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Streaming giant Netflix is expanding its podcasting footprint

The audio push builds on Netflix’s existing library of about 30 podcasts.
This Monday, July 17, 2017, file photo shows the Netflix logo on an iPhone in Philadelphia. Netflix is diving deeper into the podcast space in a bid to keep audiences invested in its shows and movies.
This Monday, July 17, 2017, file photo shows the Netflix logo on an iPhone in Philadelphia. Netflix is diving deeper into the podcast space in a bid to keep audiences invested in its shows and movies. [ MATT ROURKE | AP ]
Published May 18
Updated May 18

Netflix is diving deeper into the podcast space in a bid to keep audiences invested in its shows and movies.

The Los Gatos-based streaming giant is expanding its podcasts, taking pitches from outside producers and is looking to hire an executive to lead its audio push, according to people familiar with the plans who were not authorized to comment publicly.

“Podcasts are an excellent way for fans to connect with our stories and talent, and our marketing team plans to make more of them,” Jonathan Bing, spokesman for Netflix, said in a statement.

Bing declined to elaborate on the company’s plans and types of podcasts it would produce.

Netflix faces plenty of competition. Apple last month launched a new podcast subscription platform, while Amazon recently snapped up West Hollywood podcast publisher Wondery, maker of the popular “Dr. Death.” In the last couple of years, Sweden’s Spotify has been rapidly expanding, acquiring a series of podcast networks and producers, including Gimlet Media and Parcast.

Although Netflix executives have stressed that they’re not eager to diversify beyond their core business of streaming, some podcast producers are hoping the company could still emerge as a bigger financial backer for audio creatives.

“It’s exciting to see more buyers of original content in the audio space,” said Marissa Hurwitz, an agent in WME’s digital department, referring to Netflix. Hurwitz represents many podcast producers.

The audio push builds on Netflix’s existing library of about 30 podcasts, which are primarily tied to the promotion of popular TV shows and movies such as “The Crown” and “The Irishman.” The streamer even has a podcast for its jobs page, called “We Are Netflix,” that features employee accounts about life at the company.

The most popular podcasts so far are spinoffs such as “You Can’t Make This Up,” which digs into the real stories behind Netflix’s true crime films and series; and “Okay, Now Listen,” a biweekly podcast under the company’s Strong Black Lead brand hosted by Scottie Beam and Sylvia Obell. The show covers a wide range of topics, from colorism to body image.

So far, Netflix has used mostly outside producers to make its podcasts, and it taking pitches for new show ideas, several people familiar with the matter said.

The investment in audio can pay dividends. Podcasts can be an effective way to build marketing buzz for shows. About 80 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly, up 17% from last year, according to a survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Netflix’s rivals have similar efforts around promotional podcasts. Earlier this year, Apple TV+ launched a companion podcast for its series “For All Mankind” featuring discussions with people who work on the show. Last year, TNT and podcast studio Cadence13 launched “Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia,” a companion to the TV series “I Am the Night.”

Podcasts have become a popular way for creators to inexpensively test out ideas, creating new intellectual property that can later be developed into TV shows or movies. Such audio programs include the Gimlet Media thriller “Homecoming,” that later became a series on Amazon Prime Video starring Julia Roberts; and the L.A. Times true crime podcast “Dirty John,” which was made into a show on Bravo.

“A big priority for many buyers, including Netflix, is incubating IP,” Hurwitz said.

Netflix hasn’t diversified its business areas beyond its core streaming platform, although it has dabbled in merchandise, consumer products and publishing, according to Bloomberg.

The company also has been turning its hit shows like “Stranger Things” into video games. Like podcasts, these efforts have largely been a marketing effort to drive attention to shows and films, but they raise the potential for future revenue streams.

For now, podcasts sit firmly within Netflix’s marketing division. Netflix has been advertising for a head of audio and podcasts since at least March, someone who can shape “the vision and implementation for Netflix’s growth in the podcast space,” according to a posting online.

The person would lead and shape Netflix’s podcast strategy and negotiate and manage contracts with outside partners and agencies as well as manage a departmental budget and a small team of internal podcast producers and experts, according to the post.

So far, Netflix podcasts are available via Apple and Spotify, among other platforms. However, Netflix has been testing an audio-only function, according to reports, and has been surveying the creation of a new online space where it would share podcasts and other additional content, according to technology report Protocol. Netflix has declined to comment on those reports.