Australia’s top 21 Podcast Power Players
Do you remember your 21st birthday party? For some of you, the answer might be a resounding ‘no’, however for others, you may recall the sense of ‘coming of age’, an equal measure of excitement and foreboding as to what might come next, and a deep desire to celebrate.
So as podcasting truly comes of age in Australia, evolving from radio’s awkward, smaller sibling to a sophisticated and individual competitor and companion, it’s time to cut the cake and reveal the 21 Power Players who are shaping the future of this audio sector.
Podcasting Today, Radio Today’s new fortnightly newsletter to support the booming sector, sent out invitations to the industry’s heaviest hitters, to nominate those both within their own organisations, and their competitors, who they see as striking the biggest deals, shaping the content we’re hearing, making the tough business decisions, and innovating to drive the sector forward.
The list was limited more to those doing business behind-the-scenes, rather than those who may be driving change from behind the microphone, however Podcasting Today will in future weeks shine a spotlight on the power players who are changing the game with their own podcasts and independent audio operations, as well as producing some of the country’s best and most successful podcasts.
It was, we have to say, truly gratifying to see the audio industry so willing to praise those working for rival organisations and highlight the work being done from all over the sector.
In a (likely-to-fail) attempt to avoid accusations of bias/politics/favouritism, Radio Today has ordered the Power Players alphabetically by first name, rather than by the mighty power they wield behind the scenes.
It’s worth noting many talented, hard-working, powerful, established people did not make this list. We know that. Over 80 legitimate names were put forward for this ranking, and the cut off for the top 21 was extremely tight.
If there is someone you believe deserved to be here, but isn’t, why not take it as a chance to give them a shout-out in the comments, and spotlight the incredible work they do?
Now, onto the Podcasting Power Players.
Ainslee O’Brien general manager of commercial networks, News Corp Australia
Ainslee O’Brien heads up News Corp’s commercial networks as well as its audio operation, NewsCast. She oversees News Corp’s audio output including From The Newsroom and The Lighthouse, and helped launch its AirTime offering, which allows advertisers to purchase inventory in the podcast network by audience and genre.
She successfully recruited former NOVA Entertainment and SCA executive, Del Fordham (also on the list) as head of audio, alongside whom she continues to expand the audio offering of Australia’s largest traditional publisher.
O’Brien was nominated by executives across the industry, with one noting that News Corp has “bold aspirations for podcasting, and considering audio is not one of [its] core competencies, they are off to a cracking start”.
Her input in the Australian Podcast Ranker was also noted: “Her support and participation helped show the broad church that is podcasting in Australia can work together to deliver new results”.
Corey Layton, head of digital audio, ARN / iHeartPodcast Network Australia
Radio Today and Podcasting Today may not be ranking the leaders on the Podcasting Power Players list, however we can reveal that ARN’s recently promoted head of digital audio, Corey Layton, received more than double the nominations of all fellow nominees (except Rachel Corbett, who gave him a run for his money) from individual executives.
The adjectives used to describe him would make any 21st speech seem perhaps a tad hyperbolic, however the sentiment was clear: Layton is a “game changer”, someone who has transformed ARN/ iHeartPodcast Network Australia’s business model, and a leader who has “always been at the forefront of podcasting”.
Completing Layton’s 21st speech would be many sentiments that he is “one of the best people you will meet”. Executives from both within ARN and its most fierce rivals all gave glowing reviews of Layton on a personal, professional and podcasting level.
Courtney Carthy, creative director of podcasts, Mushroom Group
A surprise entry on the list, Mushroom Group’s Courtney Carthy couldn’t be ignored – the executives nominating him were simply too senior.
Carthy is a former ABC producer who now looks after Mushroom Group’s podcast output, as well as running podcasting and digital media company, Nearly Media.
He was nominated by executives within the country’s biggest audio companies, with one noting that the 180 Grams narrative documentary podcast about significant albums was “one of the most beautifully produced Australian podcasts” ever to be heard.
Del Fordham, head of audio, News Corp Australia
Del Forham was recruited by News Corp in 2019 to lead its audio network strategy and develop original content across its brand and editorial teams. He joined the publisher after over 15 years at the likes of the ABC, SCA and NOVA Entertainment.
