EXCLUSIVE: The Rest is Politics, The Rest is History and Political Currency have taken the British podcasting world by storm of late and one man connects them all – Alex Bewley.
The podcast supremo launched WME’s London digital department a decade ago and has pivoted over the past few years to focus almost solely on the audio format. The past year has seen his team’s methods seriously begin to bear fruit, with Bewley’s clients Goalhanger and Persephonica occupying a front row seat to the runaway success of informal political chatshows The News Agents and The Rest is Politics, which continue to dominate the weekly UK charts. The former is hosted by ex-BBC heavyweights Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel, taking an in-depth look at daily talking points in the world of current affairs, while the latter has seen the oddball pairing of former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell and former Conservative Party minister Rory Stewart seriously catch on. Political Currency, in which two former Chancellors from both sides of the political divide discuss economics, has just kicked off to strong ratings.
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“You spot trends to some degree but we could never have guessed the scale to which these shows have grown,” Bewley tells Deadline. “No one could have seen the success of The Rest is Politics coming, for example.”
Bewley’s WME team reps Gary Lineker’s Goalhanger and also Persephonica, the indies behind these shows. The News Agents creator Dino Sofos recently hailed him for having “his finger on the pulse in terms of commissioning and gaps in the market,” while Goalhanger founder Tony Pastor said his team has provided “superb support.”
When pressed on this new breed of shows’ gangbuster ratings, Bewley posits the hosts’ sparky talent alongside a growing consumer appetite for “edutainment,” pointing to the prolonged success of Rest is Politics predecessor The Rest is History on both sides of the pond.
“I hear that term more and more now,” he adds. “Data has shown that people want to listen to pods that will make them smarter and they will learn something from.”
There is more reason to be cheerful when producers examine the data showing elusive younger demographics getting on board with shows like The Rest is Politics, Bewley explains, with subject matter that has “historically been seen as a bit dry” taking off with 18-24 year olds and not just the more traditional 25-34 age range.
Bewley likens their runaway success to the way in which digital content creators – some of whom his team represents – can take off. “The scale at which they blow up is unimaginable,” he says. “And then it’s about us maximizing the opportunities for our clients so that they’re best placed to have creative control, own as much of the IP as possible and explore opportunities for the best possible partners.”
When it comes to WME digital, IP really is the name of the game. The 10-strong team based in LA, New York and London turns 20 next year. “WME lifer” Bewley set up the British arm a decade ago, having cut his teeth in the agency’s music department.
Back then, WME wanted to jump on the new generation of digital creatives making waves far away from traditional TV, mainly on YouTube, and Bewley was keeping a close eye on trends Stateside.
“Networks were investing in YouTube and we saw an opportunity to offer what we now offer clients in the podcasting space,” he adds. “The U.S. has always been one or two years ahead of the UK so we could talk to colleagues out there, give the UK a steer on what the market was doing and try to get parity on deals wherever possible.”
Several years on, he was almost solely focusing on podcasts, having made smash UK soccer pod The Football Ramble his first. Other hits include Idris and Sabrina Elba’s Coupledom and Dua Lipa: At Your Service.
Bewley continues to monitor happenings across the pond like clockwork.
“Pushing into the U.S. has to make sense for that particular podcast,” he explains. “On the news side it makes sense [to look to the U.S] with an election coming up. And our strategy around limited series is to really maximize the American part of them to drive a sale.”
More and more often, Bewley is now partnering with agents in the U.S. on particular clients to give them “boots on the ground” in the UK. “We’re not signing a podcast in Australia based on its business there, we want to use WME and Endeavor’s flywheel to grow that business in the U.S., UK and other areas.”
Bewley’s team is relatively unique in being completely open to whether it reps talent, shows or indies, and they are motivated by the drive for IP in a market that is slowly maturing. Producers like Sofos, who launched News Agents maker Persephonica last year, decided to run companies in part so that they could own the rights to their shows, and WME reps Persephonica, rather than its individual podcasts or talent.
“For us it’s never been a land grab, we really want to work with the partners where we can add value,” adds Bewley. “The best thing about podcasting is that it is a relatively new medium in which you can carve your own path. It’s one of the few mediums where someone can launch a show from scratch and it can go right to the top of the charts.”
Cross-promotion, adaptation for other mediums and social media are the name of the game in the short-to-medium term future, Bewley adds. He sees major opportunities in the live space, while he is encouraging clients to get social media involved far earlier in the production process and seek syndicated content deals to help monetize shows on platforms like Facebook and Snap.
“The social strategy comes right at the inception of the pod now,” he adds. “We are thinking about whether there is a window for it to go out on YouTube or whether we can clip segments for TikTok. This can play a major part in monetization.”
At present, his team is laser focused on “what we can be doing outside of podcasts, keeping up that audience engagement.”
“Going back to digital creators, we didn’t know what their lifespan was 10-to-12 years ago, and we can say the same for a podcaster,” he concludes. “So it’s our job to be thinking outside of the box for our clients, whether that be TV adaptations, large-scale touring or international literary adaptations. The opportunities are always big.”