Shonda Rhimes, the prolific television producer whose body of work includes the durable ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” moved into the streaming world in 2017 when she signed a nine-figure deal to create new shows for Netflix. Now, she is taking her talent for storytelling to the audio realm as the executive producer of new podcasts to be made in conjunction with the broadcast giant iHeartMedia.
Ms. Rhimes’s production company, Shondaland, and iHeart announced the partnership, a three-year deal, on Wednesday. Under the arrangement, Ms. Rhimes will produce “a full slate” of iHeartRadio original podcasts that will be available on the iHeartPodcast Network. With the deal, Shondaland has also started a new division, Shondaland Audio.
In addition to “Grey’s Anatomy,” a network stalwart since 2005, Ms. Rhimes and Shondaland were behind ABC’s “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” For Netflix, Ms. Rhimes has said she plans to make at least eight new shows. The first to go into production, “Bridgerton,” a high-society soap set in Regency-era London, is based on a popular series of romance novels by Julia Quinn. With a cast that includes Julie Andrews and Rege-Jean Page, it is scheduled to start streaming next year.
Ms. Rhimes is no podcasting rookie. In 2018, Shondaland created “Katie’s Crib,” a weekly podcast focused on motherhood hosted by the “Scandal” actress Katie Lowes. That show will migrate to iHeartPodcast under the terms of the new deal.
Shondaland is “just beginning our digital journey,” Ms. Rhimes said in an email. Of her podcasting venture, she said that “if the opportunity presents itself for some crossover with our friends at Netflix, we would certainly explore it.”
Nearly a third of Americans ages 12 and up — about 90 million people — listen to podcasts at least once a month, up from 21 percent three years ago, according to a survey this year by Edison Research.
The 67 shows on NPR, the top podcast studio, were downloaded more than 151 million times last month, according to a ranking from the podcast measurement firm Podtrac. Ranked second was iHeartRadio, with 268 shows downloaded 147 million times. “The Daily,” from The New York Times, is the most popular single podcast.
Commercial time on popular podcasts can fill up months in advance, advertisers have reported. A report this summer from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that advertising revenue hit $479.1 million last year.
Conal Byrne, the president of iHeartPodcast Network, said in an email that he expected Shondaland Audio to be especially appealing to “an engaged, smart female audience” as well as “top-tier, big, established brands” interested in advertising their wares.
Shondaland podcasts will have four commercials on average, he said — one at the beginning of each episode, two in the middle, and one at the end, each 30 to 60 seconds long.
The intimacy of podcasting is attractive to some advertisers. But as the medium has evolved, the trope of a host riffing on ad copy has is no longer the only option. Ads for Shondaland Audio will use a process called dynamic insertion, which allows publishers to go with ads that target specific groups of listeners.
The data on who is listening to a given show is murky, however, and podcasting platforms do not provide “sophisticated targeting tools on par with what Facebook and other digital platforms offer advertisers,” according to an analysis conducted by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
For years, iHeartMedia, which operates about 850 terrestrial radio stations in the United States, largely sat out the podcast revolution. Then last year, it paid $55 million for Stuff Media, the producer of hit podcasts like “Stuff You Should Know.” The company has also announced plans to distribute shows like “Stuff You Should Know” translated into Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, French and German.
Now, the company offers technology that allows podcast advertisers to “reach exactly who they want, at scale,” said Mr. Byrne, the iHeartPodcast Network president.
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