This TV podcast generates $4,000 a month on Patreon
Dutch TV’s Wie is de Mol has a rabid fanbase, and these podcasters capitalized on that fandom.
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If you had to pick a Dutch TV show to discuss on a weekly podcast, there are few better candidates than Wie is de Mol, which translates to “Who is the Mole?”
For one, the show is incredibly popular in the Netherlands, as reflected by the fact that it’s been renewed for 21 straight seasons. But even better, it’s perfectly designed for group discussion. The show pits 10 contestants against each other, requiring them to complete weekly challenges with cash prizes. Lurking among the 10 is the “mole,” a person who’s been assigned to secretly sabotage the group’s success. The mole’s identity isn’t revealed until the end of the season, so the audience essentially plays along with the contestants, trying to guess at his or her identity.
This is precisely why Elger van der Wel joined two of his friends to launch Trust Nobody, a podcast dedicated to Wie is de Mol. “It's something people can talk about for hours with each other,” he told me. “It’s the perfect podcast material.”
Elger didn’t come at the podcast medium as a total novice. He started his career working in both the digital and radio departments of a major Dutch public broadcaster. A few years ago he struck off on his own as a freelance consultant, helping clients build all things digital media, including podcasts.
Launching the podcast
The original idea for the Trust Nobody podcast came from Elger’s friend Mark Versteden, who works in radio. “At the end of 2016 we discussed the idea of starting a podcast over dinner and thought the Wie is de Mol? is a great subject to do a show about,” Elger said. “So when the new season started, we texted each other after the first episode: ‘We were going to do this podcast right?’ It was too late for that season, but we made the promise to do it the next year.”
Elger’s girlfriend Nelleke Gate House was a big fan of the show as well, and in January 2018 all three launched Trust Nobody to correspond with the debut of a new season.
Audience growth was slow and steady. They started with promoting it to their own social media followers, and it began to pick up word-of-mouth momentum as listeners recommended it to their friends. “We also got some media attention in print and radio thanks to getting interviewed as Wie is de Mol-experts,” Elger said. “When the TV show itself started a podcast the year after we started, they wanted to do a segment with fans and they asked us for an interview. This was the best attention we could get, because it's a podcast with the exact same subject, so we saw a big boost after that.” By the end of their first season, the podcast was receiving tens of thousands of downloads per week.
Building a paid membership
Elger and his cohosts didn’t launch a paid membership as an attempt to get rich off their newly-popular podcast, but they did want to generate enough revenue to make investing more time and energy into the show worthwhile. At the time, podcast advertising in the Netherlands was still nascent, but they’d noticed that some other Dutch podcasts had seen success with Patreon. They launched their own Patreon account to correspond with the podcast’s debut of its second season.
Trust Nobody’s Patreon tiers evolved over time, but in those early days listeners could subscribe at $1, $3, $6, or $10 a month. Prizes ranged from a simple shoutout on the show to a special notebook that the podcast hosts mailed out; listeners then used the notebook to jot down notes as they watched.
Some of these rewards proved more viable than others. For instance, one of the Patreon rewards involved the hosts recording a personalized audio message for each and every subscriber after a new episode aired. “It was fun for the first 20 subscribers we had,” said Elger. “But then it became 30, 40, 60 people, and it would take up to two hours of recording messages to the listeners after each show. After the first season we decided to stop that.”
Their most successful Patreon tier centered on user generated content. “We took an old phone, put a prepaid SIM card in it and said, ‘this is our hotline, and you can text us using WhatsApp.’” That quickly morphed into a call-in line where subscribers, after watching an episode of Wie is de Mol, would leave voice messages with their reactions. The podcasts hosts then selected the best voice messages and played them on the show. It created a perfect feedback loop in which the subscribers would help in producing the content for the podcast, and then newer listeners would rush to Patreon to subscribe so they could also submit their thoughts.
Once Trust Nobody reached a large enough audience size, it then became easy to lure actual contestants from Wie is de Mol onto the podcast. The hosts lock these interviews behind the Patreon paywall. “We were going to experiment with physical events and give patrons free tickets or first access to events, and then Covid happened,” said Elger. “We did one really small event for free with 30 people. We watched the final episode of the TV show in a big cinema, with 30 people spread out through the cinema.”
Growth of the Patreon has been swift. Within the first month, it was generating $1,000. “We grew even further to $2,000 that first year,” said Elger. Today, it pulls in just over $4,000 a month through Patreon.
While $4,000 a month is a nice side income, it’s not a full-time living when split between three hosts, especially since they pause credit card transactions in between seasons. But recently they’ve begun experimenting with ways to expand both the programming and revenue. “We started doing a show for the Belgium version of the TV show (called De Mol),” said Elger. They’ve also produced episodes that look back at older seasons of the show, which allows them to stretch out their content production in between new seasons.
The podcast advertising market in the Netherlands has also matured somewhat. “We just signed with the first big Dutch podcast network,” said Elger. “Next season we’ll be with them. We don’t know how much money it’ll make.” He still derives the majority of his income through freelance consulting, and it’s much easier for him to secure podcast clients now that he can point to a hit podcast of his own.
And while Patreon has produced some nice extra side income, Elger said that its biggest benefit has been the way it fosters engagement with his audience. The show has been made better by the user content and feedback submitted by the Patreon community. As Elger put it to me, “It made our biggest fans even bigger fans.”
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