A show usually has to become a smash hit for people to obsess over its minutiae on podcasts. But ABC, the network behind "American Crime," which premieres at 10 p.m. EST Thursday, has decided to skip over the "overnight success" part and go right to having its own recap podcast for the show. There is already one episode available for download, and two more episodes are already recorded and ready to go for subsequent weeks.
“It’s unusual,” Melissa Click, an assistant professor of mass media at the University of Missouri, said. “We don't even know if the show's worth talking about.”
ABC executives see the recap podcast, which it has been promoting for the past week, as an opportunity to drive people to tune in to a show it is betting heavily on. As the social chatter and conversation around programming becomes nearly as important as the programming itself, ABC is following the lead of AMC, which aired "Talking Dead," a show that existed entirely to serve another show, "Walking Dead." It is also looking to leverage the fast-growing interest in recap podcasts, the latest iteration of an Internet culture phenomenon that has become a key part of Web-based media.
TV recaps, as a genre, have grown into their very own Internet food group. Media outlets ranging from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly to BuzzFeed depend on them to generate traffic and discussion every week. Last year, when Television Without Pity, one of the Internet’s first recap hubs, went offline, it triggered think pieces at the Atlantic, the New Yorker and NPR.
TV, On Your Podcast
But the appetite for recaps has spread well beyond text. About 10 percent of the shows in PodcastOne’s network are recaps; the Afterbuzz Network, a podcast and video network devoted solely to recaps, and co-founded by E! television personality Maria Menounos and producer Kevin Undergaro, says its content is downloaded more than 26 million times per week across a variety of platforms, including iTunes, Soundcloud and YouTube.
That appetite has grown among advertisers too, who see recap podcasts as an opportunity to get ads in front of a rabid audience that will show up week in and week out. “People don't dive into and out of ‘The Walking Dead,’” Lex Friedman, executive vice president of sales and development at the podcast advertising network Midroll Media, explained. “They're not going to dive into and out of ‘The Walking Deadcast.’”
Like most podcasting formats, recap podcasts have been a hit with direct response advertisers. But it in recent years, major brand advertisers including Walmart and American Express have signed up too, drawn by undeniably large audience numbers. “What the advertisers care about is the show's size,” Friedman said.
Yet, as popular as the recap format has become, there is a notable dearth of shows created by TV show producers. “A producer-created podcast is very different from an audience-created podcast,” Click said. “It has the stamp of the creator on it. While a fan's recap might be dishy and evaluative, it strikes me that a producer podcast is very much about promotion.”
The first episode of the “American Crime” recap bears this out. The show’s half-hour conversation between its host, the veteran critic Elvis Mitchell, the show’s creator, John Ridley, and its executive producer, Michael McDonald, feels very much like the kind of content one might find in a DVD extra or as part of a deluxe package.
Yet because all three men are so deeply involved in the show’s creation, it also contains a level of specificity that could prove attractive to fans of the show. It is unlikely that a recap show hosted by fans would be privy to the fact that the idea for the show, in its earliest stages, was born out of the national agita stirred up by the trials of George Zimmerman and Jodi Arias, or that an early touch point for Ridley and McDonald was the documentary “The Central Park Five.”
“It will be sort of the ultimate inside view,” Norm Pattiz, the founder and CEO of PodcastOne, which worked with ABC to develop the show, said. “Not only of what the TV show was the night the recap runs, but all the thinking that went into it.”
But with the podcast’s parent material set to debut tonight, it has a very different priority list. “The first goal, of course, is to drive tune-in for the series,” Erin Weir, vice president of marketing and promotion at ABC, said. Ads for the “American Crime” podcast will run across PodcastOne’s advertising network, specifically on shows popular with the all-important 18-49 demographic crucial for TV ratings.
Podcast Before The Show
ABC is not the first broadcaster to give this a try. “Talking Dead,” the Chris Hardwick-hosted show on AMC dedicated solely to discussing “The Walking Dead,” has been on the air for three years, and it is routinely among the top-rated shows airing in its Sunday night time slot.
But “Talking Dead” also launched a year after “The Walking Dead” became a game-changing success for AMC. Using a recap podcast to drive tune-ins as the show finds its footing is a very different proposition. Whether the broadcast and the podcast can create a positive feedback loop of enthusiasm remains to be seen.
“It's possible the podcast may bring viewers to the show, but I don't know if the show will warrant people tuning in to the podcast,” Click said.