This Pro issue is archived as a free sample for potential new subscribers. It was originally published on July 1, 2017.
CrimeCon, apparently the first-ever true crime fan convention, kicked off its inaugural edition earlier this month in Indianapolis. Molly Fitzpatrick wrote a great piece for The Ringer detailing some scenes from the convention floor, and there’s quite a bit in there that’s absolutely fascinating. Note, in particular, the mention of one Kevin Balfe and his company Red Seat Ventures, who were the producers of the convention. As Fitzpatrick listed in the piece, RSV is a digital media company — founded by Balfe and a few others, all former executives at The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s joint — whose portfolio of clients includes the likes of Blumhouse Productions, a fairly disruptive film company responsible for small but impactful horror fare like Get Out and The Purge, along with Colin Cowherd. I wrote about Red Seat Ventures for a Hot Pod Pro from last summer; Balfe’s brother, Chris, had presented at the Hivio conference last June, where he discussed RSV’s partnership with Blumhouse on a whole new podcast network. Both brothers work at RSV.
Podcasts, as you’d expect, was a heavily represented contingent at CrimeCon. True crime, of course, is a staple genre among podcasts, much as it is in just about every other media category. And while it has unambiguously served as one of the fundamental programming drivers of the space, I think I’ve always a little trouble writing about the genre. That comes from some amount of cultural snobbery on my part, sure — who am I kidding, though, I jammed pretty hard on HBO’s Mommy Dead and Dearest, damn — but I’m mostly operating from a position of wariness about the ethics and morality of it all — particularly, in the contemporary form that the genre adopts in the age where fan-creator interactions are more porous than they ever were before, and in the way that the original tragedy of the events in question tends to get lost in the heat of mystery machine.
Fitzpatrick has a whole chunk on it:
“These ‘new wave’ stories share a certain shift in tone — conflicted, self-examining, with a more adversarial relationship to law enforcement — but there is a structural difference as well. ‘Serial and Making a Murderer and The Jinx have opened up this other space where questions can remain unanswered for a while,’ said Robert Kolker, the author of Lost Girls, an account of the hunt for the still-unidentified Long Island serial killer and the lives of five sex workers who became his victims. ‘You can have a did-they-or-didn’t-they-do-it narrative, or a how-will-they-ever-get-caught narrative.’
And you can have a lot of amateur detectives popping up on social media to weigh in on the case. When I spoke to David Schmid, the English professor, he highlighted the ‘participatory’ nature of the more recent open-ended crime narratives. ‘They are implicitly or explicitly asking their audiences to get involved, to pursue the implications,’ he said. As Aphrodite Jones put it, ‘I get constant emails about the ‘Zodiac.’ For me, the most depressing lesson of the iPhone is that most people don’t care about the quality of their cultural inputs as much as I used to think. They do, however, care greatly about sharing culture with their friends (and strangers), and they value the convenience of consuming their culture, arguably to the point of addiction.”
It’s probably why, among all the crime stuff that’s out on the Podcast Charts, I find myself having a pretty strong soft spot for My Favorite Murder which, despite its tawdry title, is actually enterprise of empowerment.
Tracking First Look’s rollout of Topic.com…
Dubbed, according to The Hollywood Reporter, as the website for the “direct-to-consumer arm of First Look’s recently rebranded studio, Topic.” As I pointed out not too long ago, First Look Media had regrouped Missing Richard Simmons and Politically Re-active under the Topic umbrella. You can probably expect First Look, through Topic, to keep playing in the podcast space, presumably with Pineapple Street and Midroll through the Stitcher brand.
Meanwhile, on Inside Radio…
A Q&A with Alexis van de Wyer, CEO of AdsWizz, which launched a podcast ad marketplace platform called PodWave last year with National Public Media. Choice section:
Q: How are you working with podcasters and what do you think they can offer brands that is different from other forms of streaming audio?
A: I usually call them radio-on-demand. For me, that’s really the future of radio. You’re listening to your favorite radio content whenever you want, whatever you want to listen to. It is a way to really making radio content dynamic and on-demand. We provide streaming technologies, insertion technologies, the programmatic and the marketplace. So when someone downloads podcasts to start listening to a podcast you can first of all detect whether it’s a download for listening right away or later, which is important because some brands are only interested in advertising when the listener is going to listen to it right away. Others don’t really care depending on if it’s time sensitive or things like that. So first thing is being able to detect that and then being able to dynamically insert in every podcast. Then we have a marketplace that’s dedicated to podcasts. Where podcast buyers are connecting directly to that and podcast publishers, and then the entire stack of technologies and platforms that we have for music and streaming is also available in a slightly different fashion for podcasts.
That talk what is essentially a programmatic marketplace for podcast ads initially struck me as new, but as I looked back over all the reporting on the platform, it’s all there.
Generally speaking, I’m super wary about programmatic and podcasting — seems to me like the very technology that sets up an environment with nascent and emerging class of best practices to kneecap itself in terms of the value it provides. That said, I understand the appeal of programmatic for publishers and advertisers; it gives the former more theoretical volume and inventory, and it gives the latter more control and theoretical efficiency. But we live in a digital advertising world that’s been driven to the ground, quality-wise, by rampant and unchecked tendencies caused by excessive instrumentalization of programmatic ad tech, a world that turned out to be aggressively anti-consumer. Now, given NPM’s involvement, I trust there’s some amount of moderation and thoughtfulness going into it, and I’m generally reluctant to construct a critique based on the dismissal of an existence of a certain kind of technology, but I think it might behoove the industry to begin considering buying into some sort of industry trade group with the ability to exert influence over advertising quality assurance. That’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, probably, but I think it’s key.
Happy birthday, iPhone.
Lots of great retrospectives on the tenth anniversary of the damn thing that has taken over my life, but I particularly loved the one by Tyler Cowen on Bloomberg. My favorite part:
“For me, the most depressing lesson of the iPhone is that most people don’t care about the quality of their cultural inputs as much as I used to think. They do, however, care greatly about sharing culture with their friends (and strangers), and they value the convenience of consuming their culture, arguably to the point of addiction.
“A few decades ago, who would have thought that the world’s major technological innovation would lower the average sound quality of the music people listen to? Yet that has been the result of smartphones, and plenty of listeners don’t even use earbuds. People don’t seem to mind the quality, because their phones make listening to music much more convenient. You can also share music more easily with friends, say by building a Spotify list or putting a song on your Facebook page.”
The implications of this observation over mass media is fascinating. It suggests that primary cultural media, ten years from now, is more social networks and commodified media — and less ABC and NBC, which probably be forced to occupy the more rarified space of “luxury media goods.”