“The biggest joy of doing the podcast is that it’s essentially what I’ve been doing my entire career,” says Conan O’Brien, the late-night television talk show host who has become one of podcasting’s biggest converts and champions. In a cover story for Adweek, O’Brien admits he was initially “pretty dismissive” of hosting a podcast, but it was the prospect of doing live-read advertisements that made the medium more attractive to him.
“There are so many different ways now to be funny, and one shouldn’t be afraid of them. One should give them a shot and not be afraid of risk,” says O’Brien. “I think if my podcasts had been a failure and lasted just a couple of months, you probably wouldn’t even be asking me about it because the penalty for trying and losing is not that bad.”
O’Brien says he has been a fan of digging into old audio and film recordings housed at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York that featured the early broadcast hosts switching gears from host and comedian into pitchmen.
“It was fun to see Steve Allen interrupt the comedy for a second to do an ad. Because he was still Steve Allen, and sometimes he was being funny about it, and you could tell he didn’t really give a shit or he’s doing it in his way,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien’s own 28-year run on late-night television ended last year, and he tells Adweek that the decision to leave TV was made easier by having a podcast. “If I had no other outlet to be me and there was no way to reach people, I could see being more reluctant to step away,” he explains. “The podcast helped give me many ideas for other things I could be doing with my time that still allowed me to rant like a madman.”
The Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast gave rise to the podcast studio Team Coco. It led SiriusXM to strike a deal to buy Team Coco, including its flagship podcast and other digital media business. The five-year deal worth a reported $150 million will also see Team Coco staff collaborate on content for SiriusXM, including a new satellite radio channelset to debut by year-end
“It’s going to feature all kinds of different content, not just from the podcast, but from years and years of doing comedy. And there’s so much of it that would work well on the radio,” O’Brien says. He says the prospect of getting to do whatever he wanted with a satellite radio channel was one of the ways he determined that SiriusXM was the right home for his audio projects. That includes introducing his podcast into a different outlet that will help grow its reach.
“Sirius was interested in not hindering people’s ability to hear us; if anything, trying to help us figure out ways for more people to hear what we’re doing, for it to be more accessible,” he says. “So, people can still get the podcast the way they always did. But they can also, if they don’t even know what we’re up to, stumble across our channel at some point and maybe start laughing and we’ll get them that way.”
O’Brien says he did not set out to start a podcast empire, crediting his Team Coco team for seeing the opportunity. He says the shows that the studio gets behind are podcasts that he would want to listen to himself, like a podcast called The Weird Place that comedian Dana Carvey is creating with his sons.
A return to television is not in the immediate future, but O’Brien did say he was working on something with streaming service HBO Max. He tells Adweek that he is allowing things to “settle a little bit” before he figures out how that will all come together. “I do miss aspects of television, and I still have an itch for that,” he says.
Read the full interview HERE.