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March 2017

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About Those Original Spotify Podcasts

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

This is Issue 109. Published February 28, 2017.

Hey folks — we got a ton of news to sort through. Let’s clip through, pew pew pew.

About Those Original Spotify Podcasts. The music streaming giant announced its initial* slate of original audio programming last week, somewhat validating the Digiday report from the week before about the company being in talks with various podcast companies — including Gimlet, How Stuff Works, and Pineapple Street Media — to partner up for that initiative.

* Initial, that is, if you don’t count Clarify, the tentative first English language original podcast that the company produced with Mic.com and Headcount.org.

According to the write-ups circulating last week, the three projects are: (1) “Showstopper,” a show looking back at key moments in television music supervision hosted by Fader editor-in-chief Naomi Zeichner that premiered last Thursday; (2) “Unpacked,” an interview show set in various music festivals around the United States that will drop on March 14; and (3) a yet-unnamed audio documentary about the life and times of the late music industry executive Chris Lighty, a seminal figure in hip-hop history. That last project will be released sometime April. For those wondering, it appears that Spotify is directly involved in the production of Showstopper and Unpacked, the former of which comes out of a partnership with Panoply. The Chris Lighty project, meanwhile, is produced by the Loud Speakers Network and Gimlet, with Spotify providing distribution and miscellaneous support.

It should also be noted that more Spotify Original projects are, apparently, on the way.

This news was extensively covered, but the integral question — namely, if the shows will live exclusively on Spotify, which one imagines would be central to the platform’s strategy with this — largely went unanswered. I reached out to the various parties involved in the arrangement, and here’s what I learned:

  • Showstopper and Unpacked will be distributed exclusively over Spotify for now, though it remains a possibility that they might be distributed over other platforms in the future. As Dossie McCraw, the company’s head of podcasts, told me over the phone yesterday, the plan is to concentrate effort on raising awareness of original podcast programming on the platform at this point in time. When contacted about Showstopper’s distribution, a Panoply spokesperson seems to corroborate this point. “At this point, we can’t speculate whether it’ll be on iTunes in the future,” she said.

  • The Chris Lighty project enjoys a different arrangement. Gimlet tells me that the podcast will not exclusively live on the Spotify platform, and that Spotify has what essentially amounts to an eight-week first dibs window: episodes will appear on other platforms (like iTunes) eight weeks after they originally appear on Spotify. The show will be released on a weekly basis, regardless of the platform through which they are distributed. Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber explained the decision: “One of our core goals is to increase the number of podcast listeners, and Spotify has a huge qualified audience that’s interested in this story of hip-hop and Chris Lighty.”

  • In our conversation yesterday, McCraw phrases Spotify’s upside opportunity for podcast publishers as follows: the platform’s user base, which he describes as being “music fans first,” serves as a potential audience pool that’s ripe for publishers to convert into new podcast listeners. (Echoing Lieber’s argument). McCraw further argues that Spotify is able to provide publishers with creative, marketing, and even production support — even to those that produce shows not exclusive to the platform. To illustrate this point, he refers to a recent arrangement with the audio drama Bronzeville which involved, among other things, a live event that the company hosted in New York. “Admittedly, we’re still growing the audience for podcast listening for audiences in the US,” he said, before positioning last week’s announcement as the company’s first big push to draw attention.

So, what does this all mean? How do we perceive this development, and more importantly, how does it connect with the windowing that’s being done with Stitcher Premium? Is this the real start of the so-called “platform wars” in the podcast ecosystem? What, truly, happened at the Oscars on Sunday night? (Was there a third envelope?) I’ll attend to that next week, because we’re not quite done yet with developments on this front. We have one more piece of the puzzle to account for. Watch this space.

Speaking of Gimlet…

Gimlet announces its spring slate. The returning shows are:

Science Vs, which will return for its second season under Gimlet management on March 9 and will stage its first live show on March 23 in Brooklyn;

StartUp, which will return for a ten-episode fifth season on April 14, and will see the show return to a weekly non-serialized format;

Surprisingly Awesome, which will return on April 17 and will feature a new host: Flora Lichtman, formerly of Science Friday and Bill Nye Saves The World. This new season is being described as a “relaunch.”

A coalition of podcast publishers are launching a podcast awareness campaign on March 1. The campaign, called “#TryPod,” is being shepherded by Izzi Smith, NPR’s senior director of promotion and audience development, and the coalition involves over 37 podcast publishers — ranging from WNYC to The Ringer to How Stuff Works.

AdWeek’s write-up has the details: “Hosts of podcasts produced by those participating partners will encourage their listeners to spread the word and get others turned on to podcasts. The campaign is accompanied by a social media component unified under the #trypod hashtag, which is already making the Twitter rounds ahead of the launch.”

The Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award announces this year’s winners. Impeccable timing, I’d say. They are:

The actual awards for each of these winners will be announced at this year’s ceremony, which will take place at WNYC’s Greene Space on March 28. An interesting way to do things, but cool nonetheless. Website for tickets and details.

Vox Media hires its first executive producer of audio: Nishat Kurwa, a former senior digital producer at APM’s Marketplace. A spokesperson tells me that Kurwa will be responsible for audio programming and development across all eight of the company’s editorial brands, which includes The Verge, Recode, Polygon, and Vox original recipe. She will move to New York from LA for the job, and will be reporting to Vox Media president Martin Moe.

I’ve written a bunch about Vox Media’s podcast operations before, and the thing that’s always stood out to me is the way in which its audio initiatives are currently spread out across several brands according to considerably different configurations. The production for Vox.com’s podcasts, for example, are being handled by Panoply, with those shows hosted on the Megaphone platform as a result. Meanwhile, Recode’s podcasts are supported by DGital Media with Art19 providing hosting, and that site still appears to be hunting for a dedicated executive producer of audio. The Verge, Polygon, Eater, Curbed and SB Nation — though not Racked, alas — all have various podcast products of their own, but they all appear to be produced, marketed, and distributed individually according to their own specific brand infrastructures.

Kurwa’s hiring suggests a formalization of those efforts across the board. What that will mean, specifically, remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if it involves a consolidation of partnerships, infrastructures, and branding. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that’s necessary.

Midroll announces the second edition of Now Hear This, its live podcast festival, which will take place on September 8-10. This year sees the company shift the festivities from Los Angeles to New York, which I’m told is largely a function of customer experience.

“[New York City] is an easy city for locals to commute in for the event and for out-of-towners to come for the weekend and easily get around. While our fans and performers loved Anaheim, it’s not always the easiest place to get to from the LA area. The fan experience continues to be our top priority,” Lex Friedman, Midroll’s Chief Revenue Officer told me. He also added that it was an opportunity to mitigate impressions of the festival as a west coast event. (And, I imagine, impressions of Midroll as a west coast company.)

Details on venues and performers will be released over the coming weeks. In the meantime, interested folk can reach out to the team over email, or get email alerts from the festival website, which also features peculiar videos of gently laughing people.

What lies ahead for APM’s On-Demand Strategy? Last month, I briefly mentioned APM’s hiring of Nathan Tobey as the organization’s newest director of on-demand and national cultural programming, which involves running the organization’s podcast division and two of its more successful cultural programs: The Dinner Party Download and The Splendid Table. Tobey’s recruitment fills a six-month gap left by Steve Nelson, who left APM to become NPR’s director of programming last summer. It was notable development, particularly for a network that wrapped 2016 with a hit podcast under its belt (In The Dark) and a bundle of new launches (The Hilarious World of Depression; Terrible, Thanks for Asking; Make Me Smart).

I traded emails with Tobey recently to ask about his new gig. Here are three things to know from the exchange:

(1) Tobey’s Role and Immediate Priorities.

“The title is a mouthful,” Tobey told me. “But it really consists of equal parts creativity facilitator, entrepreneur, and audience-development strategist.” He phrases his two immediate priorities as follows: the first is to invest in the future of the organization’s current podcast roster, and the second is to lay the foundation for APM’s on demand future, including content development, business planning, and team building.

(2) What defines an APM show?

“The basic traits are similar to some of our big public media peers — production craft and editorial standards you can count on, creative ambition to spare, plus a steady focus on addressing unmet needs, from making science fun for kids (Brains On!) to de-stigmatizing depression (The Hilarious World of Depression),” he said. “But really, the new shows we’ll be make will define what we stand for more than any slogan ever could – so I think the answer to your question will be a lot clearer in a year or two.”

(3) Potential collaborators are encouraged to pitch, regardless of where you are.

“Hot Pod readers: send me your pitches and ideas, and reach out anytime – with a collaborative possibility, or just to say hi. I’ll be in New York a lot in the coming years, and we’ve got an office in LA too, so don’t think you need to be out here in the Twin Cities (though you should totally come visit),” Tobey said. “We’ll be looking for podcast-focused talent of all kinds in the years to come – from producing to sponsorship to marketing – so be sure to check our job listings.

I dunno, man. Minneapolis and St. Paul are pretty great.

NPR’s Embedded returns with a three-episode mini-season. Dubbed a “special assignment,” all three episodes will all focus on a single,topic: police encounters caught on video, investigated from all sides.

Two things to note:

  • Embedded will enjoy some formal cross-channel promotion between podcast and broadcast. Shortened versions of the show’s reporting will be aired as segments on All Things Considered, and NPR is also partnering with WBUR’s morning news program On Point with Tom Ashbrook to produce on-air discussions of the episodes.

  • NPR seems to be building live event pushes for the show: host Kelly McEvers presented an excerpt from the upcoming mini-season at a Pop-Up Magazine showing in Los Angeles last week, and she is due to present a full episode at a live show on March 30, which will be held under the NPR Presents banner. Investigative journalism-as-live show, folks. I suppose it’s officially a thing.

I’m super excited about this — I thought the first season of Embedded was wonderful, and I’m in awe at McEvers’ capacity to lead the podcast in addition to her work as the co-host of NPR’s flagship news program, All Things Considered. (Personally, I can barely write a newsletter without passing out from exhaustion.)

Episodes of the mini-season will drop on March 9, 16, and 23.

Related: “NPR, WNYC, and Slate Explain Why They Are Betting on Live Events” (Mediafile)

RadioPublic formally pushes its playlist feature, which serves as one of its fundamental theses improving the ecosystem’s problems with discovery. The company’s playlist gambit is largely editorially driven and built on collaborations with publishers, with those collaborators serving as the primary manufacturers of playlists. A blog post notes that the company has been “working with industry leaders like the New York Times, Salon, The Huffington Post and PRX’s Radiotopia network.” (RadioPublic CEO Jake Shapiro, by the way, was formerly the CEO of PRX.)

