Interview with Wondery’s Hernan Lopez: Podcasting’s TV Savant.
Wondery’s better-than-most batting average at producing hits and the company leading the way in showing Hollywood how podcasts can make great TV or film content helped put CEO Hernan Lopez on the annual Most Powerful People in Podcasting list for 2020. Podcast News Daily caught up with him to talk to talk hitmaking, exclusivity, and the launch of Wondery’s first app.
Podcast News Daily: You’ve been one of the leaders for the industry in Los Angeles getting Hollywood to embrace what podcasters are doing, and in the process opening up new revenue streams for producers. Are those conversations different today that when Wondery launched in 2016?
Hernan Lopez: We are definitely having more of those today. We have 16 shows set up in TV development, four ordered to series. Conversations about television production have always been multi-layered -- sometimes they feel like a Rubik's cube, sometimes a melting ice cube -- but they are so rewarding when they go well. In the last year, COVID-imposed limitations to production have become a big part of the conversation.
PND: Wondery has had a great batting average in terms of producing “hit” podcasts. Is there something that tells you long before the first episode is recorded what you have in your hands?
Lopez: Thank you! We never know before the first episode is recorded, but one great indicator I've found is when I send out an early cut of episode one to friends or family and they proactively ask "when can I listen to episode two?".
PND: As someone who came to podcasting from TV, does that give you a different perspective of what a good podcast is? Or how to even define a hit?
Lopez: Yes; hits are truly only obvious in the rearview mirror, a year or more after they have been released.
PND: Any advice for podcasters about if or how they should think about their show in terms of opening film or TV production doors?Lopez: They should ask: who are the central characters in this story, and why should a listener care about them and about what happens to them?
PND: Wondery just launched its first app after previously relying on others for distribution. Why did you go that route – and how is it going?
Lopez: The app is going great. We are very happy with the engagement levels and the number of downloads barely a month after launch. But to be clear, the majority of our listening still comes from our traditional podcast partners.
PND: Lots more companies are looking at exclusive distribution deals. Where are you today on the idea of exclusivity?
Lopez: I think every owner of a podcast or collection of podcasts should make their own decisions. We have chosen to make all of our podcast titles widely available through every major listening platform, although some episodes are available early or exclusively on Wondery Plus.
PND: Wondery is one of the companies responsible for what true crime has become for podcasting. Has that run its course? And is there something else you see as the next hot genre?
Lopez: We never want to do a true crime story that doesn't have layers to it --- think of how Joe Exotic is very different, tonally and in other ways, from Dr. Death for example. And people would be surprised to hear only a quarter of our audience comes from true crime -- Business Wars, American History Tellers, Even The Rich, American Innovations, The Daily Smile and other ongoing shows bring most of our listeners.
PND: How has COVID-19 changed the way Wondery has done business in 2020?
Lopez: Obviously we have been recording all episodes remotely, and that has gone better than anyone would have expected. And from the get-go, we decided that putting our employees first was going to be of paramount importance, especially since through the pandemic we have hired people who have never had a chance to meet their colleagues in person. For instance, once it became obvious that schools were going to start the year as remote-only, we implemented an allowance for employees with kids in grade school. We also started to reimburse home broadband and mobile connections. And we made it a point to over-communicate.
PND: What else would you like readers to know?
Lopez: We're hiring! Right now (August 2020) we're looking for a Manager of TV/Film Development, an Associate Producer of Current Series, and a Sales Strategist/Planner. Go to wondery.com/careers to find out more.