‘Netflix of the spoken word’: big changes in the world of audio for 2017

For fans of audio fiction, 2017 promises to be a year of significant change as major players from the world of publishing, broadcasting and technology move into the field. The big change over the past few years has been the development of radio as “podcasting” – audio files that can be downloaded and consumed at the listener’s leisure. This has revolutionised the formerly staid world of radio – especially in the field of drama.

There are developments on both sides of the Atlantic. Out this January is Bronzeville, an audio drama set in 1940s Chicago and starring Lawrence Fishburne and Larenz Tate. It has been hailed by some as “game-changing” with its big names and Hollywood production style. Meanwhile, BBC Radio has declared its intention of targeting an international audience with a “Netflix of the spoken word” with the intention of finding ways to better exploit it’s vast archive of professionally produced audio.

These developments are markers in a fast-changing landscape. Audio is rapidly going digital and interactive. As radio is increasingly consumed through headphones via a phone or a tablet, its a natural next step to link it to other programmes and styles of content. BBC Radio 4’s Stardust, promoted as “a young man’s quest to gain his heart’s desire” is a great example: using Neil Gaiman’s fan base to drive a social media campaign, it enticed listeners with teaser clips from the drama, a drawing competition and a linked short story by Suzanne Clarke.

The involvement of big names from TV and film is another emerging trend. This has long been the case in the UK where BBC Radio offers big audiences – if not always lavish pay – to well-known actors. Yet growth in podcast drama in the US is now seeing Hollywood names getting in on the act. Bronzeville is one example, while Homecoming – a psychological drama featuring David Schwimmer and Catherine Keener – is another. And the fact that it is seen as so commercially viable shows the growing interest of advertisers in the loyal following of audio drama listeners.

In with the ‘in-crowd’

These dramas are also evidence that the medium is getting more diverse. The indie audio drama that has emerged over the last five years has been focused strongly of sci-fi and horror, following on from classics like Ruby (1982) and the recent success of shows like the zombie survival saga We’re Alive (2009) and Welcome to Night Vale (2012). In addition, independent audio producers have been and remain more commonly men. As podcasts become more popular the range of genres and producers are broadening. The The Bright Sessions, created by Lauren Shippen, is a nice example of a show that both defies easy categorisation and feels almost unique to radio. Premised around the idea of putting normal people with very unusual powers in therapy, the drama is intimate and subtle, rewarding careful listening – it has also been a big hit with audiences jumping from 400 to 300,000 downloads within a year.

… read on at theconversation.com

Originally posted at The Conversation
28th December 2016