“We make a lot of pilots, as any podcasting shop does,” says Panoply chief content officer Andy Bowers, “and often, the public never gets to hear them.” An experiment launched by Panoply yesterday lifts the veil a bit on the process, allowing its podcast listeners to play the part of studio execs determining the long-term prospects of pilots that are trot out before them in hopes of a full season pick-up.
“This is something we’ve been thinking about for quite a while, probably for about two years,” said Bowers of the project now being realized. Called the Panoply Pilot Project, the three-week long endeavor features four podcast pilots that could all potentially be turned into full-season series.
The hopefuls include: Family Ghosts, a podcast hosted by Sam Dingman that looks into the story of mysterious family figures; By The Book, a podcast hosted by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer in which they follow the advice of self-help books in an attempt to discover the usefulness of the advice; The Awkward Family Podcast, a podcast hosted by SuChin Pak and Mike Bender that goes behind the scenes of famously awkward family photos; and Dirty Tackle, a podcast hosted by Brooks Peck, Ryan Bailey and “Theo Messi” on all things soccer.
Half of the pilots chosen as part of the projects were conceptualized and created by Panoply’s own staff. “We wanted to keep it internal as much as we could to give some of our really talented producers a chance to explore ideas that they’ve had,” said Bowers. Taken together, the four represent a mix of styles that include narrative and interview formats, which Bowers thought would work well for this project.
“These are ones we thought really deserved to be heard,” says Bowers of the quartet, which, because they were created for an external audience, have a higher production value than a pilot created for Panoply eyes only. “If nothing else, they’re four really interesting episode that will now be heard by the public.”
All four pilots can be accessed on the project page, and listeners can vote on whether or not they would like to see the pilot turn into something more than a one-off, with an option to provide specific feedback in addition to a yes, no, and a yes, but… vote. They are also available on iTunes, which joins the project as a partner to help Panoply monitor subscribers and downloads, as well as provide a platform for additional comments.
While audience interest will not be the sole determinant of whether any or all of the shows make it past the pilot stage, “it will be an important one,” says Bowers. Other factors include cost, the relative ease or difficulty of filling out the content of a full season, and well as staff input. “Ultimately it will come down to: do we think this show will be a success? The audience reaction is a very big part of determining that.”
The experiment is not only about factoring in audience interest to help determine the fate of a proposed podcast, but in finding out just how much audience enthusiasm there is around participating in something like this. “We’re looking at how many people actually do engage and whether it’s a useful way to help us determine what makes a good podcast,” says Bowers. If it works, it might not be just the podcasts that make it out of the pilot stage.