We’ll see if the feature ends up being a meaningful driver of discovery on the platform — provided the platform is able to accrue a critical mass of users, of course — but I do find the discovery-by-playlist idea is intriguing. The moment immediately after an episode ends is a sphere of user experience that’s ripe for reconstruction, and I suspect that a playlist approach, which takes the search and choice burden off the listener to some extent, could serve that really well. Again, it all depends on RadioPublic’s ability to siphon users into that mode of consumption, so I reckon the only real way the playlist approach is able to be properly tested.

Following up last week’s item on Barstool Sports. It looks like the company’s podcast portfolio is being hosted on PodcastOne’s infrastructure, which isn’t measured by Podtrac. As such, it’s hard to accessible contextualize the company’s claims of 22 million monthly downloads against how other networks — particularly those measured by Podtrac, like NPR, This American Life, and HowStuffWorks — and therefore how it fares in comparison. Nonetheless, it’s a useful piece of information to have in your back pocket.

Related. After last week’s implosion of Milo Yiannopoulos, the now-former Breitbart editor and ostensibly conservative provocateur, PodcastOne appears to have terminated his podcast — which the network produced in partnership with Breitbart — and scrubbed any trace of it from iTunes and the network’s website.

DGital Media announces a partnership with Bill Bennett, a conservative pundit and Trump advisor, in the form of a weekly interview podcast that promises to take listeners “inside the Trump administration and explain what’s really going in Washington DC without the hysteria or the fake news in the mainstream media.” (Oy.) The first episode, which features Vice President Mike Pence, dropped last Thursday.

Interestingly enough, Bill Bennett now shares a podcast production partner with Recode and, perhaps most notably, Crooked Media, the decidedly progressive political media startup helmed by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett.

Related: Crooked Media continues to expand its podcast portfolio with its third show, “With Friends Like These,” an interview-driven podcast by political columnist Ana Marie Cox.

Bites. 

  • Hmm: “As it defines relationship with stations, NPR gains board approval for price hike.” Consider this a gradual shift in system incentives, one that anticipates potential decreases in federal support and further shifts in power relations between the public radio mothership and the vast, structurally-diverse universe of member stations. (Current)
  • And sticking with NPR for a second: their experiments with social audio off Facebook doesn’t seem to have yielded very much. (Curios)
  • This is interesting: “Progressive legislators turn to podcasts to spread message.” (The Missouri Times) It does seem to speak directly to the stuff I highlighted in my column about the ideological spread of podcasts from last summer, along with my piece for Vulture about the future of political podcasts.

Tuesday

31

January 2017

0

COMMENTS

Knight Foundation Report, Gimlet Cancels Undone, NYT Daily News Pod

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

The Knight Foundation has a new report out on podcasts, titled “From Airwaves to Earbuds: Lessons from Knight Investments in Digital Audio and Podcasting.” It was published last Thursday, and you can access it as a PDF or read it off Medium.

The report is the product of research done on the learnings gleaned from the various on-demand audio-related investments made by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — of which there are quite a few. Indeed, the foundation is strikingly ubiquitous as a funder of the space through programmatic grant support, particularly among projects that lie at the nexus of public media and podcasts. Among its beneficiaries are: Gimlet Media, RadioPublic, Radiotopia, and NPR One (originally called Project Carbon).

“It was clear to us that podcasting was beginning to meaningfully gain traction as a way to provide audiences with informative audio content,”  said Sam Gills, the foundation’s VP of Learning and Impact, when we spoke over the phone this week. “I believe that one of the more important things private philanthropy can do is to give risk capital to innovative ventures… We felt that’s the best thing we can do to support the field, and we hope that a lot of what we’ve learned can be useful to others entering the space.”

While the report’s focus on the foundation’s investments renders its scope somewhat limited, the issues that it ends up exploring is nonetheless pretty wide — and fairly comprehensive, I’d argue, as far as the key narratives of the space are concerned.

Longtime Hot Pod readers probably won’t be surprised by much of its findings. Among the salient issues discussed: diversity (still challenged), talent (the brain drain is real), finances (podcasting still doesn’t pay the bills for most independents and freelancers), technological infrastructure (still undercooked), data (still a mish-mash), and of course, talk of a podcasting bubble (yes and no, a respondent notes). But there are some genuine gems to be found in the details — a close read reveals mention of what appears to be WNYC’s mobile podcast discovery play, called Discover (which I’m told was quietly launched on the station’s website two months ago, and they’re laying low for now), among others.

I asked Gill if he was surprised by anything contained in the research. He pointed out two things: (1) the extent to which broadcast publishers seem to genuinely embrace podcasting as a “green field for experimentation,” and perhaps more notably, (2) how self-conscious the industry seems to be in terms of how much more work needs to be done to improve the space overall. To Gill, that self-consciousness is productive.

“There’s no clear way to run a podcast business [at this point in time],” Gill said. “So what we’re seeing is a moment where everyone is very open, and which creates incentives to get really creative.”

For what it’s worth, I think I agree with that.

Art19 strikes up a distribution partnership with iHeartRadio. The partnership will give shows hosted on the Art19 the opportunity to be distributed through the broader iHeartRadio infrastructure, which includes apps for mobile devices, connected car dashboards, and various digital media players. This marks iHeartRadio’s second partnership with a podcast hosting platform in recent months. In July, a similar arrangement was announced between the internet radio company and Libsyn.

It should be noted that shows won’t automatically appear on iHeartRadio’s by virtue of simply being hosted on Art19. They must opt-in for inclusion, the same way shows have to submit their feeds to iTunes to get listed. “I would, however, stress that iHeart is not re-hosting ART19 podcasts nor are they running any audio ads in or around them,” Art19 CEO Sean Carr asserted over email last week. “Essentially, iHeart is operating just like any other podcatcher, except they are shipping much better data to us.”

Of course, the question we should be asking about iHeartRadio isn’t really about the data its players are able to give podcast companies, but about the amount of listenership it’s able to give publishers. iHeartRadio reportedly has over 95 million registered users, though it’s always worth noting that the number of monthly active users — the key metric — remains unclear. Furthermore, it should be remembered that iHeartRadio’s business is largely driven through live-streams, the digital adaptation of the broadcast experience, which leads me to wonder about how much on-demand listening is actually happening off the iHeartRadio infrastructure, and as such the actual value of this partnership. Sure, the iHeartRadio-Libsyn press release back in July noted that podcast listening on the former platform has grown 58% in the past year, but percentages are tricky things without the base number. (A source tells me that “a sizable amount” of iHeartRadio users are listening to podcasts, but that’s not much to go on, even if that’s true.)

Whatever podcast listening may be happening on the platform, iHeartRadio nonetheless continues its steady creep towards the medium. This news comes after the company hired its first SVP for Podcasting back in November (Chris Peterson, formerly a content partnership manager at TuneIn), which is a sign of things to come — and perhaps a new era where iHeartRadio is taking the format seriously with a clear strategy intact. It also comes after a couple of experiments with the format, including a peculiar branded podcast partnership with the co-working space company WeWork. All of this really begs the question: what’s happening here?

Carr offers a clue. When we traded emails last week over this story, he noted: “Their aim is to become a premiere destination for podcast listening, and they want to be both publisher friendly and take a leadership role in propelling the industry forward.”

Don’t we all.

Three more things, quickly:

  • Art19 is a member of Syndicated Media’s partner program. (For more info on that, check out this column.)

  • I asked Carr if he thinks these partnerships with iHeartRadio — which, in my mind, adheres to the likely convergence between on-demand audio and the larger digital audio universe — might ultimately change the value proposition and economics of the podcast industry. “We certainly hope so,” he replied. “In my mind, it’s a simple equation. Better data will increase agency dollars flowing into the space. That will support the creation of more quality content, and that is great for consumers.”

  • I imagine we’re going to see a lot more partnerships like this, from Art19 and competitors like Megaphone and Libsyn, in the very near future.

WNYC announces the third edition of its annual women in podcasting festival, “Werk It.” This year’s festivities will take place at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on October 3-5. In addition to standard sessions, the festival will feature a one-day “Podcast Bootcamp” intensive for entry-level or early-career audio producers. The list of presenters include: Anna Sale, of WNYC’s Death, Sex, and Money; Jennifer White, of WBEZ’s Making Oprah; Lisa Chow, of Gimlet’s Startup, and Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, of WNYC’s 2 Dope Queens.

Early registration is now open on the event website, and folks interested in pitching a session can do so here. I’m also told that there will be scholarships available.

Gimlet cancels Undone. The podcast revisiting major news events of the past, which was hosted by Radiolab alum Pat Walters, ran for seven episodes across its first and only season. Gimlet confirms that Walters will continue on with the company as an editor, working on both current and upcoming projects. No official word on what will happen to the show’s other two producers, Julia DeWitt (a Snap Judgment alum) and Emanuele Berry, but I presume they will be reallocated within the company as well.

This is the third time that Gimlet has pulled the plug on a project that’s been out in the open. The first, as you might remember, was Starlee Kine’s Mystery Show, which took place under fairly chaotic circumstances and triggered an outcry that risked the company’s scrappy and transparent image, and the second is Sampler, which was cancelled in October. As for the reason, here’s the key section from Gimlet’s official statement on Undone’s cancellation:

Undone was performing well, but the show requires a very particular kind of editorial support, and as we got into the first season, it became clear that as of right now, we don’t have everything we need for it to keep growing and experimenting and finding its way. Gimlet is a start-up. Some things we try are going to continue on for a long time. And some things won’t.

When I followed up, asking if the decision was less about the show itself and more about the current state of the company, a spokesperson replied:

Actually, the decision was more so centered around the talent squeeze we’re seeing in the industry overall. Hiring the particular editorial staff we needed to meet the vision for Undone was tough in this market. Right now, there is a shortage of seasoned audio editors with deep experience making complex narrative stories. By not being able to provide the required editorial support, we were unable to continue the show in a sustainable way.

The explanation here is somewhat resonant with what I’ve been increasingly hearing from other companies and teams: that there is shortage of seasoned talent in general and of seasoned editors in specific. The editor shortage has long been a topic of concern in this newsletter; long-time readers might recall the Poynter column last summer written by NPR editorial specialist (and former Nieman fellow) Alison MacAdam warning of an editor crisis, and the subsequent interview I ran with MacAdam. This problem seems to have only grown more salient over time — my inbox is often filled with requests for talent referrals, and I imagine that the public radio-to-private podcasting brain drain can only go on for so long before the public media pool runs out of bodies.

