Slate jumps into the daily news podcast arena with ‘What Next’

Slate is the latest publisher to come out with a daily news podcast after the success of The New York Times’ “The Daily” that has soared to 6.5 million monthly listeners in a year and a half.

Slate’s weekday podcast, “What Next,” starting Oct. 17 and like the morning “The Daily,” lasts 20 or so minutes and tackles the news of the day. Slate is trying to differentiate “What Next” by designing it for the evening commute with a 5 p.m. post time.

“What we wanted was something at the end of the day that would give you an understanding of what happened that day, why did it happen, what does it mean,” said Gabe Roth, editorial director of Slate audio.

For Slate, podcasts aren’t just an extension but a large and growing part of its business. It has 28 shows that it creates in-house and that are extensions of its journalism, including the daily, personality-driven news show, “The Gist with Mike Pesca,” and narrative shows like “Slow Burn.” The company further expanded its bet on podcasting earlier this year when it took over ad sales for its Slate-branded shows from sister company Panoply, The Slate Group’s podcasting network. Slate said podcasting would contribute 30 percent of Slate’s revenue this year with downloads expected to grow to more than 150 million this year, a 44 percent increase from last year. It expects podcasting could hit 40 percent of revenue next year as it adds still more shows.

Like The Times’ “The Daily,” Slate’s podcasts are a direct extension of its journalism. In Slate’s case, it also sees podcasts as a straight path to membership revenue. Slate’s podcasts are a key driver of its membership program, Slate Plus, whose members get ad-free podcasts and bonus segments among other benefits.

“We want to find more connections between our written and audio work; to the extent we can, we can build a much stronger, durable audience,” said Dan Check, interim CEO of Slate. “This is a step in that direction.”

“What Next” is still a major investment for Slate, which hired as its host Mary Harris, the former host of WNYC’s “Only Human” and founding producer of NPR’s “The Takeaway.” “What Next” has four people in all dedicated to it, more than any of its other shows. “What Next” will follow Slate’s tried and true format of having the host in conversation with Slate journalists. It will run for a month up till the midterm elections, then go on hiatus until early next year, during which Slate will hone the format.

In addition to “The Daily,” popular daily news podcasts include Vox’s “Today Explained” and NPR’s “Up First,” according to iTunes rankings. ABC News just launched “Start Here” and The Guardian is planning one to launch later in the year. “We’re all seeing the same things — longstanding habits breaking up and a world oriented around on-demand and a lot of thinking about how to deliver news in audio form,” said Neal Carruth, GM of podcasts at NPR of the increase in daily news podcasts. “They’re also all seeing the opportunity to create a daily habit around stuff. Those of us who got to the space early have an advantage. I do think the space is going to keep growing.”

Short news podcasts also have an advantage in that they fit into more parts of the day, and it’s also easier to monetize a daily podcast than a weekly one because it increases the podcast’s reach and frequency, which also creates an opportunity for tune-in ads that are common in radio but relatively new to podcasting, said Tom Webster, svp of Edison Research. Advertisers can have a big impact with a daily podcast if they buy the show for a few weeks, said Charlie Kammerer, CRO of Slate, which will monetize “What Next” using the traditional host-read ads. It’s sold out the first few weeks of the show, with clients including Intel and Citrix, he said.

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