When the Los Angeles Times debuts “The Times: Daily News from the L.A. Times” next month, the newspaper publisher will be far from the first outlet to put out a daily news podcast. But the L.A. Times believes that, in a market populated with shows like The New York Times’ “The Daily,” there’s an opening for a West Coast perspective.
“The Times” will be hosted by L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, who hosted the Times’ first daily podcast, a limited-run, 40 episode series centered around the pandemic that the publisher launched in April 2020. An L.A. Times spokesperson declined to provide listenership figures for that series, but the show is credited with serving as a test run for the daily news podcast, which will debut its first episode on May 3. Episodes will run 25 to 30 minutes long, every weekday, dropping at 5 a.m. PT. It hasn’t yet secured a sponsor.
“The Times” podcast “will offer a perspective on the day’s news through a California lens,” said Julia Turner, deputy managing editor for entertainment, audio and strategy at L.A. Times. She said that many trends in the news and American life and politics “emerge in California first,” such as issues related to the climate, immigration and the rising influence of Asia and the Pacific and Central and South America. “The Times” will focus on these topics, as well as entertainment, culture and the Asian diaspora, according to Turner.
While episodes are still in development, “The Times” is expected to feature a mix of conversations with reporters from the newsroom, reported pieces from the field, and interviews with newsmakers, according to Abbie Fentress Swanson, executive producer for podcasts and audio at the L.A. Times. Fentress Swanson wants to get as many reporters in the show as possible, many of whom have never been behind the mic. In addition to Fentress Swanson, the daily news podcast hired three producers and an engineer to work on “The Times.”
The L.A. Times is entering a crowded field. Daily news is one of the most popular categories of audio shows: seven of the 20 most popular shows measured by podcast analytics service Chartable fall into this category, according to Dave Zohrob, co-founder and CEO of Chartable. Downloads have been up overall for this category both year-over-year and month-over-month, he said.
Daily news podcasts’ popularity is due to the habitual nature of this type of audio show, according to Hilary Ross, vp of podcast media at audio agency Veritone One. Daily news podcast listeners are a “desirable audience” due to the way they incorporate the content into their daily routine, Ross said.
In all, the L.A. Times has produced about a dozen podcasts. Its popular show “Dirty John” currently has 70 million downloads, according to the L.A. Times. The daily news podcast will “complement our work in the narrative space,” Turner said. While narrative podcasts can bring in ad revenue and potentially “derivative revenue” if it gets turned into a TV show, listeners may not strongly associate a show like “Dirty John” with the L.A. Times (“Dirty John” became a scripted drama on Bravo and a documentary on Oxygen, for example).
“The Times” will be the LA Times’ flagship podcast, and serve as “an ambassador for our newsroom” and “a big megaphone for the kind of work that we do day in and day out,” Turner said.
In the span of six weeks this spring, the L.A. Times will premiere three new shows or new seasons of existing shows: “The Times,” the second season of “Asian Enough” and a true-crime podcast series from the creator of “Dirty John,” called “The Trials of Frank Carson.”
The LA Times’ sales team is selling sponsorships for its podcasts. Its COVID-centric podcast, “Coronavirus in California,” for example, was sponsored by Blue Shield of California. However, the publisher does not run host-read ads. That’s common among news publishers’ shows, according to Ross, due to a “church and state separation” between “a reporter and the messaging from a brand.”
While the L.A. Times would not share what percentage of its overall revenue is related to podcasts, a spokesperson said it “has grown significantly within the past couple years.” The publisher claimed its podcast inventory was sold out from April through August 2020.
This spring, the L.A. Times is launching another revenue model for podcasts: subscriber-only feeds. Eight episodes of “The Trials of Frank Carson” will be free to download, but eight bonus episodes will be reserved for L.A. Times subscribers.
Turner says she anticipates that there will be subscriber-only offerings around “The Times” at some point as well. The company is also exploring new revenue channels for audio, including a combination of direct-sold and programmatic spots in podcasts.
Keeping some episodes behind a paywall is a “revenue driver, an audience driver and a subscription driver,” said Albert Thompson, managing director of digital ad agency Walton Isaacson.
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