The need for talent, I think, marks one of the more significant differences between audio and every other medium as they pertain to digital enablement: one could argue that other digital mediums have principally exploded due to those mediums being able to derive strong metric outcomes from relatively low resource investments (which is to say, cheap talent). One could further posit that the quality barrier for acceptable consumption within on-demand audio is high — relative to web text, broadcast radio, digital video — which means that experience and talent are uniquely crucial to moving the needle for any given podcast operation and for the industry as a whole. A lack of experienced talent or even a clustering of them, then, is detrimental to the health of the ecosystem overall.

Anyway, this is all not to say Undone’s fate is purely the product of conditions external to itself. After all, if the show was hitting its marks, it would be a dumb idea to shut it down even with a shortage of editorial talent. Podcast measurements being what they are, it’s hard to precisely tell how well the show performed, but the fact that it didn’t quite traffick in the upper echelons of the iTunes charts as consistently as its cohort peers, Homecoming and Crimetown, is notable. And frankly, even though I enjoyed a good deal of the episodes, I did think the show’s lack of market differentiation was its defining issue. Its premise — revisiting news stories of the past — is a remarkably common conceit deployed among public radio podcasts, whether explicit (like NPR’s Embedded) or otherwise (how many times has that premise driven an episode on Radiolab and This American Life?), and one gets the sense that any of those stories told on Undone could very well be at home in a number of other shows. Stuff like that, I think, really matters, especially as the podcast ecosystem becomes more saturated with new entrants.

On the bright side, from the looks of the Undone Facebook page, the company seems to be managing the cancellation more effectively than the last time.

In other news, ABC has given a pilot order to the TV adaptation of Gimlet’s Startup, according to Deadline. Not huge, but a positive step forward for the project. (For more information about that, check out this Hot Pod from back in September.)

The New York Times set to debut the new Michael Barbaro show tomorrow. Barbaro was previously the host of the organization’s election podcast, The Run Up, in his capacity as a political reporter for the paper. He moved to the audio team full-time in December. As I suspected when the Times first hired former All Things Considered supervising producer Theo Balcomb, this new project will indeed be a daily news show, described to be functionally analogous to morning email briefings. Episodes are described to be 15 to 20 minutes long a piece, each covering 2 to 4 segments. They will drop into feeds at 6am ET on the weekdays. And of course, it will also be distributed over Alexa and Google Home.

The show will be called The Daily, and BMW will serve as the launch sponsor.

There’s also a text message component to the project, where Barbaro will keep subscribers in the news loop via SMS throughout the day. It sounds, uh, pretty intimate, but I suppose you could consider it an example of push notification plus. (“To text with Michael,” the press release wrote, “listeners can sign up here.”)

My buddies over at Nieman Lab have a piece up that gives good background on the project, including the organization’s previous attempt at daily news pod — way back in 2006! — and a good overview of the very thin spread of existing daily news-related pods. Anyway, I’m excited to see how it shapes up, but here are three design questions I’m keeping in mind:

  • How will the show buck or appropriate the conventions of radio shows that trade in daily news? Will it evoke a similar feel to All Things Considered, or will it attempt to consciously challenge that format? And will such attempts to challenge be distracting?

  • How the show handles pacing, given its brief 15-20 minute structure, will be interesting to watch. How will show convey momentum, and how will it balance between moving through stories and pausing for moments?

  • What will the show’s take on the anchor be? That is, how important is Barbaro’s personality to the hosting apparatus, and what is the emotional baseline that the show will try to convey?

I guess I’m also curious about The Daily’s target demo. As Nieman Lab’s tweet on the matter suggested, could this be a swipe at potential public radio audiences? I put the question to the Times, and got a reply from Balcomb that sounds a lot like Matthew McConaughey from those car commercials:

We know there is a giant audience for this show. It’s for anyone who wants to understand the news of the day. For me, I’m making this show for the enthusiastic, news-hungry person who wants to know what’s going on in the world but doesn’t have a way in right now. Because the news isn’t where they want, when they want it.

Listeners will come to rely on this show. It’s the length you want and can handle every morning. And it’s conversational — real people talking to each other as they actually talk — while still featuring the best journalists in the world. This is for people on the go, people who live on their phones. This is for people who want to engage with reporters who actually break stories and live their beats.

Oookay.

True crime pods continues to flourish, even at a small station. Current has a handy profile up of Suspect Convictions, a show developed out of a partnership between independent journalist Scott Reeder and northwestern Illinois-based station WVIK, which covers the Quad Cities. The podcast has reportedly clocked in over 600,000 downloads since launching at the beginning of January, and has been hovering pretty consistently in the upper echelon of the iTunes charts.

Two bits that stood out to me from the article:

  • The station isn’t expecting tons of revenue from the show, according to the station’s general manager, Jay Pearce. “Under the station’s agreement with Reeder, it only has rights to sell local sponsorships for the show.” Fascinating.

  • Pearce “intends to look for other partners in the community to create additional podcasts, especially on local subjects that could interest listeners outside of Northwest Illinois.”

Do check out the whole article.

After the Trump administration’s chaotic first week, I’m reupping my column from last summer: “Can a political podcast avoid being overtaken by events?” At the time, I was trying to think through the bananas 2016 election cycle, which seemed to churn out controversies in a brisk, staccato clip. Those days seem quaint now, as the sheer abundance of the Trump presidency’s first ten days — with its rapid-fire signings of executive orders and ever-expanding number of complex issues involved — further accentuates the core weaknesses of the way political coverage is currently delivered through the podcast format. Back then, I was specifically referring to podcasts that adopt the weekly recap discussion format, but at this point, it really does feel applicable to just about everything else.

I wrote: “With every episode, the discussion produces a model for the listener that helps guide their reading of the news, and like all models, they are forced into iteration by every future development. As a result, the discussion in those episodes — frozen as they are in time — exist with built-in half-lives; their value erodes, organically, as more new things happen.”

At the rate this administration is going, weekly political podcast episodes have a remarkably high chance of being rendered irrelevant even before they hit feeds. Further compounding the problem is the fact that, from the looks of it, the high-octane news environment is only going to worsen in volume and complexity over time — a state of affairs that would likely make it very difficult to communicate the news with appropriate proportionality, focus, and depth.

I’m tempted to think that deploying a cool and sober approach to presentation might be an appropriate way to solve this problem of issue abundance, but I’m not entirely sure about current conditions would necessarily allow for that. The recent years has seen an increasing rebellion against news presented by a voice of authority — presenting a view from nowhere — in favor of more personality-driven, supposedly human conversational styles. Within that latter paradigm, a cool and sober approach would be deficient. However, the problem that arises from this is that the tone and emotional performance becomes an incredibly important editorial variable to convey severity, synonymous with the size of a headline or the text of a chyron.

There is, in my mind, a surreal disconnect when that isn’t fully considered. That informational uncanny valley is pretty present in shows like, say, Pod Save America or the Washington Post’s Can He Do That?, where the political horrors being examined are considerably undercut by off-hand jokes or spritely uses of music. (I haven’t fully figured out where I come down on Pod Save America. It’s been nonetheless fascinating to observe, though; often feeling like it’s balancing talk radio pageantry with being on the verge of a nervous breakdown.)

I’m still working through this idea, but I’ll say one more thing: I can’t think of any show that handles tone in this news environment better than On The Media, whose recent string of episodes conjure an emotional space so sophisticated that it allows for both horror and process.

One more thing: I’m updating the public radio to private podcasting spreadsheet. It was explicitly cited in the Knight report, and I’ve gotten a few requests for an update. This baby hasn’t been edited since January 2016 — a full year — which means there’s a lot of catching up to do, I think?

You can find the spreadsheet here, and you can suggest names here. I’ll add them as soon as I vet them.

Bites. 

  • Heads up, business journalists with audio work: The Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ Best in Business 2016 awards has an audio category, and the deadline is February 7. (SABEW)
  • In case you missed it, First Look Media’s The Intercept has rolled out the first episode of its new podcast, Intercepted. Jeremy Scahill hosts. Its First Look’s third podcast overall, following Politically Re-Active and Maeve in America, and the show continues the organization’s political focus. All three shows are listed in iTunes as resulting from a partnership with Panoply. (iTunes)
  • Meanwhile, in Australia: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s national public broadcaster, has launched a TV campaign promoting its podcasts.
  • NPR One has hit half a million “regular listeners,” apparently. (Michael Oreskes’ Twitter)
  • As always, you can find a curated list of upcoming podcasts here. And let me know if you’d like to add to it.

Tuesday

11

October 2016

0

COMMENTS

Growing up sucks, but at least there’s beer

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Growing Up Gimlet. Okay, there’s a lot baked into this story and I’m still processing, so this isn’t an argument so much as me thinking through this. Let’s get to it.

Podcastland was lit aflame last Thursday when Starlee Kine, the creative force behind the highly popular Gimlet podcast Mystery Show, published a note explaining the show’s extended silence since wrapping up its first season last July. Kine explained that she had been let go “without warning” by Gimlet in April, and spent the past few months figuring out a way forward. “I’d been having trouble figuring out the new season — second seasons can be tricky — and so I’d gone away, to work on an episode,” she wrote. “The day I returned, Alex told me the show was unsustainable.” (The note was published on Kine’s personal Medium account and on the Mystery Show Facebook page, which has since been deleted.)

Gimlet published a statement of its own shortly after. The statement was vague, but it confirmed that the company was no longer participating in Mystery Show’s development. “Mystery Show is an ambitious production and Starlee has an uncompromising vision for the show, which is what makes it so great,” the statement read. “However, these factors combined make Mystery Show unsustainable to produce and publish on a consistent basis.” The company noted that it’s still in discussions with Kine on how she may proceed to produce the show independently. In a recording appended to the Startup episodereleased later Thursday evening, Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg declined to discuss the issue further, maintaining that some things “need to remain private.”

Pretty scandalous stuff for this still-small podcast industry — so much so that it was written-up by more general publications like Vulture, Vox, and Wired — and there’s a lot about this announcement that’s publicly unclear: why Kine’s announcement came out last Thursday, what happened in April, what the actual situation is, and so on. Public response to the news has been fairly negative towards Gimlet for the most part, and in the intervening days, two dominant narratives have come to define the story: (1) Kine was short-changed by Gimlet, and (2) letting go of the show is a strategic misstep for the budding media giant.

