Amid Podcasting Frenzy, Endeavor Bets on Star-Powered Audio Slate

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Endeavor Audio has released just two podcasts since its launch last fall, but both quickly attracted an audience. 

Scripted series Blackout, starring Rami Malek, built to No. 2 on Apple Podcasts' chart in the week following its March 19 debut, and The Bellas Podcast, hosted by former WWE wrestlers Brie and Nikki Bella, shot to No. 1 the day after its March 26 release. 

The two vastly different projects represent the scope of the ambition within Endeavor Audio, the podcasting division of Ari Emanuel's entertainment firm. "We're really proud of those two projects, and both capture what we set out to do in terms of our slate," says general manager Moses Soyoola. "We see an opportunity to create formats, the kind of which exist in TV and film, and translate that to audio."

Soyoola joined Endeavor last year from Panoply Media to build out a team that could develop, produce, distribute, market and monetize audio stories. His team includes marketing head Lisa LaCour and content head Dave Easton, a former Fox Sports producer.

Endeavor's podcast push comes amid a boom in the industry as Hollywood has raced to adapt projects, like Homecoming and Dirty John, that drew big audio audiences. Meanwhile, Spotify in February plunked down more than $300 million to buy audio startups Gimlet Media and Anchor. In this podcast frenzy, new shows are dropping nearly every day as companies seek their slice of a growing market, one expected to generate sales topping $650 million by 2020. Soyoola acknowledges the competition. "Our value as a company is our ability to creatively develop alongside our partners and help them make the content that's going to be the best fit for audio," he says.

The group's audio expertise was part of the appeal for Blackout producer QCode. The podcast startup, launched by former CAA agent Rob Herting in collaboration with Automatik and Grandview, already had Malek and creator Scott Conroy attached. Endeavor Audio helped with the logistics of putting the podcast together. "We were very new to the space, hadn't yet made a podcast," says Herting. "There was a shared vision. They were big believers in the ability to tell an event fiction podcast." 

Endeavor Audio also lent marketing muscle to the project, putting up billboards in Hollywood and launching a social campaign that helped Blackout stay among the top 10 shows on Apple Podcasts for about one month following its premiere. Discussions are now underway about adapting the thriller for television.

The Bellas Podcast, meanwhile, came out of the twin sisters' desire to talk to their fans in a direct, unfiltered way. The Total Bellas stars began conversations to Endeavor Audio in November and quickly settled on a format that would blend the talk and game show formats. Each week, episodes feature segments like Matchup of the Week, where the Bellas debate a topic and fans can vote for the winner via social media, or Bella Army Q&A, where they take questions from listeners. 

"There's been this different voice on social media since our podcast, compared to our WWE audience and our E! audience," notes Brie. Her sister, Nikki, adds, "We have a base of authenticity and connection. It was very important that when we started this podcast, we would bring in that connection to the social media world." 

Endeavor Audio has multiple projects in the works, including a show that will explore the life of rapper Meek Mill and his fight for exoneration. The project hails from Intellectual Property Corp., which is currently producing a docuseries on the subject with Roc Nation for Amazon.

Dick Wolf also is producing shows for Endeavor Audio that are currently slated for a fall release. Other projects in development include the first series in a multi-podcast collaboration with Matt Appeal, which will debut in June, and a game show, Factorious, with Chopped creator Keller/Noll. In all, Soyoola says he's got around a dozen projects in development. The approach, he explains, is to always have a new show ready to serve Endeavor Audio's key audience groups, which include black and Latino listeners and younger listeners in the 16-to-24 age group.

"We want to make sure we have a critical mass of content attending to those verticals at any given time," he says. "For example, we want to make sure when we launch content for black audiences, that we have something to follow it up pretty shortly after so we can keep those audiences engaged and keep the advertisers that are interested in those audiences engaged." 

Soyoola says projects like Blackout and The Bellas are helping generate interest among potential partners. "Podcasts don't have to be what they thought podcasts were," he says. "They don't have to be a public radio, investigative type of show. They don't have to be an unformatted talk show. They can be all these different genres and formats. When people hear that, then they're like, ‘oh, now I have got some ideas of what to develop in this space.' It gets the wheels turning."

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.