The Art of the Podcast: An Interview with Neil Atkinson, The Anfield Wrap
DIGIT caught up with Neil Atkinson, host of The Anfield Wrap at Turing Fest 2019 to discuss the rise of the highly-popular podcast, the key to creating a successful product and why jumping on the bandwagon rarely works out.
“It’s a strange thing, really, because you never decide or think you’re going to become this ‘institution’, so to speak, but then here you are and it becomes a massive responsibility at times,” says Neil Atkinson, host of The Anfield Wrap podcast.
Atkinson took to the stage at Turing Fest 2019 to discuss the emphatic rise of one of the UK’s most popular podcasts. Since its launch in 2011, The Anfield Wrap has grown to become a shining example of the power of podcasts in the social media era.
The Anfield Wrap is more than just another football podcast, though. Through its own app, TAW Player, it provides video and editorial content and gives followers an opportunity to join in the conversation and engage with a flourishing global online community.
In the eight years since launch, The Anfield Wrap has branched out to offer content that explores Liverpool’s culture and heritage, politics and other topical subjects. 2015 saw podcast move to a paid monthly subscription model; which now boasts more than 12,000 subscribers and shows no sign of slowing down.
Podcasts are a global phenomenon which have changed the way we engage and interact with audio content. Data published by Ofcom last year showed that nearly six million adults now tune in to podcasts each week – those numbers have, more than likely, increased since the research publication.
Additionally, over the past five years, the number of weekly podcast listeners has almost doubled from 3.2 million in 2013 to 5.9 million in 2018. This increase spans a host of age groups, with the steepest growth among young adults aged between 15 and 24.
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The rise of The Anfield Wrap has, more or less, coincided with the increases highlighted by Ofcom. Speaking to DIGIT at Turing Fest, Atkinson explains that it isn’t all plain sailing in a world which has become increasingly saturated in podcasts and free content.
“I’m always pleased whenever I see something else that steps into the marketplace and charges for content,” Atkinson says. “Looking back to 2011 and having moved toward this model and been on this side of it, I truly believe that good work needs paying for.
“This is something that we, both as The Anfield Wrap and as content creators at large, need to ensure we protect as much as possible.”
Companies are increasingly moving toward paid-for content, which, although a frustrating barrier for many, Atkinson believes is the right direction to take. If you’re good at something, though, never do it for free, he insists.
Amid an ‘exposure’ era fuelled by social media influencers and free news content, taking a similar route to The Anfield Wrap is a bold move.
“What’s happening more and more is that people and companies have ended up where we have with charging for content,” he says. “Whether that’s off a donation model or a specific subscription method. We’ve seen this recently with the launch of the Athletic, as an example, and they’ve been doing what we have around writing in the US for a while.
“The Guardian, also on a donation model, is very pleased to say now that it pretty much breaks even and takes money. We’ve become trailblazers in this regard, I think, even though it was never our intention to be so.”
Podcasts are a dime-a-dozen today, with a myriad of news organisations providing content in this form. TV broadcasters, in particular, have pounced upon the popularity of podcasts and use them as a means to circulate additional material that complements their programming.
The benefits of podcasts for organisations are clear, Atkinson explains, and they have become a highly effective method through which to engage with audiences and. All too often, however, podcasts are strung together whimsically and don’t fully capitalise on the power or strength that they can offer – coming across instead as a cheap attempt to cash in on the latest ‘craze’.
“I think that all these major organisations having podcasts is hugely significant and shows their value as a medium. However, I do think that some don’t understand them and they perhaps feel as if they should have one and just do it because others are,” he remarks.
“There is an art to it,” Atkinson insists. “It sounds pretentious but it’s true. Podcasts require thought and I think at times you can end up just going along with it without thinking about the real fundamentals of what you’re aiming to do.”
Podcasts invite people into a conversation, he continues, and offer an entirely different experience to simply tuning into a radio station – they are an ‘opt-in’ for the listener.
“A lot of radio is just on in the background for people, you know? Now that’s not to say everyone but certainly a lot. Whereas, podcasts are an opt-in process,” he says. “What matters about that is that when you ask the audience to opt-in you bring them into the fold with the people who are actually recording it as well and you all become a part of it.”
This shared experience and the immersion that comes with podcasts brings more to the table than other forms of media. You’re in on the conversation, you’re there with them. This, in turn, helps cultivate the type of talkative, interactive community that The Anfield Wrap has built over the years.
Similarly, he adds, on a fundamental level, focusing on a topic or area that resonates with the audience is key to the success of building an online community and a successful podcast. In this case, the foundational subject is Liverpool Football Club and from therein, the content can blossom outward as time progresses.
“This is crucial and it’s where a lot of the top-down podcasts don’t get it really,” he says. “It’s a case of asking what story, or stories, are you going to be telling from this.
“From our perspective, it’s to tell the story of supporting Liverpool FC from within the heart of the city. All of the good podcasts that work have taken off because they were focused around something fundamental that was at the core of it all.”