That second narrative is, frankly, more interesting to deconstruct here compared to the first, which has significant potential to devolve into analytically unproductive schoolyard gossip. Whatever happened between Kine and the company is theirs to internally litigate, and for what it’s worth, I reached out to Kine for comment, but she declined to extend the issue beyond her statement, and while I was able to discuss the situation with several people familiar with the matter, both inside and outside the company, none were willing to speak on-record. So no, I’m not going to be the one who presents the tick-tock here, but if you’re into that, there appears to be a few other publications pursuing the story — based on some inquiries that hit my inbox yesterday — so you might still be in luck.

The more significant question for me is: what does this mean for Gimlet as a business?

I don’t think the company will suffer much — or indeed, at all — from a revenue perspective. Just looking at the structure of the show, it is highly unlikely that Mystery Show was ever much of a money-maker for the company. The first season was made up of six episodes that ran sporadically across a two month period, and even if you account for an exceptionally strong download rate during its initial run, a fairly strong long-tail in the succeeding months, and a comparatively high CPM (set before the show actually premiered, I might add), the show’s very short run automatically keeps its overall revenue potential fairly low. As part of a larger portfolio, Mystery Show would likely have been less financially important compared to the company’s other continuously-publishing properties like Startup, whose seasonal releases are probably balanced against super-premium CPMs justified by a high-value audience segment, and Reply All, which operates on an industrious publishing schedule and was revealed in a recent Startup episode to have enjoyed consistent audience growth since launching in November 2014.

Mystery Show’s main contribution to Gimlet was the fact it was deeply loved. It drew critical praise, a star-studded following, and tremendous buzz. The show, after all, scored Kine an appearance on Conan, and it accumulated an exceptionally strong, ardent, and loud fanbase. And that goodwill, I imagine, is understood to provide a halo effect for the rest of the company’s brand. But Gimlet’s core advertising-driven business model, whose financial health depends on consistent and continuous publication, values all listeners as equal, and given that Gimlet has no current way to further monetize its audience beyond advertising — and no, I don’t consider the company’s membership play to be an effective secondary channel just yet — Mystery Show’s intense fandom does not translate into a real business case in the company. And while the success of the first season success may well sowed the conditions for a greater revenue potential for its second season (by virtue of a higher earned CPM), the show still has to be produced on time in a way that make sense within the context of the production costs, which continues to grow as more time is spent on its production. As we know now, the project ultimately suffered from high production volatility, which some companies would probably still consider slogging through if it perceived the potential of at least a proportional return on the other side of the investment.

But Mystery Show, as an investment, never really had a shot of generating a strong enough revenue return given its structure, which raises the further question: why take the risk in the first place? And why continue supporting the show until April — bearing the costs of keeping Kine on payroll, even as the company began to feel that it may not meet its production timeline (which must be enforced due to advertiser commitments)?

The most plausible reason, in my mind, is that the company, well, believed in the art. If we believe this to be the case, then what we have is a company that made an artistic choice that initially paid off but eventually backfired. Which may look naive to you now, given the circumstances, and perhaps a little irresponsible, given its larger reality as a venture-backed media company that’s accountable for revenue and audience growth, but I’d personally defend in the overall scheme of things, because I’d much rather media companies — venture-backed and otherwise — take risks occasionally in the service of art (or the public, as in the case of journalistic operations). But what I find much less defensible is the way the company deeply mishandled communications in the aftermath of last Thursday’s events, which is a mistake that potentially compromised its core brand dynamics and value.

No two ways about this: Gimlet should have done a better job getting in front of this story and managing the fallout that this incident has brought upon its relationship with its audience. At this writing, the company still has not adequately addressed the concerns that linger on the minds of a good chunk of its audience and fans or even make them anything beyond being blocked out. By skipping that step, the company has drawn into question one of its biggest appeals to its community: a sense of radical, authentic transparency.

There is a very strong possibility that the company is fully aware of all this and decided to endure that trade-off anyway. I personally really have no idea whether this is the case, but if so, it makes the entire situation ever more interesting — and tragic — and it is here, I’d say, that I’m most intrigued about what actually happened behind the scenes. (Though I’m not that intrigued.)

Nevertheless, last Thursday illustrated this breakdown to its fullest extent: Kine’s post dropped hours before Gimlet was set to publish its latest season of its flagship show, Startup. The brilliance of that podcast, which earned Gimlet its initial acclaim when it debuted in late 2014, was premised on a spirit of confessional authenticity, which really shined when it kept the focus on itself. As a listener, you felt like you were friends with these people, you felt like you were glimpsing at the truth, you felt like you were involved in their lives. Gimlet’s blanket unwillingness to attend to this very visible fallout rendered last Thursday’s episode hollow, and perhaps irrevocably undermined the polite suspension of belief that has long distracted you from the actual truth: that even as pieces of nonfiction, these people are still characters on a show, and as much as it feels like you know them, you never truly will.

Perhaps more crucially, this incident also highlighted a fundamental tension within Gimlet as a company that it has never properly resolved: the company actively cultivates a feeling of goodwill associated with being small, scrappy, and independent — a carryover, one would imagine, from its public radio DNA — while at the same time enjoying the advantages of being an empire-building, venture-backed for-profit business. The company has, in a lot of ways, never really had to publicly confront the burdens, traps, and responsibilities that come with being big and venture-backed, and now it’s doing just that.

Mystery Show’s conscious uncoupling with Gimlet probably won’t matter much in the larger scale of how podcasting plays out in the years to come. But it does mark a public loss of innocence for Gimlet. The company now shuffles out of adolescence, grappling not just with growing pains, but with all the changes those pains bring to its identity. It can no longer be what it once was, and must now fully reckon with whatever it is it wants to be.

Meanwhile, the rest of us in the industry will have to digest how, I guess, we’re all kinda sorta growing up too. *shudders*

The Sarah Awards, Part Deux. Ann Heppermann, head honcho of the Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Awards that saw its inaugural prize ceremony take place back in April, informs me that preparations for the second ceremony is currently underway and, more importantly, that its website has been redesigned. Among its improvements and additions, the site now also sports reviews of and essays about audio dramas, which is a piece of news that, I suppose, should count as good timing after my whole warble-garble last week about podcast criticism requiring the development of whole new business models.

It looks like the business model Heppermann is using for her commissions essentially amounts to a patronage approach. According to her re-welcome note on the Sarah Awards website, those critical essays and reviews are funded by a “generous contribution” from Panoply, which would probably provoke some sort of conflict of interest if the reviews were meant to play a kind of consumer guide role, except that it doesn’t seem like it. The Sarahs, above all, assumes an advocacy role in the podcast ecosystem — something closer in spirit to a trade lobbying or consumer awareness group, perhaps — which is an interpretation that compels me to further wonder what, exactly, is the business of criticism in the first place.

Anyhoo, the next Sarah awards is set to take place on March 28, 2017. Submissions for the awards will open sometime this fall, so keep your eye on the website. Until then, occupy yourself with the site’s Very, Very, Short, Short Stories Contest, which is now taking entries.

Radiotopia Fundraiser #2. I’m being told that the podcast collective is kicking off its second annual fundraiser this morning. Recall that this whole direct listener support thing is fundamental to the collective’s hypothesis. Check out their website for more information.

Quick and Dirty Origins. DC-based reporter and friend-of-the-newsletter Simon Owens published a great profile of the Quick and the Dirty Tips podcast network, an on-demand audio operation that first came to life ten years ago when Mignon Fogarty launched its flagship show, Grammar Girl, in June 2006.

The network is really interesting for a number of reasons: it has a distinct focus on educational programming that’s baked into a broad adoption of the advice format, it’s an example of diversified multi-platform business built around audio as an anchor of sorts, and it has a unique partnership with MacMillan Publishers — one that sees the former play a talent incubation/marketing role for the latter, and the latter play a business development role for the former. The network reportedly generates about 2 million downloads per month with 18 shows in its portfolio, according to the profile.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Might be just me, but I see a really strong parallel between Quick and Dirty Tips and the Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks network (which I profiled last month, by the way). Both are networks that were born relatively early on in the podcast format’s history, and both pursued growth and self-sustainability through the late 2000s. That the two networks ended up adopting a multi-platform strategy as a way to diversify their revenue bases and further build out their brands is probably not coincidental. But what does appear coincidental to me is a common focus on educational programming between the two networks… I’m still trying to wrap my head around what this tells us about the relationship between form and content, but I think there’s a broader story here about “sexy growth” (for lack of better term, my deepest apologies) and not-so “sexy growth.”

  • If there’s a huge lesson to draw from Quick and Dirty Tips as a case study, I think it’s this: your list of potential allies is always bigger than you think it is, especially if you look in non-obvious places. So, if you’re an independent operator starting your show or a network — or indeed, if you run a smaller public radio station somewhere — it’s worth considering partnerships with companies beyond the audio vertical.

Anyway, check out Owen’s’ write-up, and do subscribe to his Tinyletter if you’re into media analysis stuff, which I’m pretty sure you are.

Lore is successfully heading to television. Amazon has picked up the podcast, whose development was first announced back in April, with a mid-2017 debut schedule,according to Deadline. Other podcast-to-television projects still on my personal watchlist: Limetown, Startup, My Brother, My Brother, and Me.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn. Chris Morrow, head of the Loud Speakers Network (which is the home of, among other fine shows, The Read and Tax Season), writes in to tell me that they’re launching a new show this week: InsecuriTea, a show that recaps the Issa Rae HBO show “Insecurity.” The recap podcast is a co-production with HBO.

Morrow continues: “[This] comes on the heels of some additional branded content: Rich Friend, a fashion and music show with Avion Tequila featuring The New Yorker’s Matthew Trammell and GQ’s Style Guy Mark Anthony Green, and Colorful Lives, featuring career advice for African-American women sponsored by State Farm featuring Lip Service’s Angela Yee, Friend Zone’s Fran and Tatiana King from Fan Bros.”

I’m going to keep saying this until November: but props to all the producers of political podcasts for the late nights and quick-turnarounds this election cycle. What you’re doing is nothing short of heroic, and I hope you’re recognized as such in your organizations.