One executive who nominated Fordham said that News Corp has since delivered “a good cross section of content – true crime, storytelling, news podcasts, smart speaker content” as well as “leveraging the content making and promotion power of their news mastheads to grow the business”.
Fordham works alongside Ainslee O’Brien who also made the list.
Elissa Ratliff, head of podcasts, Mamamia
Elissa Ratliff returned to Mamamia as its head of podcasts late last year, coming back after a time as head of audio at Pacific Magazines.
Her short time back at the helm of Australia’s largest independent podcast network, however, has not lessened her impact.
Mamamia’s podcast network boasts numerous chart-topping as well as award-winning titles.
One executive was full of praise and said Ratliff is “an amazing talent with a very bright future”.
Apparently, “it won’t be long before she’s poached by Spotify or a USA company to head up podcasting”.
Grant Tothill, head of podcasting, SCA/ PodcastOne Australia
SCA and PodcastOne Australia’s Grant Tothill was nominated not just for his lofty title and large remit within the podcasting sphere, but also because he is “a huge champion of growing an Australian podcast industry”.
Within his role, executives also noted he is focused on co-creating compelling content, rather than chasing a cheaper aggregation model and buying-in large amounts of existing shows.
Plus, there’s the money aspect, with Tothill praised for his ability to commercialise content and advocate for what audio content is truly worth.
Guy Scott-Wilson, content director, Acast
Guy Scott-Wilson joined Acast in 2017 and has remained at the helm of its content throughout its separation from NOVA Entertainment.
Throughout the nomination process, Scott-Wilson was hailed for his ability to identify a good podcast, as well as his knowledge on what helps publishers grow their audio offerings. His ability to locate, distribute and promote good audio content was seen as a positive not just for Acast, but for the entire industry.
“Smart and understands podcasting on the world stage”, as one executive put it.
Henrik Isaksson, managing director, Acast
Henrik Isaksson was another name which was rarely absent from people’s lists.
Since Acast split from NOVA Entertainment, it’s had to do everything on its own, and executives said Isaksson’s role in ensuring that risk turned into a success cannot be underestimated.
Isaksson joined Acast in 2017 and brought with him experience from Spotify, InMobi and Amobee.
Acast now claims to pay out more to podcasters than any other platform, as well as holding the largest audiences with the widest array of premium content.
Holly Wainwright, head of content, Mamamia
Holy Wainwright is another Mamamia powerhouse, who not only appears on some of its most popular podcasts, but has also been instrumental to the growth of the company’s overall podcast operation.
She concepted the award-winning That’s Incredible, which has been touted as both a content and a commercial success, and has mentored and shaped some of the best behind-the-scenes and behind-the-mic podcast talent coming out of Mamamia.
Jaime Chaux, head of digital, CRA
Jaime Chaux was, according to many, instrumental to the long-term success of SCA’s PodcastOne Australia, firstly in his newly-created role of head of digital audio platforms, and then as content director of PodcastOne Australia.
He’s now head of digital at industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and was flagged as crucial in establishing the Australian Podcast Ranker.
He is, according to nominations, very knowledgeable and understands the medium like few others.
Jay Walkerden, founder, Podshape
The long-term success of Jay Walkerden’s independent podcast venture, Podshape, is not yet clear, but he was nominated for its potential, its products and its, well, personality.
Walkerden may have been spectacularly ousted from NOVA Entertainment, where he head up its podcast operations as well as its Brisbane offices, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the game.
Walkerden is adept at launching new podcasts, as well as the accompanying promos and press releases.
Those who nominated him said he was a big believer in, and supporter of, the wider Australian podcast industry.
Jennifer Goggin, head of features & special interest content – digital audio, SCA / PodcastOne Australia
Jennifer Goggin was recently promoted alongside fellow Podcasting Power Player Sam Cavanagh. She joined PodcastOne Australia back in 2018 from the BBC, and has now climbed to be head of features and special interest content.
Under her direction, PodcastOne’s output has grown significantly, which is no surprise given she was praised for her ability to manage multiple high-quality productions simultaneously.
She has developed over 50 original podcast concepts and expanded its bespoke podcast production team from seven to 11 people, as well as building digital and social strategies to promote audience growth.
Goggin, it’s said, lives and breathes podcasting.
Kate Montague, managing director & co-founder, Audiocraft
Kate Montague has been integral in growing the Australian podcast sector, her fans and competitors said.
