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Shonda Rhimes Begins Rolling Out iHeart Shows; GroupM Strikes Sponsorship Deal.

The wraps are coming off what has been a closely guarded plan for the alliance between the television hitmaker Shonda Rhimes and iHeartMedia. Rhimes-led Shondaland Audio last year formed a partnership with the iHeartPodcast Network, which will release its first three podcasts this month.

Rhimes is the creative force behind hit TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Private Practice, and Station 19 and that brings with it a level of interest by advertisers. GroupM has struck a sponsorship deal giving clients of its media investment network exclusive access to the entire slate of original podcasts.

“Shonda Rhimes is an absolute creative powerhouse and developing these first few shows together has indicated what a strong partnership iHeartMedia and Shondaland have formed with Shondaland Audio,” said Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartPodcast Network. “The breadth and depth of content that’s in progress as part of this partnership is unparalleled, and we’re thrilled to work beside the Shondaland team to bring Shonda’s unique storytelling magic to podcast listeners everywhere,” he said in the announcement.

The first Shondaland Audio podcasts include:

  • You Down? The show is hosted by four members of the all-Black, all-female comedy troupe known as Obama’s Other Daughters: Maame-Yaa Aforo, Ashley Holston, Yazmin Monet Watkins and Shakira Ja’nai Paye. The friends come together for laughs and brutal honesty in a talk-show style podcast. The group also executive produces, writes and stars in Comedy Central Digital series, and produces and performs under Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Network banner. It launches today (Aug. 11).

  • Criminalia. Veteran podcaster Holly Frey, who is the cohost of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, teams up with journalist and researcher Maria Trimarchi to ask the question, “What can we learn from the criminals and crimes of the past?” Criminalia is described as a “dark, yet playful look at historical true crime.” It debuts Aug. 18.

  • Go Ask Ali. This podcast is hosted by actress and New York Times best-selling author, Ali Wentworth who has become a comedic authority on wading through all the chaos that is modern life. In the show she speaks with doctors, experts and friends about issues facing women. It debuts Aug. 20.

Also announced were future shows that span a variety of genres and formats including: #Matter, a scripted drama will be written, produced and directed by Dylan and told through the lens of a reporter looking back at a case of police brutality; American Coup, a scripted series from TV writers Aaron Tracy and Andrew Lenchewski that explores the incredible, untold story of Edith Wilson, the woman who hijacked the Oval Office; and Black Girl Lost, a documentary-style podcast, produced by award-winning filmmaker and writer Dream Hampton and hosted by award-winning journalist Yesha Callahan, which looks at the complexities behind the growing numbers of missing Black women and girls.

Rhimes will oversee development of the Shondaland Audio slate with Chief Design and Digital Media Officer, Sandie Bailey, who will manage day-to-day operations.

“Podcasts allow for innovative and intimate storytelling and that’s exactly what this slate offers: deeply human stories through a range of genres and formats aimed to engage the varied and ever- growing podcast listenership,” said Bailey in a statement.

T-Mobile, Unilever Are First Sponsors

GroupM said it has already secured advertising commitments from T-Mobile and Unilever to support the shows in the Shondaland Audio portfolio. Susan Schiekofer, GroupM’s Chief Digital Investment Officer, said the partnership reinforces the ad agency’s priority to elevate investment in multicultural voices, audiences and programming talent. It also fits into GroupM’s Multicultural Marketplace, the unit that launched last month to help grow the list of Black and Hispanic media outlets that are part of its buys.

“We understood from the outset of these discussions at the end of last year how beneficial a deal like this could be for our clients,” said Schiekofer. “The unique slate-wide ownership position allows us to create custom integrations for clients across so many different opportunities. We’re looking forward to helping bring this audio slate to life.”

More Podcasts Tied To TV Shows Coming

The announcement brings Shondaland the furthest it has been in podcasting, but it’s not a newcomer to the medium. Three years ago, it launched its website and then brought its podcast into its fold. That podcast is Katie’s Crib, a bi-weekly podcast following “Scandal” and “Waitress” actress Katie Lowes.

Looking ahead, iHeart said that the alliance will see the launch of multiple companion podcasts for Shondaland’s ABC and Netflix television series, including “Bridgerton” for Netflix.

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