Bites:

  • WNYC begins rolling out internships that now pay $11.50/hr as opposed its previous $12/day rate. This comes after a successful petition campaign from a group called Fair Trade Radio that took place in April. (WNYC Careers)
  • RadioPublic’s Chief Architect makes the case for RSS, along with some helpful code. (Medium)
  • On the kids podcast front: NPR is playing around with an experimental podcast for kids and is looking for feedback; upstart Blobfish Radio launched a “serialized mystery podcast for kids” called The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel.
  • Mashable has a profile up on “Jason Flom’s Wrongful Conviction,” a show that comes out of the budding Revolver network. (Mashable)
  • “As accuracy of speech recognition goes from 95% to 99%, all of us…will go from barely using it to using it all the time.” The Economist snapshots the market opportunity in “smart speakers” or audio-first computing. (The Economist)
  • This is a fascinating read: “Podcasting from Prison.” (California Sunday Magazine)

And I believe Reply All’s 48 hour call-in experiment is happening right now: 646-490-1847

Moves

  • Slate has hired Radio Rookies alum Veralyn Williams as a full-time producer, where she will work on Represent, the Double X gabfest, and Slate Money.
  • Karo Chakhlasyan is moving from Oxford Road to Wondery, where he will serve as Director of Content Acquisition.
  • Australian platform company Whooshka has picked up Fairfax Media’s Nick Randallas Commercial Director and Ensemble Australia group ideas director Corey Laytonas Director of Content and Marketing.
  • Nadia Wilson is joining Criminal as a new producer. She was previously at NPR’s How to Do Everything.

Got a move to report? If you work at a podcast/audio company and would like to report a new hire, let me know. If you have a tip and would like to remain under-the-radar, let me know too.

Tuesday

26

July 2016

0

COMMENTS

Do you skip podcast ads? Do you feel bad? I sure do.

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

Ad-Skipping. I wasn’t able to cover this last week, but it’s a topic you shouldn’t sleep on:the Wall Street Journal declared two weeks ago that “Podcasting has an Ad-Skipping Problem, Too,” and though I didn’t find the evidence provided by the article substantial enough to justify its strong headline — it drew upon an anecdote, a marginally representative Spotify data pool for a single Reply All episode, and the ubiquity of the skip button feature across podcast apps — I did appreciate how the article is drawing more attention to a potential problem that the industry will have to deal with one way or another. (I myself have found this issue to clearly be on the minds of several folks from the agency and advertising worlds, based on conversations I’ve had over the past several months.)

Two things on this:

  • Though I personally want to know the real magnitude to which ad-skipping is a problem, the actual severity of the problem is much less important compared to the perception that there could theoretically be a problem. As a relatively new medium with a fairly messy and opaque past, the podcast industry has to work twice as hard to win the trust of advertisers who are inclined to avoid spending money outside channels that more aggressively provide satiating feedback loops (like, say, Facebook) or channels that possess more buzz (like, say, Snapchat) and prestige (like television). And so articles like this from the Wall Street Journal serve as a very good signal of the trust gap that the industry as a whole needs to beat in order to meaningfully grow the size of its advertising spend year-over-year.

  • In a lot of ways, the focus on ad-skipping — which is tied to larger concerns about meaningful impressions and potential count inflation — is a proxy in and of itself, because the real goal for any company spending advertising money to market its goods and services is conversion, either in the short-term or in the very long-term (as in the case of brand advertisers). Which is to say, you could beat this trust gap by hacking away at the ad-skipping fear, but you could render that fear moot by strengthening the narrative around and belief in conversions, broadly defined.

Cool? Cool.

Another Upfront. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is holding its second annual podcast upfronts on September 7 at Time Inc.’s Henry R. Luce Auditorium in New York. All eight presenters from last year — NPR, WNYC, ESPN, CBS, AdLarge, Panoply, Midroll, and Authentic (Podtrac’s advertising arm, now rebranded) — are returning, with four new additions in the mix: Time Inc., HowStuffWorks, PodcastOne, and Wondery.

I found last year’s proceedings to be somewhat chaotic but more or less successful in what it was trying to achieve, which was some combination of familiarizing advertisers with the podcast medium and providing a space for stronger relationships between advertisers and podcast publishers to develop.

But despite the table-setting achievements of last year’s festivities, I’ve always found the general idea of podcasts — and new media formats, more generally — appropriating the ritual of upfronts… well, a little cute. The upfront model, which seeks to artificially create an acute and hyped-up advertising marketplace for upcoming content, is a carryover from the broadcast television industry, and the entire value proposition, structure, calendar schedule, and general lavish feel of the modern upfront is structured and optimized around the television industry’s particular traits, financial context, and history. I found this Adweek feature, written by Anthony Crupi and published in May 2011, about the television upfronts’ early years very instructive, particularly in this discussion on how the modern upfront was conceived:

At the time (1948), the network schedules were unfixed; rather than running on a September-to-May calendar, programs premiered at various times throughout the year. Upfront negotiations were synched to the studio development cycle; as such, upfronts would begin the week after Washington’s Birthday, wrapping up by month’s end. Then, in 1962, ABC forever altered the advertising landscape: In a bid to create a showcase for American automakers, the network shifted its entire programming lineup, setting its premieres for a single week in the fall. In so doing, ABC not only invented the broadcast TV season as we know it, but also ushered in the era of the modern upfront.

This passage illustrates an intentionality and aggression within the television industry to create and augment demand. (Man, those folks knew how to sell.) And back then, television had the clout, buzz, and resources to throw its weight around and do just that.

The podcast industry, on the other hand, is starting out on the back foot. It’s a relatively quiet offshoot of digital audio that’s finding its legs in an era of increasing uncertainty around the value provided by media and publishing industries. And so it’s interesting, to me anyway, to see how podcast companies adopting the upfront model — aside from the IAB’s event, we’ve seen one organized by a consortium of public radio stations and a “Newfront” that mixed Gimlet with other digital media companies — actually reflects a more conservative stance: one that operates off the sense that you win trust by performing the rituals they do and by the looking the way they look, as opposed to creating new rituals, spaces, and market expectations of their own.

Planet Money Has A New Senior Editor. And his name is Bryant Urstadt, formerly a features editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. At Businessweek, Urstadt worked with several of the magazine’s most prominent writers including Megan McArdle and Brad Stone (whose book on Amazon, “The Everything Store,” is one of my all-time favorite reads). His editorship also produced writer and developer Paul Ford’s “What is Code?” issue-length essay for the magazine’s June 11, 2016 edition — a thoroughly enjoyable package that remains one of the most clarifying and anxiety-inducing things I’ve ever read. To put it another way, Ford’s piece was perfect Planet Money material.

When I spoke with Neal Carruth, NPR Business Desk supervising senior editor, and Alex Goldmark, Planet Money’s supervising producer, about the hire, they strongly expressed admiration over Urstadt’s body of work. “We looked really far and wide — we looked in longform radio, we looked at TV, we looked at the magazine world,” Carruth said. “And what we found in Bryant was strength in two things: the first is smarts about business and economics, and the other is just really great longform editing skills.” Carruth further pointed out that, under Urstadt’s influence, Businessweek consistently produced stories that the Planet Money team wished they did first — always a good sign of compatible sensibilities.

Urstadt isn’t unique in his transition as an editor from magazine features into longform narrative audio. The same arc can be found in This American Life’s Joel Lovell, who joined the team from the New York Times Magazine in late 2014. One could also argue that Hannah Rosin, currently the third co-host on the second season of NPR’s Invisibilia, followed a similar trajectory. Rosin is a veteran magazine journalist who has written for the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post.

I asked how a magazine background like Urstadt’s (and Lovell’s and Rosin’s) would inform the aesthetics, sensibilities, and structures of future Planet Money stories, and how that would differ if the team had recruited an editor from, say, the television world instead. “I think a worthwhile question to ask is: which is closer to longform audio — short-form audio, like what you get from station reporters, or print magazines?” Goldmark responded, going broader. “Which two sets have more in common, and which show greater differences? I’m curious what people think.”

Remembering a recent Poynter column, which raised concerns about a systemic editor shortage, I asked Carruth and Goldmark whether they feel such a shortage exists. “I think it’s fair to say there is,” Carruth said. “I don’t see how it can be otherwise, given the explosive growth in the industry. There’s so much hiring happening, but there isn’t very much training up of editors… and even if we’ve been good about building an editor pipeline in the past, the rapid growth automatically makes great editors more scarce.”

“It’s not that there aren’t great editors out there,” Goldmark said. “They just aren’t in podcasts yet. It’s also not a question about where they are, it’s about how we find them — in magazines, in television, in documentary film — and make that transition into audio as smooth as possible.” Carruth concurs, adding: “It’s likely that a lot of them are already in audio, but it’s incumbent on us to make it a more attractive role. A lot of people want to be the voice of something, but we need to convey that there’s a lot of pleasure in being off-mic as well.”

Urstadt started work yesterday.

Gimlet’s Slack Experiment. It’s been about a year since Gimlet first launched its membership program, and that span of time has seen early members (who either pay $5 a month or $60 a year) being treated to an eclectic string of benefits: sneak previews of upcoming shows, t-shirts for annual subscribers, a few live Q&As, and even some bizarre yet enjoyable bonus content like the pilot of the reality TV-esque “The Hunt,” a project that came out from the company’s Mix Week. However, despite those deliveries, the program never felt particularly endowed with substance or intend. As a paying member myself, the returns struck me as afterthoughts, the releases way too sporadic to integrate into my (admittedly extensive) consumption calendar.

But ultimately, that never really mattered. Perhaps it is the organization’s roots in public radio — a heritage that expresses itself on so many levels, from aesthetics to sound to the spirit of its marketing material — but at some point my brain just automatically filed my Gimlet membership expense away into the same cabinet as my annual pledges to WNYC, WBEZ, and Radiotopia. I’ve come to perceive it to be part of a larger act of “paying it back,” an indication of support for a service well-provided and hope for more service to come. Of course, understanding my Gimlet membership in this way is a little troublesome, given the company’s activities with fundraising through venture capital. (Deep down inside, my capitalistic fairness calculus convulses.)

Anyway, that’s all a long preamble to talk about the new experiment that the company is rolling out for the membership program: a Slack group that connects members with each other and, to some extent, the Gimlet team itself.

“There’s a large precedent of media companies trying to engage [its communities] in a forum format, but the thing that feels so fresh from our standpoint is that, because Slack’s tech is so flat and because our team is basically already on Slack all day, it’s easier for us to mesh with the community,” explained Chris Giliberti, Gimlet’s chief of staff who was recently put in charge of the membership program, when we spoke over the phone last week. “It feels like we’ve invited them into our newsroom. That’s what I think is so special.”

