Yes, finding the right translators can be a key to success in overseas markets
The podcast companies behind some of the biggest chart-topping hits of the last three years are ready for their next challenge: taking a story listeners know and love like “Dr. Death” and giving it an international makeover.
But what does that look like?
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Unlike the Hollywood blockbuster, podcasts don’t have the luxury of dubbing or subtitles to grow the reach of a show like Wondery’s “Dirty John,” the six-part series about a serial imposter that was later adapted into a hit show on Bravo. The podcast production firm’s executives plan to address that issue by taking their hit podcasts and translating them into local languages and dialects, such as Castilian and Latin-American Spanish. The company has recruited independent creators in seven yet-to-be-announced international markets.
Spotify, one of Wondery’s biggest competitors after acquiring Gimlet Media and Parcast earlier this year, also is prioritizing global expansion.
The goal: Grow the love of podcasts outside of the U.S.
In June, Wondery, the home of chart-topping series like 2018’s “Dr. Death,” announced former CEO of National Geographic Partners Declan Moore as its head of global. In his new role, Moore will build out an international office in London to execute a two-phase plan.
“It’s its own unique art form. It’s not a translation of a voice-of-God documentary, where audio is very much a supporting role,” Moore told TheWrap about translating podcasts for foreign audiences. “You’re really trying to replicate the essence of that storytelling. You have to capture the entire emphasis and tone. That’s new.”
The first translated podcast will be “Dr. Death,” the twisted tale of a spinal surgeon who is now servicing life for malpractice, which will be released in late August, Moore said. Another series will be released in October, followed by a new release of a translated series each month thereafter.
The full international slate is still to be determined, but Moore says podcast fans can expect favorites like “Over My Dead Body,” “Business Wars” and “Dirty John” to follow suit.
Wondery is investing in international audiences at a time when interest in the podcast industry is beginning to grow overseas.
Market research company Edison Research has delved into podcasts in its survey on digital media consumer behavior, called Infinite Dial. Over the last three years, Edison Research has expanded to study consumer habits in Australia and Canada. This year, Edison Research announced it will add Germany and South Africa to its survey soon.
International podcast data is sparse, but the surveys for Australia and Canada show that there remains a gap between those who know about podcasts and those who actually listen. Edison found that 83% of Australians surveyed were aware of podcasts, yet only 30% said they had ever listened to a podcast. Meanwhile, 63% of Canadians surveyed in 2019 said they were aware of podcasts, but only 36% said they had listened to a podcast in the last month.
Companies like Wondery, which recently announced $10 million in new funding from multiple investors, can change that, according to Tom Webster, ice president of strategy and marketing for Edison Research.
“Once investment dollars flow into the space, there’s more money for content and production to create mass appeal shows that captures the zeitgeist,” Webster said.
Wondery announced that the new round of funding will go toward areas like IP development and global growth. Wondery’s quest to expand globally will be up against an already established international giant in Spotify, which also has plans international podcast expansion in 2020.
Earlier this year, Spotify made a push into podcasts by acquiring podcast studios Gimlet Media and Parcast, as well as podcast publisher Anchor, for a combined $396 million. In a February memo about two of the acquisitions, CEO Daniel Elk emphasized that the acquisitions would position Spotify to become “the leading platform for podcast creators around the world and the leading producer of podcasts.”
“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the audio space today, as we believe no other company has Spotify’s scale and audience around the globe with the 78 markets where we do business,” Elk wrote at the time.
Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber told TheWrap that starting first quarter of 2020, Gimlet will release the German-language version of dramedy podcast “Sandra,” which has been downloaded 3 million times, according to Lieber. The podcast originally starred Kristin Wiig and Alia Shawkat as the lead voices.
Spotify is choosing German because its podcasts already have had success in Germany, Lieber told TheWrap. The interview podcast “Fest & Flauschig,” which Spotify acquired in 2016, is hosted by two former German radio hosts Jan Böhmermann and Olli Schulz. Its popularity grew to the point where more than 4,000 attendees stuffed a concert hall in Hamburg, Germany in September 2018 to see the 100th episode anniversary special.
Lieber added that the success of “Sandra,” will determine Gimlet’s playbook to into more markets.
At Wondery, the second phase of its global expansion will focus on the launch of Wondery’s own IP for the local language markets. Moore’s team will try to identify independent creators with great stories. Moore would not won’t rule out co-productions with foreign podcast studios in the future.
The Wondery team already has struck a partnership with podcast streamer Stitcher to scale its UK presence. Dubbed Podfront UK, the partnership will bring both Stitcher and Wondery’s inventory together for UK advertisers to buy locally and globally on their podcasts.
“Our shows are resonating with audiences in the U.K., with two of them reaching No.1 on Apple Podcasts so far in 2019,” Wondery’s Founder & CEO Hernan Lopez said in a statement on July 11. “Now we’ll be in a position to directly engage with brand advertisers in the U.K.”