Podcasts on the red carpet – Attending a podcast premiere

Last week I did something I never thought I’d ever do. In fact, there was two things. And not the sort of things you think that you’d like to do but probably never get around to – like climb Everest or backpack through the Amazon, but things that you just don’t think will ever happen – like Buckingham Palace hosting a Glastonbury style festival, or Donald Trump getting a buzz cut.

The first thing was this – I went to a Podcast Premiere.


Death In Ice Valley Premiere

For all the creativity and idea generation I pride myself upon, I’d never put these two words together, nevermind follow through and turn them into an actual event. A Podcast Premiere.

And like I always advise when naming a podcasts, this event did exactly what you think it did. It was a premiere, of a podcast. At the BBC Broadcasting House Radio Theatre, no less.

Ok there was no red carpet, nobody taking flash photography of the beautiful people in beautiful clothes parading along it (no offence if you were there and made an effort – I did have my eyes closed for a lot of it) and no film crews grabbing sound bites for the morning news bulletins.

But it was a bona fide premiere. This was the first time anybody outside the production team would hear the show, and the one and only time and place they’d be able to hear it until its release almost a month later. Maybe this has happened somewhere, sometime, but it’s the first I’ve ever heard of. And been lucky enough to be part of.


So that was the first thing, what was the second thing?

It was to sit in a darkened room/radio theatre with over two hundred people who’d applied for tickets and travelled to be at this event, and listen, just LISTEN, to a podcast.

Apart from a brief introduction and an even briefer Q&A at the end, there was nothing on the stage in front of us bar a projector screen which after a nice intro animation, just displayed an audiogram for the 30 minutes or so of the show. And we were encouraged to close our eyes and listen to the show to become fully immersed in the programme.

I’ve seen pictures and grainy video footage of people 80 plus years ago, gathered around gigantic radio sets to listen to the latest episode of the Goon show, or the Queen’s speech, but I’ve never done that with a room full of people, let alone hundreds. It’s something I usually do while driving, or in the bath or lying in bed. None of these situations have ever had more than 5 people involved, so to listen to a show with so many people around me doing exactly the same thing, was a very new and exciting experience.

Oh yeah, I haven’t talked about the show.

It’s called “Death in Ice Valley” and is a joint venture between the BBC World Service and NRK the Norwegian broadcaster. Can you guess what kind of podcast it is?

Without giving too much away, the story centres on a body that was found in a remote part of Norway nearly 50 years ago. The case has been closed and reopened by the police and journalists, and still, there are many unanswered questions. Now they hope to find answers by sharing what they do know, using the global reach of podcasting and combining the resources of the two broadcasters.

And it’s done well. But the whole experience left me feeling a little underwhelmed.

There’s nothing wrong with the programme itself. The audio, the story telling, these are the things that the BBC excels at. And they are getting behind podcasting in a big way, with the announcement of a new position of Podcast Commissioner on the horizon. Many people in the UK have found podcasting thanks by and large to the BBC, though up till now, most of their podcast output has been essentially timeslip/listen again audio, with little or no changes to the original radio broadcast, bar removing the music. Then last year the BBC made a big deal of it’s first major podcast only production – Beyond Reasonable Doubt, a true crime story, and though there is more mystery surrounding the origins of Death In Ice Valley with no trial or conviction to review, this falls into the same category.

Which disheartened me.

I worked in production at the BBC for 4 years, and learnt so much from my time there. I recognise how lucky we are in the UK to have such a high standard of public service broadcasting, and those Reithian pillars of the BBC “to educate, entertain and inform” (which incidentally were actually coined by the American broadcasting pioneer David Sarnoff) influence almost everything the BBC does.

However, I cannot help but feel that in this new medium of podcasting, the BBC are missing a trick and playing it safe by just going with another True Crime series. Yes this particular genre of podcasts are popular (4 years after release the first series of Serial continues to get download numbers most of us can only dream of) but if anybody is in a position to try something new and different and really push the boundaries and flex the muscles of podcasting it is Aunty Beeb (as the corporation is affectionately known by some). Yes we know Serial is huge and everybody raves about it, but nobody knew that until somebody made it – and nobody had done that sort of thing before because of the time, energy and resources it takes. The Beeb has theses resources on tap, yet it is left to the likes of us independent podcast makers to define the new and the different.

It is also a corporation which can instantly advertise its podcast output across 7 different radio and 5 different TV channels, plus numerous publications. Can you imagine what impact your unique and different podcast could have with that kind of marketing support? At the risk of straying into superhero dialogue, why aren’t they using their power to do good…?

So in short this article is a plea. A plea to Aunty Beeb.  

Please, be brave Aunty, and go for it. And if you’re not sure just what to do to push the envelope, come and scoop up some of our shows and take them under your wing. I would love nothing more than to see the BBC add a fourth pillar to their unofficial commandments: Educate, Entertain, Inform and INNOVATE.

That said, they did just hold a podcast premiere. That’s pretty innovative.


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