In every episode of Mr Ballen, series host John Allen appears in the center of the frame, usually dressed in a plaid shirt with a few buttons undone and a backwards-facing baseball cap, and slowly talks to viewers about the events of a true crime “strange, dark and mysterious”. story. Episodes with titles like “What I Saw in My Room Still Haunts Me” and “The Real-Life ‘Ghost Ship’ Has a SECRET,” garner over 40 million monthly views – a massive volume that doesn’t still isn’t enough to put Allen in the upper echelon of YouTube influencers. But on a podcast? She’s a star.
Steven Cohen, the audio industry’s longtime business manager, was shocked when he delved into the stats for the podcast version of Mr Ballen, launched in February. The show “showed numbers that, honestly, coming from a reasonably large network, I had never seen,” he said. The edge. The opportunity was big enough that Cohen decided to quit his job as vice president of the Audacy-owned podcast network Cadence13 to join the independent true-crime show.
Cohen, who joined the company as head of sales in May, said July was on track to do the same. And yes, 7 million is less than 40 million. But 7 million monthly downloads put you at the top of Spotify and Apple’s podcast charts and plum CPM rates with advertisers YouTube can’t compete with.
The series has a few things going for it: the insatiable demand for real crime content; a pre-existing fanbase; and Allen’s radio voice. But Mr BallenThe success of is also indicative of the fusion that is occurring between YouTube and podcasting. YouTube is the #1 platform for podcasts (yes, above Spotify and Apple), according to Cumulus research, and with videos of podcast recordings now up to snuff, it’s becoming more and more difficult to distinguish exactly what is the difference between a podcast and a YouTube video.
Allen recognized the resemblance soon after the YouTube show launched in March 2020. “It’s a video podcast on YouTube. We don’t call it that, but it is what it is,” he said. “I really had no idea how to turn a YouTube channel into something else. I wanted to do a podcast but I just didn’t have the bandwidth.
He brought in a business manager, Nick Witters, built a sustained YouTube audience and expanded his staff. He finally launched his podcast two years later, and it didn’t take long to garner millions of plays. It also gave the brand more exposure, even though the podcasting raw numbers are lower than what they see on YouTube.
But just because the bar is lower in podcasting doesn’t mean it’s easier to get out. The podcast has a discovery problem, and the rankings are still dominated by long-running shows like The Joe Rogan Experience and my favorite murder. New hits tend to come from celebrities, like SmartLess with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett and The Always Sunny Podcast with Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney.
However, it is no longer enough to be an audio star. Apple Podcasts has hosted videos since 2005, with Daily TED Talks and Club Random with Bill Maher taking advantage of the feature. Spotify has some of its biggest stars like Rogan and call her daddyAlex Cooper publishes video podcasts, and the company recently announced that it is expanding the video podcast feature to six more countries, including France, Mexico, and Brazil. Audiences love having the video option, and Spotify and Apple have an interest in keeping YouTube away. Also, video clips are more shareable than audio clips – think call her daddythe viral “Unka Jahms” moment.
Mr Ballen, despite originating from YouTube, has yet to merge its video and audio operations. The podcast is still audio only and there are some differences between the episodes. YouTube videos tend to be shorter and scarier, while podcast episodes are more in-depth and cover true crime stories.
This divide will soon disappear. Cohen said “we’d like to find a way to make all of these things come together in the middle.” August 8, Mr Ballen is launching a new YouTube channel specifically designed to feature videos from podcast recordings.
And while other hit shows have spawned networks, like Pod Save America with Crooked Media and my favorite murder with Exactly Right, Allen and Cohen want to focus on the core product for now. “Before we expand, and maybe dilute what we have, we want to be very, very careful,” Cohen said. “We rock him very gently in bed every night, making sure he sleeps well, wakes up renewed and refreshed the next day.”