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As British TV presenters move to podcasts, will ad dollars follow?

Red recording light covered by multiple gold star stickers.

Illustration by Esther Park / Shutterstock / The Current

The English Premier League season is off to another scintillating start this year, with the country’s best teams jostling for glory and pundits returning with their post-show commentaries.

Fans looking to hear from the U.K.’s most prominent football commentator, former England national team striker Gary Lineker, will be spoiled for choice: In addition to his 23-year-long BBC slot, this year he’ll also be dishing it out on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Lineker and fellow ex-footballers Micah Richards and Alan Shearer launched “The Rest is Football” at the start of August, the latest offering from Lineker’s Goalhanger podcast production house. Lineker is in good company: Former BBC presenter Emily Maitlis left the broadcaster last year for radio company Global to front “The News Agents” podcast, joined by ex-BBC North America editor Jon Sopel.

The rise of these presenter-led podcasts and their accompanying popularity with audiences add to the woes of radio and linear TV while also further fragmenting the media landscape and giving advertisers another channel to consider.

Beyond the instant audience that a famous presenter can bring to a new podcast, Maitlis offers some additional clues behind this trend, having told Stylist, “I’m not as scared to call something out if I know that they’re full of [it]. It’s that simple.”

Indeed, both Maitlis and Lineker left the BBC after impartiality rows with the broadcaster, betting that media consumers were hungry for something more opinionated.

They were rewarded. By May this year, “The News Agents” had surpassed 30 million downloads and is now consistently one of the most listened-to podcasts in the country. Lineker’s Goalhanger claims to be the U.K.’s largest independent podcast group. Advertisers are noticing: HSBC signed on as sponsor to “The News Agents” in June.

“Any growth in the podcast industry is good for advertisers and good for creators,” Alexandra Fuller, senior partnerships manager at Acast, tells The Current. “With more genres and more types of podcasts becoming available, there are more opportunities to reach different cohorts of listeners.”

Presenters’ moves reflect deep changes in U.K. media

The launch of “Movers and Shakers,” a podcast from retired BBC talent, shows why big-time presenters are starting their own niche programs. The podcast discusses Parkinson’s disease in a conversational format, something that would have likely struggled to make prime-time programming on national radio or television. But it clearly resonates, having reached the third position on the U.K. podcast chart when it launched, as well as the top of the health and fitness chart.

The above might all be the umpteenth example of the fragmentation of media. People are deluged with choice, but they can also indulge their interests by finding truly niche content. The BBC’s famously impartial stance, in this context, may look increasingly out of place in a world where everyone can voice their opinion, often for free.

“I think people are sick of the superficiality and the media treating them as if all they’ve got is the attention span of a gnat,” Alastair Campbell, host of the Lineker-backed podcast “The Rest is Politics,” told i newspaper.

The BBC is no stranger to podcast success itself, with highly popular shows like “Newscast” and “The Footballer’s Football.” “Podcasting is continuing to grow, so this will be the same for other formats and will give ample opportunity for more traditional commercial TV operators and newsrooms to themselves grow and establish their talent in podcast formats,” says Acast’s Fuller.

Advertising on podcasts

HSBC’s deal with “The News Agents” came on the back of a successful sponsorship from BT Business, with a company exec telling Campaign that “the uplift in intent to recommend BT to other people went up by 110 percent, consideration went up by 35 percent, which was way more than we estimated.”

Mike Wood, global audience insights director of Acast, told i newspaper that combining the weekly listens for their daily news podcasts, many of Acast’s podcasts “either equal or exceed the 124,000 viewers BBC News gets on average.” Recent research also found that podcast ads are a lot more effective at getting people to pay attention than radio or TV ads.

For now, however, time spent with podcasts in the U.K. trails that of radio and TV, as does ad spend. IAB U.K. and PwC found that podcast ad spend grew 32 percent last year to 76.3 million pounds ($95.4 million). That is dwarfed by radio’s 520 million pounds and TV’s 3.84 billion pounds of ad spend. Although as they get more popular, some could follow the lead of “The News Agents,” which launched a U.S. show in June in a bid to break into the much larger U.S. podcast market.

The future might indeed be brighter: British Gen Zers’ podcast usage is set to grow 9.7 percent in 2023. That figure is close to double that of millennials’ anticipated podcast usage growth for 2023, and much more than Gen Xers’ and baby boomers’ 2.2 percent and 1.2 percent growth, respectively.

“There is room for presenter, or ‘star-led,’ podcasters to become a sizeable part of the media industry,” says Fuller. “This is the case with other genres, [such as] wellness, comedy, and true crime, so it can and will happen with the news genre.”