‘The News Agents’ Producer Persephonica Signs With WME, Preps Slavery Podcast & Sets Sights Stateside09/11/2023
EXCLUSIVE: Persephonica, the producer behind hit daily news podcast The News Agents, has signed with WME in a bid to win more work across the pond.
The indie founded by Brexitcast creator Dino Sofos is also forging a podcast about slavery reparations, in which a former BBC World News anchor whose ancestors were slaveowners heads on a journey with a Labour politician whose ancestors were most likely enslaved by the journalist’s.
Alongside this new untitled podcast, Persephonica is developing a “big slate of shows,” according to Sofos, and has signed with WME’s Alex Bewley, who also reps Gary Lineker’s The Rest is Politics indie Goalhanger.
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“Pushing into America is a big thing for us,” Sofos told Deadline. “It’s really important in this industry to have someone like Alex with their finger on the pulse in terms of commissioning and gaps in the market, and linking us with WME talent in the U.S. is exciting.”
Persephonica has already started this work by launching a U.S. spinoff of The News Agents – the show helmed by former BBC heavyweights Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel and co-produced with Global that is now the most-listened-to daily podcast in the UK. Persephonica’s chat podcast Dua Lipa: At Your Service, meanwhile, picks up most of its listens in the States, according to Sofos.
“When we have meetings with people in LA we say we produce At Your Service and this is really well received,” he added. “That has been a bit of a calling card for us in America.”
Persephonica was only launched two years ago but is developing speedily in a podcast market that has shifted enormously over the past few years, Sofos went on to say.
“The industry looks completely different now,” he added. “When we launched, streamers and media organizations were paying huge fees to talent and that has completely disappeared. Even advances don’t really exist anymore. Very specific shows are getting commissioned and it’s tough out there, which is why creating our own IP is so important.”
Persephonica is working with the University of West Indies on a podcast about slavery reparations, its first limited series.
Having already apologized for her family’s actions and pledged £100,000 ($125,000) to the reparations cause, journalist Laura Trevelyan – the descendant of one of Britain’s most prominent slave-owners – and Labour’s Clive Lewis will head on a personal journey of reckoning to the Caribbean and then back to the UK to explore the impact of slavery. The idea was sparked following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 but the fight for reparatory justice is centuries-old. When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, slave-owning families were handed huge payouts for their lost ‘property,’ while the people who had to grapple with their newly granted ‘freedom’ have been considering and fighting for justice ever since.
Trevelyan and Lewis will speak to influential people in the fight for reparatory justice both in the Caribbean and the UK, Sofos explained, including Lewis’ dad, who lives in Grenada. The podcast will also explore less-considered consequences of the reparations debate such as the impact on climate change in the Caribbean.
“We will have to see where this all goes,” added Sofos. “We will press record on the tape and interesting conversations will emerge around what people in the reparations movement want. Clive has a lifelong understanding of this and his role as a politician allows him to move the conversation forward.”
The pod is Persephonica’s first limited series but Sofos is already thinking about how it can fit within a broader umbrella strand.
“The audio industry has got itself into a bit of a pickle by basing whole slates on limited series, which are hugely expensive,” he explained. “It would be rare for us to say ‘Here are six episodes, bye.’ We are constantly thinking about ‘always on’ shows or recurring series.”
Another soon-to-launch ‘always on’ offering is the political economy chat show featuring two former Chancellors from opposite sides of the political divide, the Tory’s George Osborne and Labour’s Ed Balls
Sofos revealed this show will be called Political Currency, going toe-to-toe with big hits in the current market such as Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s The Rest is Politics.
Talent will set Political Currency apart from its competitors, Sofos said. “I think there is a big gap in the podcast market for ‘politics meets economics’,” he added. “Listeners will be able to hear from people who’ve made decisions about finances that are still having repercussions today. We will not shy away from those conversations.”
Podcasts such as Political Currency, The Rest is Politics and The Rest is History are dominated by older white men but Sofos rejected the notion that his indie is failing to tackle diversity and pointed to Persephonica’s broader slate, while talking up its soon-to-launch headquarters in the northern city of Sheffield.
In time, Sofos wants the majority of Persephonica’s podcasts to be produced from outside the capital. “What I am picking up during this cost-of-living crisis is that not all young producers can afford to be based in London,” he added. “Levelling up the audio industry is a primay focus for us. We want to break ground there.”
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