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John McDermott and Mark Francis are the co-founders of Caloroga Shark Media — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability
This interview was first aired in the Podnews Weekly Review
JM: Caloroga Shark Media is an outgrowth of the Palace Intrigue podcast. So a few years back I was watching the Crown and I thought, oh, the Royal Family is a fun subject - there’s a lot of gossip. I wonder if there’s a daily podcast to be done here. But I sound like an American, and I didn’t want to host it. So I reached out to my old friend Mark, and I said if I write this, will you voice it?. There were predictable events coming: Prince Philip was 98; the Queen was 93 when we started. So you looked at the Royal Family and you thought that there’s going to be some pretty big Super Bowl level events coming at some point. So we started doing it. And then “Megsit” happened, and then they went on Netflix and then Harry wrote Spare, and this thing just totally grew and we kept talking about the short form format and how it’s great you can build a loyal audience. And we brainstormed some ideas and I paired up some of the things I was doing with some of the things Mark was doing, and Calaroga Shark Media was born.
MF: For the last few years I was at Diversion Audio as a co-founder there. We started a podcasting company, had a couple of hits with The Dream Team Tapes, The Royals of Malibu, Good Assassins, and prior to that John and I both worked at SiriusXM; my beginnings were terrestrial radio. My father was in radio in Australia so there’s a sixty-year long lineage there of audio history.
Something I had learned over the past three or four years, especially with the ad market as it is, was that we spent a lot of money building long-form shows and they came out great and they were beautiful shows and beautiful pieces of work and they won awards and everybody loved them. But in this market, and with the opportunities that we have at the moment, a short-form format, especially creating something that’s easy to make, doesn’t require a lot of talent fees or writing fees. They were just a much better return on investment.
SS: With daily podcasts, most people make half an hour to get three ads in. So why 15 minutes?
JM: When I started Daily Comedy News, I set out to do five minutes and it quickly became 10 and quickly became 15. I’ve polled our listeners, and the feedback they’ve given me is whatever amount of news you have, do that much. That’s been my spirit animal, especially on the comedy podcast. Whatever’s there is there. If Will Smith smacks Chris Rock, that episode might be 22 minutes!
We’ve gotten into a rhythm for Palace Intrigue with gossipy stories at the top, something quirky, and then what in radio we used to call a ‘kicker’ towards the end. So that winds up being more seven, eight minutes, and the newer shows so far seems to be falling into that same kind of range, following the Palace Intrigue model.
MF: Half of our shows are unscripted, half of them now scripted. I think when you’re doing an unscripted show, 10 minutes is enough of me or you or John as one person speaking. Once you hit that 10 minute mark, you want guests and you want other things to make the show entertaining. So once you hit that 10 minute mark it becomes a lot more work exponentially. So keeping it short, keeping it simple, gives us the ability to make more.
SS: Now you’ve got quite a few shows - sixteen, I think, in your current slate. Give us a flavor of some of them.
JM: Sure. So Taylor Swift Today was a good bet. She had a pretty good summer and then the whole Travis Kelce thing happened: that was fortunate for us. You get lucky, sometimes with these things - you catch a little heat with the media. We’re doing one about Elon Musk, who’s a character - I’m hoping he notices it, gives us a retweet, that’d be nice - Hi, Elon! Ghost is a lot of fun. Mark has done so much work on this: I woke up one day and said “What if we did 31 ghost stories in 31 days, and then James Cridland will write about it in his newsletter and we got some attention for it. We’ll definitely do that again. And we also have Murder Weekly coming out and Romance Weekly and we’ve got a ton of ideas. It’s just a matter of making them all!
MF: We are two people, but taking on this short form kind of project allows us to make things without the guests, without the writing, without the talent, without the lawyers, without the marketing. We’ve both been in startups many times before and once it grows beyond the two people, it becomes very complicated and it becomes very time consuming. So, while it is the two of us right now, you can get a lot done, and we’re going through the process of building this company, building a library, building content, building a brand and a name, and right now we have that ability just to pump shows out.
SS: How do you monetise this? What’s your model?
JM: Loyal fans, putting out regular stuff, creating habits, being part of somebody’s daily routine: and if you put out enough episodes, you’ve got enough inventory. So, you have some spots and doing good live reads in the middle of it.
One of my big pet peeves are the people like “oh, we’ve got to pay the bills, here’s that annoying sponsor”.I never understood that mentality. We love sponsors. Please sponsor our shows. I will happily endorse what you’re asking me to endorse.
SS: Mark, you called it a startup. With startups, you’ve always got either external investment or you’ve got an exit strategy or an acquisition. What’s your plan?
MF: The plan is to grow, and we’re starting out small. We need to build our audience. We’re already profitable, in the sense that we don’t have a lot of expenses. We don’t have major people who have invested so far that we have to pay back. We’re starting from scratch, but we’re building all this on our own, with our own bandwidth. Our bandwidth has been our expense and our time: but if you can get through that and build something that becomes viable, sellable, we grow from there.
SS: So, Mark, what comes next?
MF: John has a mantra called “play the hits”, and that’s kind of a foundation for what we’re doing. We’re not in a position to do a lot of niche shows. We’re trying to appeal to a very broad audience. We’re producing shows that have broad appeal that will pull in the biggest audience. So that’s our goal.
SS: John, you’ve set a target audience for each show. Are you hitting those target audiences?
JM: Ghost has picked up over the 31 days. That has seen the nice growth graph that you would like to see. Palace is, in itself, a big show. Daily Comedy News is probably about a third to a half of that size, and the new ones they’ve been on about a month. We see the listeners go up every day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
SS: And finally - where is Calaroga? Is it a town in Australia that no one’s ever heard of?
MF: Close enough. It’s the street I grew up on in Adelaide, Australia.
SS: Gentlemen, lovely to see you and lovely to meet you both. Take care and good luck with it.
JM: Thank you very much.
MF: Thank you.
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