after the show, and 153 per cent in two days, according to BuzzAngle Music. Ticket sales for “Parasite” also spiked in the days after it won the Oscar for best picture.

“I looked around other forms of art, especially movies, TV and music, and I realized all of them at some point early in their history created a member-based professional organization dedicated to celebrating and fostering quality,” Lopez said. Lopez worked at Fox before founding Wondery in 2016, and his company has been involved in the hit podcasts “Dirty John” and “Dr. Death.”

Lopez plans to announce the academy at Podcast Movement, an industry conference, and will solicit applications from thousands of workers in the podcast industry. He has already received support from some of the biggest players in podcasting, and the founding board of governors includes executives from PRX and Spotify, as well as the production company Tenderfoot.

While the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabody Awards have recently decided to honour podcasting, this would be the first independent show for podcasts. IHeartMedia Inc. has hosted a podcast awards show, but the producers wanted a show that wasn’t beholden to one distributor.

“Hernan has rightly seen that it’s time to recognize the complement of people building the industry and create some peer groups that recognize quality in specialized areas of the profession,” said Kerri Hoffman, CEO of PRX, which works with public radio stations and independent producers.

But just because an industry wants to create an award show, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Several new media businesses have tried to replicate the popularity of the Oscars and the Grammys with little success.

The Webby Awards, founded to honour the best work on the internet, no longer carry much weight. The Streamy Awards, created for the online video industry, is a regular event for people in the industry but has failed to pick up mainstream recognition.

“There are things we don’t know — what does getting one of these awards mean?” said Hoffman. But she and Lopez are convinced the timing is right.

Everyone has a favourite podcast, they reason, and now it’s time to recognize the talent behind those shows — from the host to the sound engineer to the script writer.
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