The Slack group is certainly a kick, with flurries of conversation spontaneously erupting throughout the day across its 35 (and growing) channels — which greatly range in topic, from episode discussions to local meetup planning to breaking news observation. Frankly, it’s a little exhausting,  but it’s a fascinating community to lurk around and watch nonetheless.

“Weirdly, it feels like Second Life,” Giliberti said. “People are making their own spaces and architecting their own program.” But of course, the experience isn’t meant to be entirely user-driven. The Reply All team has already tried crafting an interactive “call-in” episode off the Slack group, and an advice show is in the works using the platform. Giliberti expressed hope that the Slack will continue generating future opportunities for projects, both for the community and the company.

When I asked about how much the membership program is generating in revenue, Giliberti declined to discuss specifics. (Totally fair.) But he did point out that the Slack group displays about 1300 registered members, and that this number represents merely a portion of the membership. (If you wanted to eyeball, you’d find that the program is generating at least $78,000 a year.) “It’s a small part of our business compared to advertising, but it’s a really meaningful part,” he said. “I think there’s a thought that it could be a much bigger part of the business in the future, but in the meantime, it’s a way for us to really connect with our audience.”

We’ll see how the Slack group will fare over time, and whether it’ll eventually become the core that gives the membership program its shape, substance, and heft — a sort of center for its universe. But for now, it feels to me like a step in the right direction, and I’m really hoping the team figures it out as a viable alternative revenue stream, given the media industry’s dependency on an increasingly wacky advertising ecosystem.

“We fronted the costs of producing the show,” said Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, responding to a question about Malcolm Gladwell’sRevisionist History during a recent episode of Recode Media. “Which, for something like his show that’s highly produced, are not insignificant.”

The Slate Group is the publishing entity of Graham Holdings, and it is the corporate entity that houses Panoply, which produces and distributes the hit podcast, which has been sitting pretty at the top of the iTunes hotness charts for almost two months now (at time of publication, the podcast has been on the charts for 52 days). According to the interview, Gladwell was not given a big advance to make the show — which, one expects, is a deviation from his deals in the publishing world — and is instead operating on a revenue share basis, which is how Panoply works with most of its publishing partners. File that away in your notes, folks.

NPR partners with iHeartRadio for distribution. The agreement would let the public radio mothership and its wide network of member stations distribute its live News Talk programming over the iHeartRadio platform, according to the press release. This comes weeks after iHeartRadio announced a similar partnership with Libsyn, one that sees iHeartRadio being a distribution point for the podcast hosted on the Libsyn platform. At this point, I’d like to re-up a point I made back in March about an impending structural convergence and reorientation of on-demand audio conceptualizations:

For what it’s worth, I’m fairly certain that, with its liberation from an infra-structurally imposed definition, the word “podcast” will lose all of its original meaning by the end of the calendar year. My sense is that it will likely become an identifier for a certain corner of a reconstituted landscape of all non-music audio content that’s created and distributed digitally. It’s a scope that will not only include the new podcasting companies of the last year or so, public radio, and digital media companies developing new audience development channels in the audio space (which have been my topical biases, in case you haven’t already noticed), but also commercial radio powers, streaming and Internet radio companies like iHeartMedia and SiriusXM, and community radio infrastructures.

And to remind you on what I think the landscape will look like beyond that point:

Audio content produced for the Internet and distributed through the Internet will soon no longer be identified based on a singular technological method (the aforementioned “podcatcher”), but to the #content itself. And when that happens, what we’ll see is a narrative that’s less of a clash between an insurgent and an incumbent (“the future of radio”), but rather, a clash between content factions defined by generations, communities, and cultures (“a type/genre/kind of radio”).

Implicit in these hypotheses is an understanding that the core assumptions that make up the economics of the industry — the high CPMs relative to other audio and digital formats, the “intimate,” “opt-in,” and “highly engaged” narrative points in podcasting’s value propositions, and so on — will be fundamentally altered, and the onus should be on podcasting companies to both craft a new, evolved narrative as well as develop more involved methods of ad verification and impact assessments.

Bites:

  • Podcast collective The Heard adds two new projects to its lineup: Erica Heilman’s “Rumble Strip Vermont” and Sara Brooke Curtis’ “Today’s Special.” The collective, which also home to Jonathan Hirsch’s “Arrvls” and the wonderful “How To Be A Girl,” recently saw its first show graduation with Tally Abecassis’ “First Day Back”being picked up by Scripps. Keep an eye on this crew. (The Heard)
  • Speaking of Scripps: Katie Couric, the former television journalist and Yahoo!’s current global news anchor, now has a podcast of her own with Earwolf, and she popped up as a guest on the Longest Shortest Time, another show on the network, which one presumes is a concerted marketing effort. (Earwolf)
  • Current.org is running a special coverage series on diversity in public media. Check it out, won’t you? (Current)
  • The grand opening of PRX’s Podcast Garage, billed as “a recording studio and educational hub dedicated to supporting to supporting audio makers at all levels,” will take place next Wednesday at Aeronaut Allston in Boston. (Boston.com)

Thursday

26

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

Hot Pod Pro: How Gimlet Handles New Show Development

Written by , Posted in Member Content

Dateline: May 26, 2016

Follow-Up on Podtrac.

Still researching this, but three very quick updates to help your reading of the situation:

(1) I’m compiling a list of publishers that aren’t part of the Podtrac sample, and this is a partial list of on-the-record confirmations so far: Gimlet, Panoply, Midroll, Maximum Fun, CNN, and The Ringer. I’m still asking around.

(2) Why is “Roman Mars” listed and not “Radiotopia”? This has to do with Radiotopia choosing to have each show handle their own Podtrac accounts, which leads to shows being identified at an individual level. (Which is in line with its indie label/collective ethos.) As Julie Shapiro noted to me over email, “this is why Roman and the Moth show up on the list, but not Radiotopia or PRX.”

(3) In Hot Pod earlier this week, I noted that publishers must “opt in” to be included as part of the Podtrac sample. Looks like that was too strong a description; I’ve been receiving reports that the ranker came as a surprise to some who are on the Top 10 list. This suggests two things: firstly, not every publisher was given adequate warning that they were going to be included in the list — and that their audience numbers were going to be made public — and secondly, the notion of being “opted in” was based on some clause within any user agreement that was signed when a given publisher starts using Podtrac to verify their data.

For the record: I’m increasingly of the opinion that the Podtrac ranker — or any consumer-facing podcast chart based on audience size, rather — is a very positive thing for the industry as a whole. But the nature of the rollout and the execution matters, especially when it comes to sampling and the transparency of the representativeness of that sampling. Yesterday, Adweek published a report on NPR’s expectations that it would “more than double” its podcast revenue this year. The article cited the Podtrac charts, noting that “to be included in the rankings, publishers must have at least 30 days’ worth of data that can be analyzed”… but not noting that you needed to opt into the sample in the first place, thus equating the chart as broadly representative of the actual ten largest podcast publishers in the industry with little caveat. This, of course, isn’t cool, and we’re probably going to see a lot of that loss in nuance crop up over time.

Anyway, I’m going to refine and regurgitate all of this in next Tuesday’s free newsletter so the narrative exists more openly on the internet. Hit me up if you have additional input. And there’s been some pretty strong discussion on the issue going on in the forums — you should check it out.

How Gimlet Handles New Show Development

I had the great fortune of being asked to host a conversation about podcasts recently at the opening of a brand spankin’ new co-working space for freelance journalists down here in Gowanus. (The space is called Study Hall, and it will also be my new professional home from June onwards. Until I run out of money to keep Hot Pod going, of course. Which is to say, I’m going to miss my kitchen-office.)

The first person I thought to ask to be my conversation was someone I’ve never met before, but who I’ve heard a lot about in the past: Caitlin Kenney, currently the head of new show development at Gimlet Media. An Emerson graduate, Kenney had stints at WBUR, WNYC, and NPR’s now-defunct Bryant Park Project before moving on to be one of the founding producers of the highly popular, historically notable Planet Money. She spent over six years at the show, before taking a job as Head of Content at Gimlet. (A connection to note: Alex Blumberg, who co-founded Gimlet, was a co-founder of Planet Money.)

The following interview is an excerpt, edited down for clarity and flow.

***

So, right now you hold what I think is an unprecedented role in the podcast industry. I guess it depends on how you want to define it — it’s not unprecedented in radio, but you’re developing new shows for a relatively new medium that has recently been on an upswing. Which is to say, I get the sense that you’re in charge of resources of a significant greater measure than most other places. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

It’s everything from like… from the moment someone is pitching something to us, and from the point we say yes, it’s my job to get the pitch to a point where we can start listening to it as a show. The first show that launched after I started was Surprisingly Awesome, and they (hosts Adam Davidson and Adam McKay) originally had a kind of a working pilot of the show with the specific concept in place. So I had to go out and assemble new episodes with the team.

One of the really interesting things about development is that you get to figure out what’s working and what’s not. So with Surprisingly Awesome, it’s a situation where one person is trying to convince another person that something which seems boring is actually super awesome. Which works when people actually feel that way, but there’s only a number of topics that people tend to feel that way about. And one thing about radio that I think is different from TV is that it’s really hard to fake things, and when someone fakes something you can just tell. And there’s definitely a performance aspect when you’re doing an interview where you’re trying to bring an energy to it because you want that other person to match you, but it’s harder than, say, in TV, because there’s something in that medium where you’re able to get away with that more.

When a new show is out in the marketplace, what are the primary metrics that you’re looking at and thinking about?

We have audience targets that we expect from shows. We want to see a level of audience size, but what we’re looking at is growth. And we’re also looking at the feedback. Like for Surprisingly Awesome, it used to be called Awesome Boring, and we used to have some “this is boring” parts in the early episodes. And one of the overwhelming feedback we got through email and Twitter from people is “cut the boring crap, I get it.”

And that’s really great, because when I went through the process of Planet Money, it really taught me that even when a show is out it can continue to evolve and grow, and that’s something we hope that our shows do as well.

Do you have different audience expectations for different shows?

Yes.

Do you have an internal formula of evaluating those benchmarks? Or is it more like, oh it’s an interview show, I’m going to cap that at 70k, and that show has a crazy story no one’s heard before, that’s going to be 200k.

I wish we had some secret algorithm I could tell you, but it’s kind of like that. It’s kind of like, “oh, that’s a really sexy story!” And that we know the person who is going to do it has a really good following, so we think it’s going to hit so and so size. You know, a lot of times it’s just us benchmarking from shows that we came from. I know what the size of Planet Money is, Alex knows the size of This American Life, so we’re just doing deductions based on places where we came from.

