How new voices, formats and stories will shape France’s growing podcasting scene
Charlotte Pudlowski says women are playing prominent roles in podcasting in France — and there are more voices waiting to be heard.
Editor’s note: Charlotte Pudlowski is the co-founder of the French podcast studio Louie Media, a podcast host and producer, and a member of the Google Podcasts creator program Advisory Committee. Here, she shares some of her observations of the podcasting scene in France.
The Google Podcasts creator program aims to bring female perspective, less-heard accents, and other underrepresented voices into podcasting’s mainstream. If you’re a podcaster (or aspiring podcaster) who has what it takes to create something you see missing from the podcasting landscape in France or in another region or community, don’t miss your chance to apply for a spot in the next round. Selected teams will receive intensive training, mentorship and funding to develop their shows.
PRX: Tell us about the podcasting scene in France as you see it. What trends are you paying most attention to right now?
Charlotte: Podcasting in France is a different market from the U.S.: French public radio is very strong, high quality and very well distributed, so the urge to create podcasts may have taken a little longer to emerge. The French podcast market is also less structured. There are fewer players, it’s more recent, and it’s less advanced in terms of VC pouring money in. But brands are starting to pay a lot of attention, and money is starting to come in in a very serious way. All topics are in the spotlight right now: from feminism and gender podcasts, to food podcasts and sports, podcasters are starting to tackle everything. Narrative, highly produced podcasts are still rare though, since they require a lot more money. And we’re looking at what starts to appear in terms of fiction. We don’t have our own Homecoming yet!
According to this recent article from the Bello Collective, more than 80% of the podcast studios founded in France in the last three years are owned by women or have at least one female founder, and 35% of the top 200 podcasts on France’s Apple Podcast charts are produced or hosted by women, compared to just 10% in the US. Why do you think women are so strongly represented in French podcasting?
I think men have had all the power in mainstream media (even though 2019 has been a year of change in French media) and podcasts appeared at the same time as a new wave of feminism started to spread in France: in the aftermath of the DSK case, in which Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a famous and praised French politician, was accused of sexual assault and attempted rape, or the echo of the American #MeToo movement, among other things. I think they have been a new channel to express new ideas.
Besides the French context, I think podcasts in general are a more comfortable way for women to express ideas. We’re always brought back to our bodies, and to how we look. Podcasts, as they are not a visual medium, prevent us from this pitfall. We’re often mansplained, manterrupted; speech is frequently confiscated from women–podcasts enable us to speak more freely, in a format deprived of traditional constraints. But also: there is less money right now in France in podcasts than in other more established media, and where there is less money there are always more women. As the industry grows, more and more men are filling the room.
Do you hear from many people who are interested in getting into podcasting? What advice do you give them?
So, so many people want to! We tell them exactly what we heard from American heads of podcast studios, like Alex Blumberg and Jenna Weiss Berman, when my associate Mélissa Bounoua and I went to the U.S. to meet them: “Go ahead, there’s plenty of room, we’re not even close to beginning to have explored the field.” And we tell people to try and find new forms, new formats, new ways of telling stories. We hope for the podcast industry to be as rich and diverse as movies, television or literature.
Whose voices still aren’t being heard? What content do you want to see, either produced by Louie Media or by someone else?
At Louie, we try and find as many new voices as we can, in terms of age, race, and social backgrounds. And I think the latter is one of the most difficult ones, especially in podcasting. In France, there is a lot of discrimination against accents that aren’t Parisian accents. So we rarely hear voices from the South or the North of France in the media. The school system in France is also such that being at ease with public speaking and expressing ideas orally are often skills bestowed on privileged people. We’re trying to find ideas to be part of the solution and not the problem.
We hope for the podcast industry to be as rich and diverse as movies, television or literature.
What styles or formats have you been experimenting with?
People love to hear intimate stories that help understand the world better. We have one show called Entre (“Enter”) in which I interviewed an amazing 11-year-old girl every week or so during her first year of middle school. And every week she would talk about what it’s like to be leaving childhood, to grow up. She suffered from bullying and a death happened in her family, so it was a very intense year, and very moving to hear her evolve and grow up. We’re now preparing Season 2 with an 18-year-old teenager. We also have a show called Emotions, inspired by Invisibilia, in which we try and explain and understand why we feel what we feel.
What are you still eager to try and are there any limits based on what you know about French culture or appetite from the audience?
We’re hoping to launch new ones that we think will be successes, but we’re keeping them secret for now! I don’t think there are topics that can’t be handled though. I just think you have to find the right formats and storytelling for the topic you want to deal with.
Are there audio traditions specific to France that have influenced your work?
At Louie Media, we’ve been hugely influenced by both American storytelling (This American Life and Invisibilia for instance) and French public radio. Radio France is more focused on panel discussions: for instance, one of the oldest and most famous radio shows that’s been going on for more than 60 years is Le Masque et la Plume (“The Mask and the Feather”) a cultural discussion where critics discuss movies, books or plays every Sunday night. In 2017, the podcast gathered 400,000 listeners per episode in addition to the 700,000 live listeners, and I’ve been among those listeners for 20 years. Every day on Radio France, including the weekend, you also find a lot of debates about news and hot topics, and a lot of discussions. French public radio has an amazing tradition of very high-quality content in terms of cultural transmission, and of tackling diverse ideas and concepts in a kind of recreational way. We try to combine this tradition and American storytelling in our podcasts.
What would you like the world to adapt from radio production or storytelling techniques from France?
I think France has a way of making real life heard more, both in terms of topics (for instance, documentaries about poverty, surrogacy, and France’s recent history that include hard facts and specialist interviews) and in terms of actual sounds. We have room for documentaries, such as France Culture’s LSD, which tackles topics like jihad, the history of the Rwandan genocide, or feminism in 4-episode series. Arte Radio (pioneer of podcasts in France) has produced amazing documentaries such as Poudreuse dans la Meuse, about how police and people deal with drugs in the Meuse department, which has the highest heroin consumption in France. French podcasts often have a different rhythm than the U.S., a different pace. Reality feels rawer in French radio.