The sound of science: Ainslee O’Brien’s career transformation from physio to podcasting

Former Editor & Content Director

Ainslee O’Brien was recently named as one of the country’s top 21 Podcast Power Players, however that wasn’t always on the cards. News Corp’s general manager of commercial networks actually trained in exercise science and rehabilitation. Here, she talks to Vivienne Kelly about being lured away from science and towards the bright lights of media, and why we might need a slightly more scientific approach to audio measurement. 

VK: Describe your job in one word:

AOB: Dynamic.

VK: If you could make a podcast about anything, what would it be?

AOB: Now that would be a trade secret.

VK: What is the biggest mistake you see in podcasting?

AOB: Content that is too self serving, that shows a lack of respect for its audience and their time.

VK: What’s your prediction for where the industry will be in five years?

AOB: We will continue to see significant consolidation and players who do not hold meaningful market share or original content IP will struggle to compete. Podcasting will undoubtedly play a more dominant role in the media mix alongside mature paid audio models that may well be bundled in with other content and services.

VK: What advice would you give to somebody looking to work in podcasting?

AOB: Be patient. Even the best idea, content strategy and execution can take time to find its audience and wash its face. Getting your podcast into the hands (and ears) of your audience is really difficult. You have to hustle to find and hold onto your audience but great, original content always wins.

VK: What is the best part of your role?

AOB: What a fascinating time to be working in and around the world of podcasts. With consumption booming it’s ripe for innovation and creativity. There is a real appetite from our organisation for experimentation. To trial new content formats, new genres, to play around with distribution strategies and explore different monetisation models. I also get to work alongside some of the most accomplished storytellers in the country and podcasts provide an extraordinary opportunity for their journalism to reach new and varied audiences. It makes for an incredibly diverse, challenging and rewarding role.

VK: What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

AOB: Playing the long game, ensuring we double down on the right things and make the right strategic bets to maximise the opportunities podcasting and audio more broadly presents to our business. We’re in a period of rapid growth and as we scale our operations, invest in our owned and operated audio infrastructure and mature our content and commerce offerings, the right plan and partners are critical.

VK: What about the wider industry, what challenges is it facing?

AOB: Ensuring we establish fair value for great, original audio on-demand content creators be it through the traditional customer/advertising channels or via new consumer paid or subscription models.

We need to drive the measurement and effectiveness agenda forward for our customers to give them confidence that the medium can deliver real business results. Equally, we need consumers to understand that original, high-quality audio journalism and content will not always be free and great content is worth paying for.

VK: What’s something about you that might surprise people?

AOB: In my former life, I was a scientist. I completed a four year degree in exercise science & rehabilitation at Wollongong Uni with aspirations to become a physiotherapist. The bright lights of the media somehow managed to send me off piste and well here I am …

VK: If you weren’t in podcasting, what do you think you’d be doing?

AOB: A physio. I guess!

Entries for Radio Today’s Podcast Awards with LiSTNR are now open. Categories span podcast executive leader of the year, host or presenter of the year, branded podcast of the year and podcast company of the year. Late entries are open now until July 4. More information is available here.



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