Podcasting is an ever-evolving medium — its impact already huge but with much more to come — and an important milestone has been reached with the inaugural British Podcast Awards.
More than 300 people from the world of podcasting gathered at the weekend at a venue in King’s Cross in north London, no one quite knowing what to expect from an event that was breaking new ground in its celebration of a brand of creativity that is both radio and not radio.
With awards in 14 categories — covering fiction, sport, current affairs, true crime and much else — the range and brilliance of today’s podcasting scene was obvious from work that spanned the best that the BBC has to offer to content produced on an iPhone is someone’s bedroom.
There doesn’t seem to be an agreed definition of what precisely constitutes a podcast, but a number of qualities present themselves for inclusion, prime among them intimacy, informality, and immediacy. There is a freedom to podcasting that the radio model of programme-making just doesn’t have, although BBC Radio is known to be rapidly addressing this issue.
Then there is the episodic quality to the best podcasts — the thing that keeps you coming back to listen the next time. In this regard, the gold standard was set by the true-crime podcast Serial that came out of the US a few years ago and held millions in its thrall, but since then the way podcasting has developed and diversified has been remarkable.
That’s why these awards — dreamt up by two industry specialists Matt Hill and Matt Deegan and superbly hosted on the night by broadcaster Olly Mann — were in one sense waiting to happen. Although making them happen from scratch in the course of just three months was an amazing achievement.
“The thing we were really worried about was making sure that the podcast community would support it,” Deegan told me afterwards. “But quite quickly we found that people did want awards and to see their work recognised. And what mattered to them was that they were being rewarded for pure skill, not because they were representing a brand or anything. And it meant that they were so happy when they won.”
None was happier than the winners of the Best New Podcast category – the film review show The Cinemile which comprises a couple called Dave and Cathy discussing their responses to the movie they’ve just seen as they walk the mile home from the cinema. Classic podcasting — funny, personal, and totally relate-able to.
The Cinemile beat the Radio 4 series The Untold into second place — a result that will have gone some way to addressing concerns I heard expressed on the night that BBC programmes given a podcast makeover were at a huge advantage compared with product unable to command anything like the Corporation’s resources. One nominee questioned whether BBC content should even be included in the awards.
“Where do you draw the line,” was Deegan’s response, citing the hugely successful radio-based podcast This American Life. “The awards weren’t necessarily about the best audio in the conventional sense, but about the best material suitable for the podcasting medium. I think it’s great that everyone’s in it together and if the presence of the BBC makes people raise their game, that’s good.”
The BBC certainly didn’t dominate. They won five awards, but missed out on others, their biggest win coming in the Listeners’ category for Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review — a podcast version of their 5Live show which, as Deegan said, “has always felt like a podcast first and a radio programme second”.
The 100,000-plus votes that were cast by the public in the Listeners’ category was perhaps the most impressive statistic of the night — testimony to the huge reach that podcasting now has.
The Podcast of the Year award — competed for by all the category winners — went to the Branded Content winner, Fathers and Sons, created by Radio Wolfgang on behalf of online retail outlet Mr Porter. The podcast comprised a six-part series exploring all aspects of paternal and filial life. Good on Mr Porter for having the imagination to come up with such an idea, and to Radio Wolfgang for executing it so beautifully.
There was a Podcast Champion award which went to the great Adam Buxton, a podcast giant whose singular way with interviews has earned him a large and devoted following.
Matt Deegan and Matt Hill are now taking stock of the inaugural event. “We are pretty hopeful there’ll be another one,” Deegan said. “We both saw it as a success, so even if it’s not us organising it, I am sure someone would jump in.”