Here’s Why So Many Podcasts Are Being Adapted for the Small Screen

'It’s not the medium that determines the outcome, it’s the talent'

Dirty John will air on Bravo later this month. - Credit by Jordin Althaus/Bravo
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Have you noticed how many podcasts are being turned into TV shows lately?

Content and talent jumping from one popular medium to the next isn’t anything new—books are turned into movies all the time, and YouTube stars are always on the hunt for record deals—so it’s no surprise, media experts say, that stories first developed for podcasts are getting new life in longform programming.

“It’s a very crowded field,” said Steve Miller, director of undergraduate studies in journalism and media at Rutgers University. “In order for a corporation to make its money, it better get a hit. If you already have a podcast that has a dedicated audience, why not turn it into a show?”

It’s a bet many are willing to make—and right now, there’s a long list of TV shows airing or about to air, that started out as podcasts, including Homecoming (on Amazon Prime), Dirty John (Bravo), Limetown (Facebook) and Alex, Inc. (which was on ABC, and based on Gimlet Media’s StartUp).

News podcasts like Today, Explained from Vox have also been expanded (it’s been turned into a show on Netflix which just got renewed for a second season) and The New York Times’ The Daily is supposedly being made into a series on FX.

“Any good, well produced idea can work in any format as long as people who produce these shows are doing their due diligence,” Miller said.

Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at Havas Media Group, agrees.

“It’s not the medium that determines the outcome, it’s the talent,” Kanefsky said.

Justin Bieber, for example, was discovered after he posted videos of himself singing as a young teen on YouTube. Podcasting, similarly, is a relatively inexpensive way, from a creator’s perspective, to test story lines and stand out from the crowd, he said.

Take the Dirty John series, an article and corresponding podcast series published by the Los Angeles Times, which highlighted a conman and the women he manipulated.

NBCUniversal thought it would hook viewers, said Bill McGoldrick, president, scripted content, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, in an email.

That series was adapted for a show on Bravo (premiering on linear TV later this month).

“Podcasts are a new and exciting place to search for material. Listening to a great podcast is a similar experience to reading a great novel,” McGoldrick said. “It activates the imagination in similar ways. But there are also things a TV adaptation can do to expand on a podcast or novel that hopefully enhances the experience for a broader audience.”

It helped that the story already had a significant amount of buzz after the article and podcast were posted from the LA Times and that gave NBCUniversal a good “head start,” McGoldrick said.

NBCU Cable Entertainment has plans to expand in this area, too, and has several other podcasts in development.

The percentage of Americans listening to podcasts has consistently increased over the years.

Of those above the age of 12 surveyed by the Pew Research Center this year, 44 percent said they had listened to a podcast, up 4 percentage points from the year prior.

“What we’re seeing is this interesting stratification of content that people are willing to pay for and, in many cases, takes them out of an ad-supported environment,” said Noah Mallin, managing partner and head of experience, content and sponsorship, Wavemaker.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.