She has “fostered a community for podcast creators and producers, both seasoned and new”, and has managed to bring global attention to Australian podcasts.
Her support of the independent sector via Audiocraft has helped keep the podcasting sector diverse, creative and thriving.
Kellie Riordan, director, Deadset Studios
Kellie Riordan, the former manager of ABC’s Audio Studios, has what is likely the “best ear for commissioning a podcast in the business”, her fellow industry executives believe.
She was responsible for some of the national broadcaster’s biggest titles, and has now launched her own podcast company, Deadset Studios.
Those nominating Riordan were emphatic – this list would not be complete without her.
Mia Freedman, co-founder & content director, Mamamia
Mia Freedman will be the first to tell you about the sheer size, scale and success of Mamamia’s podcast operations, but she really doesn’t have to. The number of titles, awards and listens coming from the independent publisher will do all that for you.
Freedman may have benefited from the work of star performers such as Rachel Corbett, and now Elissa Ratliff, but she was praised as an individual by the industry for using her high-profile personality and publication to bring podcasting to the fore for so many female listeners.
Her focus on podcasting before it was cool has been instrumental in the medium making it to its coming-of-age party.
Prithi Dey, partner manager & markets functional lead – podcast partnerships, Spotify
Now we couldn’t have a podcasting list without someone from Spotify, could we?
Those nominating Prithi Dey noted that the streaming giant is yet to really make its mark as a local podcast producer and powerhouse, but said there is a lot more to come, and Dey will be pivotal to that.
“Prithi has done a great job at building what is the foundation of Spotify Podcasts”, one said.
If Spotify changes the game now podcasting is all grown up, it’s believed Dey will be the driving force.
Rachel Corbett, head of podcasts and digital content, NOVA Entertainment
Another Podcasting Power Player with more nominations than Radio Today knew what to do with was Rachel Corbett.
People didn’t know where to start (or end) in praising her podcasting prowess.
Corbett joined NOVA Entertainment last year after running Mamaia’s extensive podcasting operation.
Corbett was on nearly everyone’s list, and was always flagged as being someone who must be on any list with any credibility.
Searching Radio Today’s inbox for mentions of Corbett pulls up nominations from the audio industry’s top dogs, as well as industry bodies, retired content directors, former colleagues and envious rivals.
Richard Palmer, director of APAC market development, Triton Digital
The Australian Podcast Ranker may have its detractors, but the industry still wanted to highlight the good work done by Richard Palmer for improving measurement visibility and getting the ranker off the ground and into the hands of those who need it.
He has, his nominators said, been instrumental in podcasting’s growth in Australia, and has helped educate buyers and advertisers about its power.
Rob Loewenthal, founder, Whooshkaa
Rob Lowenthal’s work with Whooshkaa was highlighted for the impact its had on lots of the grunt work podcasters have to do behind-the-scenes.
He may not be as vocal as some other executives and their platforms, but other Power Players noted he’s been instrumental in growing, supporting and shaping the industry in Australia, particularly from a tech and advertising perspective.
Sam Cavanagh, head of entertainment and news content – digital audio, SCA / PodcastOne Australia
Another one who had more votes than Radio Today had time, was SCA’s Sam Cavanagh.
Cavanagh’s list of achievements in radio and now podcasting are well known, working on shows including Hamish & Andy in its heyday, and as it transitioned and soared into the podcast realm, as well as Matt & Alex All Day Breakfast.
He was, however, roundly praised for the things he does quietly: supporting up-and-comers, sharing his knowledge and improving the conditions, content and culture of the industry.
He even submitted his nominations for his friends, rivals and peers, whilst in the midst of one the biggest middle-class-nightmares – moving house!
Sharon Taylor, managing director Omny Studio
Sharon Taylor remains at the helm of Omny Studio even after its sale to Triton Digital.
She is, many who named her said, “whip smart” and has been a trusted source of strong information and support for podcasters for some time.
As one executive put it: “Omny have always batted above their weight: for a product made down under with a small Australian team, Omny has provided a world-class platform for podcasters to get their content out to the world. It’s a great product and Sharon is a strong advocate and supporter for podcasters big and small both here and around the world. She is a very connected person and is always happy to share her knowledge.”
If there is someone who you believe is a Podcasting Power Player – influencing the direction, success and future of the industry, let us know why below.