Podcast company

Guardian Split, Building a Podcast Business

  • New Totally Football Show podcast attracts five million downloads in two months;
  • Founder Iain Macintosh wants to use the success to launch more shows, beyond sports;
  • Macintosh predicts podcast advertising boom: “I think there’s going to be a turn in that direction. “

Iain Macintosh Totally Football Show Muddy Knees Media

Iain Macintosh in the studio.

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LONDON – Since the resounding success of the True Crime television series, podcasts have been one of the few areas of media to flourish.

The market is is expected to be worth $ 300million (£ 223.5million) this year and grows fast. An estimated 4.7 million people in the UK listen.

The only thing everyone in UK football podcasting – perhaps a bigger niche than you think – can talk about right now is defections from Guardian Football Weekly.

The Guardian launched Football Weekly in 2006 as a talk show-style audio summary of World Cup action. Since then it has grown into one of the UK’s most popular podcasts, consistently ranking in the top 10 and averaging 150,000 downloads per episode. At the heart of her popularity was her gregarious host and wordplay enthusiast James Richardson – probably best known as the host of the beloved Channel 4 show. Football Italy.

But Richardson, podcast producer Ben Green and regular contributor Iain Macintosh surprised fans in late July by announcing they were leaving The Guardian to start their own rival business. The news was described by several Twitter users as the biggest shock of the transfer window.

“When you see the response to the news when it came out, we practically broke Twitter for a day,” Iain Macintosh told Business Insider US in a telephone interview this week.

Macintosh, known for his lively early podcast “Hellos”, was the leader of the mutiny. A football journalist by training, Macintosh said he could see podcasts as the future after being invited to The Guardian and other shows and listening to podcasts himself.

“It’s really 10 years for podcasts,” he says. “It’s less of a niche thing and more in the mainstream. I always watch my parents – when my parents are talking about something, that’s when I know the turning point is there. right here right now.”

But why break with the Guardian? It would be easy to see that this is a decision driven by greed – all three dissenting podcasters have a stake in the new venture, Muddy Knees Media, and will share any loot. The suspicions are not helped by the fact that the Totally Football Show, the trio’s first production, looks remarkably like the Guardian’s exit.

But Macintosh says it’s not about money, it’s about creative control.

“There is so much freedom in podcasts – it doesn’t have to be the standard panel, standard current affairs, everyone has their perspective on everything,” he says. “The success of some of the other things you see in the industry just shows you what’s possible. I mean my dad wrote a porn [a comedy podcast about a middle-aged man writing a pornographic novel] – which would never be ordered by anyone. But in the podcast world, there is a chance. “

Becoming independent means that Macintosh, Richardson, and Green can try new things and not worry if their experiences aren’t all successful.

“There are a lot of reasons and each person involved has their own motivations, but there is obviously a desire for independence, for control,” says Macintosh.

“When the last football season ended, it wasn’t even a thing”

James Richardson Totally Football Show

James Richardson, host of Totally Football.

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Just weeks after the split was announced, the first edition of the Totally Football Show was released, scheduled to launch at the start of the new football season in early August. A second show devoted to the lower leagues of English football was launched two weeks ago.

Both seem smooth and well-rehearsed, but their launch was much more obvious than it looks.

“When the last football season ended [in May] it wasn’t even a thing, ”Macintosh says. “It was very, very late. Very late indeed.

“Ordinarily you would need about three or four months to start a business like this. Just for the Totally Football Show. I think we had about two and a half, three weeks? It all happened.”

He adds, “I’ve always thought podcasts were the way to go, but the way it turned out – I basically spent a week with a phone taped to my ear.”

Despite the rushed start, the trio still managed to bring together a consortium of private investors to finance the project. Macintosh says Muddy Knees Media is well enough funded that it does not consider outside investment at this time.

5.7 million downloads and more

Incredibly, just eight weeks after its debut, the Totally Football Show and the Totally Football League Show had 5.7 million downloads between them – against two million at the beginning of September.

“I wasn’t entirely surprised when the numbers got as high as they did,” Macintosh says. “It was kind of what we hoped for. It has always been one thing for me – getting the right people to do things they’re good at. And we have the best presenter in James Richardson, the best producer. in Ben Green. It’s about harnessing that power now and taking that power and expanding it to other shows. “

We kind of have a rocket boost on everything we do

Macintosh’s ambition is to take Muddy Knees Media beyond football – beyond even sports – and make it a podcast production juggernaut.

“We are now in talks for a number of very different directions, like I say non-sports,” he said. “There are three or four that are at the concept stage.”

Macintosh hopes to have three football podcasts in production by the end of this year and launch three more titles in the first half of next year. Ben Green, better known to listeners as producer Ben, is a huge wrestling fan and the Macintosh has talked elsewhere about the possibility of starting a WWE podcast.

“We have the number now,” he said. “The Football League Show, we were able to advertise it for free directly to our own audiences [through the Totally Football Show]. You would kill for this audience if you put on a football league show now.

“We kind of get a boost on everything we do and it’s about joining everything – everything we do helps support everything else. And that’s before we even have any live shows. and other business avenues we can take. “

“Football Ramble guys do brilliant stuff”

The ambition was fueled by the response from advertisers, which Macintosh said was “really encouraging.” Muddy Knees Media has already made deals with subscription shaving startup Cornerstone and fantasy football game Fan League and is “in talks for more publicity.”

“One of the things that really made the difference was that a few days before our launch there was an article in the Sunday Times about Proctor & Gamble,” recalls Macintosh. “They had cut spending online because they just didn’t know where it was going. I saw that and thought, well, if your main concern is not knowing who is seeing these ads, then , my God, podcasts are awesome.

“There’s no better way to see who your audience is. The data we’re getting is so detailed. I think there’s going to be a turn in that direction.”

He’s not the only one to think so. The Totally Football Show isn’t the only new football show to launch this summer – The Telegraph and The Independent have both launched, while popular title The Football Ramble launched a new spinoff title on European football, On The Continent. Obviously, a lot of people see a bright future for sports podcasts.

“Competition is good,” says Macintosh. “It keeps everyone on their toes. The guys at Football Ramble are doing brilliant stuff. They are a great example of what can be done in this industry. They have such great chemistry and it works really well for them.”

“We only have love for the Guardian guys”

Totally football show

Totally Football Show being recorded.

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What about those who stay at the Guardian? New host Max Rushden and his guests looked almost shocked in this season’s first new episode.

“We have nothing but love for the Guardian guys,” Macintosh said magnanimously. “I think they are in a very good place.”

Not all listeners agree. The new host Rushden has angered some, who have complained on Twitter and the Guardian’s comments section.

Macintosh says, “Max and Barry [Glendenning, a Guardian journalist and Football Weekly regular] are a formidable double act. At first the listeners will be a little upset, but once they listen to him a bit, they will realize how good Max is, how good Barry is. “

Ah, Barry – Glendenning may be the one piece of The Guardian’s secret sauce that Muddy Knees Media has failed to cope with. The Sardonic Irishman is a fan favorite, and many wonder why he didn’t choose to move.

Has the Macintosh tried to tempt Glendenning?

There is a pause.

“We love Barry. It’s all open for the future, but Barry has a really good job at The Guardian outside of podcasting. He’s a really good writer.”

For now, Macintosh has enough on its plate in addition to chasing new talent.

“The business has to evolve or else it’s just me running from studio to studio and I think nobody wants that,” he says. “I think as we progress through these chaotic first three or four months we’ll assess the situation as we go. Nothing is out of place, this is the way I still work. “

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