Why Marvel has turned to podcasts to tell new superhero stories

MidRoll's Wolverine Podcast

The commercialization of the podcast world is on the rise, with the exponential growth in listenership that has attracted the attention of many brands in recent years.

Marvel has seen a real opportunity as this space has grown,” explains Amy Fitzgibbons, chief marketing officer for podcast network Midroll Media, which has released the comic book company’s first foray into audio scripted content through podcast.

Wolverine: The Long Night, was released episodically earlier this month, and sees Marvel becoming the latest major company to court the burgeoning audience that is turning to podcasts, as are advertisers in growing numbers.

According to figures released by Edison Research, podcasting is growing, with 64% of over 12-year-olds in America familiar with podcasts. Monthly online listenership in the country is growing as well, as a result in the emergence of platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Stitcher and Audible, with a rise estimated from 67 million in 2017 to 73 million in 2018.

The Wolverine series is being released via parent company Scripps through its digital audio platform, Stitcher, which claims to provide access to over 65,000 pieces of audio including Midroll Media network content such as EarWolf which produces the hugely popular How Did This Get Made show and StarTalk Radio with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

“More and more brands are coming in and seeing a way to meet a new audience in a different way and extend their brand. We started talking to Marvel about a year-and-a-half ago in terms of doing the deal and writing the scripts and then the production. It’s been in the works for a while and they have this new media division which has goals and responsibilities around finding new platforms to extend the brand,” Fitzgibbons reveals while speaking to The Drum on the week of release for the Marvel series.

“It’s an entire Stitcher production,” she adds, explaining that Marvel was represented through an executive and an assistant producer to work alongside the team creating the series. “It’s been a real joint process. We have a producer on our end to help with all the editing and we have a casting director and Marvel has approved everything and it’s been a real team effort there. They defer to us for what people need and like from podcasts and we defer to them for what people need and like from Marvel, so it’s been a good relationship."

It’s not the first piece of scripted content by the company, which is seeing growth in its branded content offering, although this is its highest profile to date. “Scripted content is relatively new, especially at this level,” she admits. “There have been a few others out there. We have not done a lot of fiction-based stuff outside of this and it was an opportunity for Stitcher to think about what other kinds of scripted content we could do and make successful either with a brand or on our own. With scripted content you still need the big actors or the big brands with it as it is very expensive to produce so you need to know that the revenue is going to come in, but more and more brands are going to see the opportunity.”

Brands who have a history of working with Midroll Media have included Wendy’s, Dunkin' Donuts, FedEx and Squarespace – one of the early adopters of podcast advertising.

Fitzgibbons, the former American Express marketer who made the move to her current role nine months ago, agrees that this partnership with Marvel will be used as a very powerful calling card when it comes to the company’s drive to create more branded content with big name brands.

“We have brands coming to us and that is the nice thing. Not every brand and every person who wants to do a podcast will be successful – it’s an audience that is very specific in what they like and what they don’t. You can’t just take any famous person and put them in a podcast. We have had some successes and some failures doing that – so we have learned the hard way too.”

Coming down the line are a number of documentary and non-fiction shows, while recently in production was a fictional series by Alison Raskin, the screenwriter with a highly popular YouTube channel, which is set to be released in June, Fitzgibbons reveals.

Although this is Marvel's first scripted foray in podcasting, it is not entirely new to the scene with regular news, interviews and behind-the-scenes podcast, such as; This Week in Marvel, The Mighty Marvel Podcast and Women of Marvel.

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