Opportunities are growing in the not-yet-mature French podcast market

By Larry Kilman

American Graduate School

Paris, France

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The French news media companies La Croix and Ouest-France are very different: La Croix (The Cross), is a national, general-interest Roman Catholic newspaper, while Ouest-France (West France) is a regional covering the west of the country and France’s largest circulation print newspaper.

Though they are different, both, like news media everywhere, have similar experiences in their digital transformation. The two companies shared one aspect of this process — their development strategies for podcasts — in a recent INMA Webinar.

For traditional media in France, the podcast market is not mature, at least in terms of business models that produce significant revenue. But while revenue remains a future goal, podcasting is growing rapidly. Both companies are committed to investing to build new audiences, offer added value for subscribers, and build their digital portfolios to attract advertisers.

“Podcasts are a way for the press to renew itself and adapt to the habits of the new, ultra-connected generation,” said Edouard Reis Carona, deputy chief editor in charge of digital and innovation for the Ouest-France Group.

“Our traditional media is paper,” said Laurence Szabason Gilles, marketing manager for La Croix. “We, like all media, are seeking to develop digital, and we are seeking new audiences that are not reached either through print or through our site and digital content. There is a real opportunity to reach these news audiences with podcasts.”

La Croix, founded in 1880, consists of a daily newspaper, a weekly magazine, a monthly youth magazine, a national Web site, 11 weekly newsletters, international sites in English, Spanish and French, and events. Its print circulation is around 80,000 daily, mostly older readers, while it attracts 4.7 million online readers each month, with digital subscriptions modest but growing rapidly.

In print, Ouest-France is France’s largest circulating newspaper, with nearly 660,000 copies daily. Founded in 1944, Ouest France is part of a group that includes other regional papers across the country, specialized magazines, radio and television and numerous special interest and general Web sites. 

Both La Croix and Ouest-France began podcasting in December 2018.

Objectives and processes

For La Croix, the goal is four-fold, said Gilles said:

  • To repurpose existing content to add value.
  • To reach new audiences.
  • To increase the value of the subscription offering.
  • And, in the long term, to provide a new revenue stream. 

“For us, podcasts are a way to reach new audiences, with new offers, to extend the La Croix brand in a way that breaks through pre-conceived notions of the brand, thanks to this new vehicle,” she said. “Our audience, particularly our digital audience, is looking for new things in different formats. It is a more volatile audience than the print audience, and we have to offer different propositions to keep them interested.”

Laurence Szabason Gilles, marketing manager for La Croix, described the four podcast series the company has produced so far.
Laurence Szabason Gilles, marketing manager for La Croix, described the four podcast series the company has produced so far.

La Croix has developed four series of podcasts: two focusing on religious issues, one on the “behind the scenes” practices of journalism, and one a portrait the United States under former President Donald Trump. 

“There is a lot of experimentation with testing to see the reactions,” Gilles said. “We question our audience regularly and see what happens. In the long term, we will develop a new business, with a business plan, but this is not yet the case. It isn’t yet profitable, but it is an investment to increase our audience. We accept spending money for our objectives. It is a new area of expression of the La Croix brand.” 

Leadership at La Croix envisions future revenue from sponsorship, from host-read advertising, and from premium subscriptions, either podcasts only or a mixed digital offering, Gilles said.

For Ouest-France, the objectives are similar to those of La Croix, though not exactly the same:

  • To exploit a growing market.
  • To attract new audiences.
  • To enrich the editorial offer and create subscriber value.
  • To provide advertising agencies with audio inventory for multi-media campaigns.
  • To accelerate the digital transformation of the group’s radios by creating an audio space on the digital platform. 

“It is a product that attracts a loyal audience, including younger audiences,” Carona said. “It is a new source of advertising at a time when advertisers are leaving traditional media for digital. And it is a new format the responds to mobile news consumption, with less investment than video.”

As Ouest-France is a larger company than La Croix, so too are its podcast offerings. The company has produced 71 programmes with nearly 3,300 episodes on a wide-variety of topics, from sports to behind-the-scenes of journalism production to history and the environment.

Edouard Reis Carona, deputy chief editor in charge of digital and innovation at Ouest-France Group, described the company's five-step podcast process.
Edouard Reis Carona, deputy chief editor in charge of digital and innovation at Ouest-France Group, described the company's five-step podcast process.

Ouest-France’s podcast strategy follows a five-step process, Carona said: create an editorial proposal and appoint a team; find a technical solution, buy equipment and set up a studio; create the programmes and test them with the public; build a sufficient audience for testing revenue models; and develop a community of content producers to supplement what is produced by the newsroom. 

Podcast teams

Because podcasting has yet to produce significant revenue, both companies rely on small, dedicated editorial and production teams. 

At Ouest-France, the podcasting team, which produces three to four podcasts a day, consists of one producer and two journalists, though any journalist in its 600-strong newsroom can suggest ideas and contribute to podcasts. At La Croix, the dedicated team consists of three people, but also relies on the newsroom of 150 journalists. Both companies also use free-lancers, and provide training to staff to develop podcasting skills internally. 

Podcasts offer the newsroom new storytelling opportunities and a way to extend journalistic expertise into a new area, Carona said: “It is relatively easier for a traditional journalist to learn how to do it than going in front of a camera. It’s more natural for a traditional newsroom.”

“It all starts with editorial. Before thinking about marketing, before thinking about the business model, you have to first conceive content that is the most evocative of your brand and the most attractive to your audience.”

About Larry Kilman

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