Streaming has made programmed radio broadcasting the cool kid in the room. It’s not like people are new to the radio industry; it’s been around (as we know it) since the 1920s. But streaming listeners can enjoy as much or as little of it on their own schedule as opposed to following a set radio format. The same goes for movie platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu.
But even with all of the music and movie streaming channels, there is an audience that has increased their interest in the storytelling community and podcasting for a black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) audience. We see it visually with how talk show hosts Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez evolved from jokes on Twitter to politics, fatherhood and single life, and random funny tales on “Desus & Mero,” which first aired on Viceland and then Showtime.
Then the duo jump right on their “Bodega Boys” Apple podcast to keep the conversation going audibly in a way that “Desus & Mero” may not. The same goes for “The Daily Show” viewers who tune in to hear comedian/talk show host Trevor Noah and screenwriter David Kibuuka on “The Trevor Noah Podcast.” While listeners have enjoyed hearing friendly banter about entertainment, politics, random funny news and interviews on these streaming platforms, there’s another lane that entertainers are taking advantage of: storytelling.
In 2017, Larenz Tate brought Chicago’s Bronzeville to life with a scripted audio drama, along with a cast full of the who’s who in voiceover actors: Laurence Fishburne, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Tracee Ellis Ross, Lance Reddick, Ella Joyce and plenty more. It went over so well that Season 2 was set to release in early 2020. (There has been no official word on the new release date.)
“The Michelle Obama Podcast” on Spotify doesn’t tell stories in the scripted way that “Bronzeville” does, but there are still plenty of storytelling moments, everything from how her parents reacted to her and her brother cutting up a box of cigarettes to a hard lesson she learned about cutting too deep in arguments with the 44th president.
Now here comes filmmaker Ava DuVernay to tell her own scripted tales through her independent arts company, ARRAY. According to an official press release from Spotify’s Newsroom, Spotify and DuVernay will produce exclusive scripted and unscripted original audio programming.
“Recognizing the undeniable power of voice and sound, I’m thrilled to extend ARRAY’s storytelling into the realm of podcasts,” DuVernay said in the release.
Anyone who has followed her career shouldn’t be surprised. She’s long challenged traditional ways to release entertainment, including in movie theaters—way before they shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“As filmmakers, what is our goal with film?” DuVernay asked in a New York Times interview. “For me, it’s telling a story meant to be seen by many people, not just the ones who have a movie theater near them and can afford to go. I mean, this stuff’s expensive! Fifteen bucks? You don’t care about real people seeing this.”
And she’s keeping her word regarding expenses because the stories from ARRAY will be free to listen to. Spotify currently has 144 million premium subscribers and 320 million monthly active users worldwide. And there is certainly an audience listening to podcasts. PodcastHosting.org reports that, as of January 2021, there are more than 1.75 million podcasts surpassing 43 million episodes across a multitude of platforms.
Will entertainers flocking to podcasts slow down the movie industry? Probably not. However, there have been slow openings for non-essential businesses in the latter part of 2020 and 2021. And some entertainment avenues just have not recovered in the same way. For example, Regal Movie Theaters closed all 536 of their U.S. movie theaters during the COVID-19 outbreak.
People are staying home more often, whether it’s voluntary or to avoid falling into dire statistics of more than 24 million COVID-19 infections and almost 405K deaths. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be entertained. So that leaves entertainers, filmmakers and podcasters an even wider audience to talk to on streaming platforms.