What do you look for when you’re pitched a show?

A couple things. One of the things we love about audio is that it’s super intimate, and it’s really important that you can feel like you know the host and that you can be friends with them. One of the most fun things I saw at my time in Planet Money was how excited people would be to meet Adam (Davidson) and Alex and Chana (Joffe-Walt). Just that enthusiasm is amazing. I mean, you’re whispering into someone’s ear, it’s very very intimate.

So we really want a host who can connect with an audience and has that level of engagement. And the show want to make… we want the story ideas to come from the people are actually going to be telling them. We don’t really want to just slot talent into existing projects.

We also want the shows to teach you something. There’s a thing about hearing something that makes you feel like you can talk with your friends at a cocktail party about it, or it makes you see the world a little differently. We don’t want them to feel educational in a way that feels lame or lecture-y or preachy, but we want them to be engaging.

Audio also makes you see people in a different way. We do this thing at Gimlet called Radio Class, where every Friday people give a lecture, they give a talk about their work. And we invite authors, like, all different kinds of people. Alex did one recently talking about the difference between TV and radio, and he played a story from the time when This American Life had a TV show and a different version of that same story when it was on the radio. And it’s so fascinating because in both stories there was a mother character who had some substance abuse issues and some traumas with the son. And what was so amazing was that the version you saw on video… you just disliked the mom. There were all these visual clues about the way she was and the way she reacted to her son that made you feel like you hated her. And then you heard her on audio, and she’s suddenly feels so likable. It’s just different.

Do you think any one of those presentations is more true than the other?

I don’t know… it’s hard. I mean, I think in the case of audio, you have to like the person to a certain degree to go along with her in the story….

So that’s really interesting to me. I think the whole personality driven structure to shows… I think it’s really good for certain podcasts like The Mystery Show or something, where there’s a central anchor and side characters that happen along the way. But for something, like, audio drama, that gets really really hard, because there’s the whole modulation of the actor where I find hard to like someone who I can’t particularly feel like I can trust the actor, trust the performance. Are you guys thinking about stuff before anchor/personality-driven shows?

Yeah, we’re definitely interested in the fiction space, absolutely. It just feels like ripe for opportunity.

How are you taking that Gimlet template and applying it to fiction?

So, for one thing, we’re working with a guy who is a pretty established, well-known fiction writer to do just that. Alex has jokingly been calling his title “Head of Make Believe,” because coming from the journalism documentary side of things, I don’t know how to do that stuff. So that’s one way to do: hire someone who is an expert on that thing, and get them to do it well.

The other thing is… I think audio drama, at its worst, feels 1950s cheesy.

Unless you’re really leaning into that.

Absolutely. So we’re thinking a lot about, okay, what can we do about the sound design, what can you do about the scoring, how can it feel immersive and not fake in the way you’re talking about. But it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be something we’re going to experiment in.

A common critique I’m starting to hear when I’m talking to folks about podcasts is that the concept for a lot of new shows sound pretty much the same. You got interview shows, you got conversationals, you got a certain kind of narrative storytelling. It feels like they’re fitting into an “Uber for X” model. In your mind, what frontiers should we be grasping more towards? Have you seen any new concepts that have enthralled you recently? What are you thinking about?

The big thing we’re thinking about is bringing in and working with people who don’t come from the same public radio traditions that most of us came from. My biggest fear is that I will recreate the same show twelve times over in twelve different subject matters, which I think would be easy to do because I know how to do that thing pretty well.

So we bring in people who are specialists in other worlds, and they bring their skills and their methods of storytelling and we help them translate it into audio. I think that’s the best way we can do it.

I really think of my team in development as support for the people who want to execute. We’ll teach you how to use a microphone, we’ll help you with the script, we’ll help you make the thing happen. That’s the way, I think, we can avoid repetition.

How big is your team?

There are four permanent producers on my team, and any new show that’s under development is part of my team until we launch them.

How many shows are you overseeing right now?

We have a lot of stuff in development. I’m not going to give, like, a set number, but we’ve been joking that we’ve been very pregnant at the moment.

Double digits, single digits?

Single digits. But a lot of stuff we’re going to launch in the fall.

In the fall? So we’re shit out of luck for the summer?

We’re going to be putting out a science show in the summer. We acquired this show from Australia called Science Versus that we’re really excited about.

Would you say that you guys move quicker than public radio?

I don’t know, I mean it depends. I think it depends on the show too, because some things you can produce quicker than others. The thing about doing the documentary work that we do, you don’t know when that person is going to call you back, you don’t know if that phone call is going to lead you to another phone call, you don’t know if that one person is going to change the story entirely. And even when you have the framework of a story, then you’re just going a lot of polishing.

We’re also trying to launch our shows with more than one episode ready to go, to try and satisfy that binge demand we all have now, and that of course takes more time.

How many pilots have you killed?

We’ve killed about… 3? (Caitlin would later clarify that the number was more around 6.)

I’m surprised you gave an actual number.

But we’ve said no a lot of pitches even before they got to the pilot stage.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out? They might not come from radio, they might not have much experience… but the barriers to entry are low. But I guess even when the barriers to entry are low, barriers to quality and scale are high. What advice would you give to an independent who is looking to see where the limit of that person’s ability to achieve may be?

One of the first things I will say is: buy good equipment. A decent-sounding microphone is expensive, but not that expensive. If your number one thing is that you have bad audio quality, you’re just out. It almost doesn’t matter that what you’re saying is the most beautiful thing in the world, if I can’t hear you, I turn it off. That’s a really basic starting place.

The other thing is using your network, the people in your lives. I know a lot of people in this room are writers, and are part of writers groups, you talk to writers. Just playing other people your stuff and asking, “Did you like it? Are you bored?” We talk a lot at Gimlet about paying attention to when you’re bored. We do group edits with about 6 or 7 people in the room. And we look around at people and see if they’re getting distracted, they’re checking their watch, you know something is wrong. Whether it’s an interview, whether you’re trying to tell a story, playing something for the people in your life and asking them honestly what they thought, and taking their feedback, is the way to do it.

Another thing that I even do now is listening to things you like and deconstruct them. Try to figure out what worked about them. I’ve gone back and listened to the first season of Serial a bunch of times, and make weird little notes about things that they did that I loved. And I try to do that all the time when I’m hearing a really good story.

Did you listen to the second season?

I did.

Did you like it?

I liked it a lot! I felt really nervous for them, because the first season was so good. But I thought to move to a story that was so different from what they had done in the first season was really smart.

I feel like I enjoyed the second a lot more than the first season.

Really?

Yeah. It’s a situation where, like, you got to admire the balls, and you really got to admire the attempt at complexity. That complexity is, like, something that’s really hard to get across in radio; I mean, to achieve that complexity, you need audiences to also meet you in the middle, and I think the medium — as far as audience vocabulary goes — is still very much young in that sense. But then again, I also thought True Detective season two wasn’t that bad.

I think what’s really interesting too is that the story was about a whole… maybe subculture isn’t the right word, but the whole culture around the military is really fascinating to me. At times it’s insular, it has its own rules, its own societal norms. One of the things that I found so fascinating about that season was really feeling like I was in that world, understanding why they looked at the actions of this individuals so differently than the way I did.

Caitlin, thanks so much.

Post note: At one point during the audience Q&A, someone asked whether The Mystery Show would be getting a second season. Kenney replied, “It’s coming.”

Tuesday

24

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

Public Podcast Rankings, PRX Spins Out RadioPublic, Acast Launches a New Feature

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Public Podcast Ranking. This just in, and it’s pretty big: Podtrac, a decade-old podcast measurement and advertising company, rolled out what it calls “the first free Podcast Industry Audience Ranking” this morning. The free report, which will be published on a monthly basis, is designed to show how “the top 10 networks” stack up against each other based on a standardized podcast measurement system. The first edition covers April 2016, and you can find it here. Based on the preview sent to me with the press release yesterday, NPR tops the list, followed by This American Life/Serial, WNYC Studios, and How Stuff Works. (Remember to divide the unique downloads with the number of shows! That’s the fun part.)

It’s worth noting that the report measures “90% of the top podcasts, and plans to have close to 100% participation in the weeks ahead,” according to the press release. When I asked for clarity on the sample — specifically, whether publishers needed to opt-in in order to be included in the report — a spokeswoman told me that publishers, indeed, must opt-in for inclusion, which raises the report’s representativeness of the entire podcast system as opposed to a self-selected sample. It remains unclear to me which networks are not included in this first sample, and I’ll be spending the week poking around. (Are you one of those networks? Write me <3)

Still, it’s absolutely thrilling to see a network-oriented apples-to-apples comparison between some of the heavyweights for the first time, even if the sample doesn’t include a few key players. (For what it’s worth, it confirmed a lot of my suspicions.) And it definitely introduces a new dimension — one that’s eminently political, no less — to the knowability of the podcast space in its current configuration, which in turn will undoubtedly affect not only advertising conversations across the industry, but the way download numbers are touted around as well. Everything hinges now on whether Podtrac is able to secure the remaining 10%, which in turn will tell us whether there’s going to be dichotomy between those that are transparent… and those that are less so.

There’s another complication to this story. The company also announced that it would be splitting its measurements and advertising services into two separate brands: Podtrac for the former, “Authentic” for the latter. It is unclear whether the division has any organizational significance; Podtrac and Authentic appear to still be rooted within the same company, and that may raise questions among some podcast companies whether there’s an insurmountable conflict of interest involved when you’re working with a third party measurements vendor that also happens to be competing with you on ad sales. This may introduce a disincentive for the podcast companies in the remaining 10% to join the ranker, which presents a whole other fault line to consider.

Anyway, the press release dropped in my inbox fairly late yesterday so I wasn’t able to do as much as due diligence as I’d like, which is why I’m punting the bulk of the analysis to the members newsletter. I’m due to get on the phone with Mark McCreary, Podtrac’s CEO, later today to talk about the launch, so hit me up if you have any questions.

Reading RadioPublic. May has proven to be a pretty big month for the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), the nonprofit launched back in September 2003 to help usher the American public radio system towards technological modernity. Last week, the nonprofit announced the addition of a new show to Radiotopia, its beloved podcast network/indie label, and shortly before that, the company successfully staged Radiotopia Live, its first network-wide live show, at the Ace Theater in Los Angeles.

