Q&A with Kellie Riordan: Where will podcasts head next?

Former Editor & Content Director

We’re just one week away from finding out the finalists in the Radio Today Podcast Awards. Ahead of the big announcement, Vivienne Kelly chats to another Podcasting Power Player about the biggest mistakes in podcasting and exactly where the industry is heading. This time, it’s Deadset Studios’ Kellie Riordan in the hot seat. 

VK: Describe your job in one word:

KR: Juggling.

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

KR: A pick-a-path / choose-your-own adventure scripted podcast for kids with multiple endings. I’ve tried to figure out how to make this work elegantly within RSS but it’s a challenge.

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

KR: Relying on celebrity names over format.

In 2021 you need a dynamic format if you want to cut through, and while having big-name hosts is great, you also need to do something interesting with those big-name hosts. That, and having a long waffling intro that’s all about the “housework” instead of starting in the plot.

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

KR: More than a third of Australians are regularly listening to podcasts now, and the acceleration year-on-year in the past 12 months was more rapid than we’ve seen before. So I reckon the content offers will expand (genre mash-ups, new formats, blending of fictionalised work with factual content etc.), but also hopefully quality content will be heard by more people.

I’m also bullish on the opportunity around smart speakers for audio to become more utilitarian. Your smart speaker ‘voice’ can tell you how you’re travelling with your electricity bill but it’s the voice of Hamish and Andy, or it’s the ABC’s Annabel Crabb, or it’s Britt and Laura from Life Uncut.

VK: What is the best part of your role?

KR: Seeing new audio makers get a start in the industry, and grow and mature as creators until they’re making really fabulous immersive, narrative podcast series. I’ve had the pleasure of hiring and watching younger creators like Ninah Kopel who worked as a producer on the historical series The Eleventh go on to work at SBS’s The Feed where she’s won a Walkley Award.

And watching audio producers step up to become executive producers and into leadership roles. I brought radio producer Rachel Fountain into the podcast team at the ABC and watched her nail it on shows like The Pineapple Project and Mindfully to then step up to executive producing shows like Dishy, Fierce Girls, and the last show I commissioned for the ABC: Days Like These. Watching her grow has been a real joy for me.

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

KR: Not enough hours in the day. And the fact I live in Brisbane, rather than New York.

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

KR: Scale is still an issue in a relatively small market like Australia. We make some of the best podcasts in the world, but monetising more of them at scale is a challenge.

I’d also like to see some government investment. The film and TV sector has Screen Australia, Create NSW, Screen Queensland etc. that partner with film production companies and media houses to make content. I’d like to see the same initiatives for the audio sector so that small production companies can partner with media houses and receive that third part of funding support so we can export shows globally. We see tax incentives and funding for film, gaming etc. to export to the world, we need the same for podcasting.

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

KR: I’m pretty transparent, what you see is what you get, so no surprises really.

Some people are shocked to know I ran several successful national teams from Brisbane. It was never a shock to me, I was on board with ‘You don’t need to be in the same room’ thing well before COVID hit. I’m super glad the world is catching up and I’m enjoying having meetings with NYC, London, LA etc. from my spare bedroom, now the rest of the world also thinks that’s normal.

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

KR: Leadership consulting, because authentic story-telling is required from every leader now and it’d be easy to translate my skills in journalism and podcasting (synthesis of information in a fast-paced environment, story-telling ability, shaping the narrative) to the corporate leadership world.

That, or I’m running a yoga studio.

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