It seems like everyone’s throwing their hat into the podcasting ring these days. With burgeoning podcast networks like Gimlet Media making their mark and juggernauts like NPR maintaining an influential stronghold on the medium, it’s no surprise that the corporate world has sought creative and intriguing ways to enter the field and stand out amidst tough competition.
New to the table is General Electric, who, in conjunction with Slate’s Panoply network (who now host Karina Longworth’s wonderful You Must Remember This), have produced The Message, a serialised drama combining modern technology with a good old alien mystery. GE’s involvement may rouse suspicions of the project being merely a thinly veiled advertisement for their work, but the first two episodes (now available on iTunes and their website) suggest a far more ambitious effort.
The message of the title is an unidentified transmission received over 70 years ago, the meaning of which now falls upon the lap of the encryption think-tank Cypher to untangle. All early signs point to it being the world’s first confirmed extra-terrestrial broadcast, but with that excitement comes a decades old curse and the fear of the unknown. Capturing this all in real time is podcaster Nicky Tomalin, whose journalistic intrigue balances out her fangirl enthusiasm.
As expected with such a strong team at the helm, The Message is meticulously produced, with a top notch voice cast that never feels too ‘actor-y’ (as much as I love The Black Tapes Podcast – copout cliff-hanger finale notwithstanding – it’s often guilty of this stilted performativity). Already, the ensemble have offered up a number of stand-out character moments, and it was a true delight to hear one member of the Cypher team introduce themselves with a note on their preferred gender neutral pronouns. The writing flows with the natural beats of every-day conversation, even as it delves into long and very academic information dumps. Fortunately, these are easy enough to understand if your cryptology needs brushing up on.
The podcast’s brevity remains a key strength. With each episode lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, the narrative is forced to remain streamlined and free of unnecessary padding. Of course, this will leave the listener wanting more, but that remains a preferable option to wanting less.
Time will tell whether GE’s foray into a more creative form of brand recognition will pay off for them, and how this will influence other such companies to experiment (check out the blog of ‘Nicky Tomalin’), but there’s immense potential in this early effort. It’s rare to see a narrative podcast get out of the starting block with such confidence in its aims and execution. The Message may help to sate the listener hungry for mystery with a sci-fi edge. Loving Limetown? Check in with this.