“Podcasts are the new comic books,” says Matt Lieber, cofounder of the podcasting network Gimlet Media. Like comics, podcasting has a propensity for creating valuable intellectual property that naturally lends itself to other, more lucrative media opportunities, from books to TV to movies to live events. And today, the medium has become the creative breeding ground for daring storytelling and unique personalities to find their footing, build an audience, and then seize larger Hollywood lucre. “Podcasting is relatively cheap,” which makes these shows ripe for adaptation, says Nick Quah, creator of the podcasting newsletter of record, Hot Pod. Media companies can also get a sense of a project’s popularity before making a major commitment.
Gimlet Media has been the most aggressive startup to propel its shows to new heights. Last year, its psychological thriller Homecoming, voiced by Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac, received a two-season order from Amazon Studios, with Julia Roberts now attached. The company’s first podcast, StartUp, about Gimlet’s early days, was plucked to be a sitcom for ABC; an episode of its cult-favorite show Reply All was optioned for a feature film. “What we’ve discovered is that these stories are elastic,” says Lieber. “They can have a life in other forms.”
Others are chasing the same opportunities. First Look Media is structured to be a one-stop shop. It distributes hit podcasts such as Missing Richard Simmons and has its own film-production arm. Crooked Media, which makes the breakout Obama-bros podcast Pod Save America, has toured internationally and is taking its blend of straight talk, humor, and activism to HBO this fall. Never has a medium designed for treadmill running and dish washing been so creatively vibrant and relevant.