The nonprofit rounded out those developments last Thursday with news that it was spinning out a whole new entity: RadioPublic, which it calls a “mobile listening company.” Formed as a public benefit corporation, the new venture has raised more than $1.5M in seed funding and will be headed up by Jake Shapiro, formerly PRX’s CEO. Kerri Hoffman, previously PRX’s COO, will replace Shapiro as the nonprofit’s chief executive. Collectively, PRX and RadioPublic will function as a “hybrid enterprise,” one that shares mission, governance, and partnership structure.

The RadioPublic team currently consists of three people — Shapiro is joined by developers Matt MacDonald and Chris Rhoden, both carryovers from the PRX team — and they’re on the lookout for more talent. The company is based in Boston.

So that’s all cool. But what on earth is a “mobile listening company”?

The company’s first product will be a consumer-facing app for the iOS and Android that’s slated to drop sometime in the fall, but I wouldn’t fixate on that. When I spoke with Shapiro and Hoffman to discuss the launch last week, I found it useful to borrow some ideas from the way we think about something like, say, Facebook. That tech giant can ostensibly be described as a social network, but I think it’s more accurate to picture it as a company that sits atop an ever-growing pile of attention-oriented user behavioral data whose primary touchpoint with people is a visually-oriented app (for web and mobile), which in turn serves as a foundation for the company to build a business around managing the relationship between users, media assets, and advertisers. Take that framework, apply it to user behavior data oriented around audio consumption along with a different set of relationships — users, audio publishers, advertisers — and you get a rough picture of how the long game for RadioPublic is set up. (In my head, anyway.)

“You can have a company built on a small development team or a thousand employees where the touchpoint is still an app, but the logic and insight and intelligence and IP and all the things that go into it that goes back into servicing the app,” Shapiro said. “There’s just a huge mountain of things that can be beneath that, and that’s what we need to build off of, and we want to start out with an app that’ll trigger all that.”

The mobile app, then, will be the company’s first effort to close the experience gap on the digital audio consumption side. Shapiro described RadioPublic’s product potential as “radio rethought” to various publications that picked up last week’s announcement, and a big part of that rethinking appears to involve streamlining the experience of consuming different kinds of audio within a single environment. “Some of those things we think we can interweave in an elegant way: retaining the simplicity and serendipity of radio while taking advantage of the control, complexity, and depth of podcasting, which has really been driving the growth in this space,” Shapiro told me. The aspect of simplicity, however, remains the key variable in the whole equation. “Our goal is hopefully simplify it down to just a play button, eventually,” Shapiro told Fast Company.

This idea of centralizing the listening experience situates RadioPublic within a trend that I’ve been noticing in the space for a while now, which I wrote about not too long ago in the context of Audible Originals and Spotify/Google Play Music picking up podcasts. It’s a trend that sees something of a structural redefinition of how audio content is understood on the internet. Forgive me for quoting myself: “Audio content produced for the Internet and distributed through the Internet will soon no longer be identified based on a singular technological method… but on the content itself.” But what I didn’t really pick up on then, and what’s becoming increasingly apparent to me now, is how that redefinition may introduce a new pressure on ad rates within the podcast ecosystem given that, at this point anyway, has largely resulted from certain stories we tell about podcasts as engaged, on-demand experiences, which are fundamentally tied to its quirks as a distribution channel.

Shapiro is fairly confident that any shift in the value narrative can happen smoothly. He told me that the aim for RadioPublic is to simultaneously support how podcast creators currently make money while building the bridge towards new kinds of monetization that will emerge out of whatever new consumption environment RadioPublic may usher in. “Our goal is also to do so in a way that benefits creators and make better listening experiences,” he added.

But that’s all pie-in-the-sky, meanwhile-in-the-future stuff. For now, the upcoming RadioPublic app will start out supplying PRX’s full catalogue, and will unfold from there. A few observers have already noted how the company’s theoretical app would put it in competition with Stitcher, Overcast — and, perhaps most notably, NPR One.

“We’ve reached out [to NPR One], and we certainly hope to collaborate with them,” Shapiro said. “Our general stance is that we want to have an open door policy for potential collaboration. We don’t think this is a zero sum game at all, especially at this stage of growth in the field.”

Cool.

Whereto PRX. Spinning out RadioPublic allows PRX to “somewhat resolve a tension” inherent in the nonprofit’s machinations up to this point, according to Hoffman, one that saw the organization being pulled to focus on producers and the public radio system on the one hand, and directly on audiences on the other. By breaking off RadioPublic into its own for-profit venture, PRX is able to offload some of those pressures onto its sibling company.

“PRX will continue to be a champion inside public radio in pushing for diversity, in pushing for better programming, in pushing for more digital access to programming and growing an audience — as we have all along,” Hoffman told me. “And with spinning out RadioPublic, that company is now able to really get the scale needed to bring new listeners into the fold.”

Under the Hoffman era, PRX will continue doubling down on several initiatives already in play: further growing Radiotopia, carrying out its talent-search program Podquest, working on the second version of its own dynamic ad insertion platform called Dovetail (which currently powers Radiotopia along with a few outside partners like Serial; it will also be integrated with RadioPublic’s platform), and continuing its overall efforts in working with public radio stations.

Funding Sources. A detail that stood out to me in RadioPublic’s launch announcement: its fairly hefty list of seed round investors, which includes the New York Times, American Public Media, Homebrew (home of venture capitalist Hunter Walk, who has written a fair bit about podcasts in the past), Matter Ventures (which PRX helped develop) — and, perhaps most notably, Graham Holdings.

As Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein pointed out on Twitter, Graham Holdings has become fairly ubiquitous across the stable of emerging podcast companies. The corporation — which once owned the Washington Post and Newsweek — is the parent company of Panoply (my former day job employer, by the way), and it is also a major investor in Gimlet, leading the Brooklyn-based startup’s Series A round and pouring $5M out of the $6M amount that was raised at the tail end of last year.

Keep an eye on ‘em.

Acast Launches Premium Subscription Feature. The Swedish podcast platform company rolled out a new service yesterday that will allow podcasters to adopt premium paywall strategies, according to the Wall Street Journal. The service, called “Acast+”, will be available to podcasters who host their episodes on the platform. Creators will have a fair bit of control over the paywall — they can set their own prices and tailor the spread of content on both sides of the paywall however they want — and Acast will be compensated by taking a cut of the revenue. About “15 to 20 podcasts” will be adopting the new feature off the bat, according to the report.

We’ve seen premium subscription efforts in podcasts before, of course. There’s Howl, Midroll’s premium podcast play that adopts Netflix’s internal, multiple-entry content universe approach. And then there were various podcasts that developed makeshift ways to monetize their back catalogues. (Examples include This American Life and WTF With Marc Maron, which both developed apps that lets users access their archives for a price. The latter has since moved its back-catalogue to Howl.) You could also argue that Slate adopts this approach with its Slate Plus program, which provides Slate Plus members additional content — including podcast extras. But I’m wont to group them in a completely separate category, because podcasts account for a relatively small fraction of what members receive, so it’s hard to draw comparisons with the kind of dynamics that are at play with something like Howl and premium show-specific back catalogs.

If you’re wondering whether a premium subscription model is right for you, I find it helpful to place Acast’s new offering right next to Medium’s recently launched membership feature set for small-to-mid-sized publishers. Both are positioned to solve a lot of the same kind of problems: both solutions shoulder the costs and effort involved in building the technical infrastructure to support memberships, both handle upkeep for that infrastructure, both open up an alternate revenue stream that would help diversify independent podcast businesses away from the potential volatile ad market, and both free up creators so that they may focus on content. But the drawbacks are similar as well: in particular, creators cede some control and independence to a middleman, and the rev share — depending on what it is and how it scales — may well be a sticking point for some podcasters below a certain size or monetization strength.

Add to this calculation the fact that the success of a premium subscription model — and a membership strategy — is contingent on several extraneous factors. I’ll provide some analysis on that for Thursday’s members newsletter. I’ll also add some notes on what this means for how Acast strategically stacks up against other platforms in the space. (Oh would you look at that?)

Anyway, speaking of Acast: it looks like they’ve been poking around Asia evaluating its feasibility as a potential market. I wonder how its American business is doing?

WBAA Reverses Decision on This American Life. About a week after announcing it would stop carrying This American Life — and sparking yet another rigorous discussion over the public radio system, the way it handles its digital future, and all the tensions packed within it — the West Lafayette, Indiana public radio station WBAA has decided that it won’t be terminating its relationship with the popular show after all. According to the station’s website, the decision was motivated, in part at least, by “considerable listener feedback.”

Current has a good write-up if you need a refresher on how that all went down last week (you could also check out my microwavable take on it), but for everybody already clued in, here’s something interesting: the original LinkedIn post by WBAA general manager Mike Savage making the initial announcement to break the relationship — which contained fantastic, sprawling discussions over the matter — is no longer active. But! Some good samaritan took screenshots and posted it on Tumblr. Power of a good archive, folks.

For Your Benchmarks. Over the weekend, The Ringer chief and media personality Bill Simmons noted on Twitter that his podcast, which serves as the flagship show for the Ringer podcast network, will exceed 50 million downloads by the end of the week. I’m assuming, of course, that the number refers to aggregate downloads across the show’s whole run since launch. (As of this writing, the show is up to 101 episodes.) Simmons also mentioned that the network is planning to launch five more shows “soon.”

He also tweeted something about how motherships are overrated (a clear shot at ESPN, his former employer with whom he parted unamicably) and how good quality stuff on the Internet will always find an audience “no matter who you are or where you are” — which, I mean, is a perfectly fine sentiment, but one that totally oversimplifies contemporary internet economics, platform politics, and resource accessibility; and not to mention a significant discounting of Simmons’ own historical opportunities to develop celebrity and grow an audience through traditional media structures.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan and I love everything that’s happening over at The Ringer (“The Watch” is my desert island pod, hands down), but still: man, it’s never that simple.

Bites:

  • Heads up: Edison Research is dropping the 2016 edition of its Podcast Consumer report soon. There’s a webinar on Thursday. I’m on it, of course.

  • The Tape Festival is back. (TapeFest)

  • Not podcast specific, but I love this ode to Zach Lowe, the prolific sports (well, mostly basketball) writer and podcaster, courtesy of Slate’s Josh Levin. (Slate)

  • “How Empire magazine came to reign over podcasts, too.” (Digiday)

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Tuesday

10

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

Apple, No One Knows Anything, Dynamic Ad Insertion Concerns

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

“This isn’t about arguing who’s right or wrong,” writes Federico Viticci, a technology blogger who publishes on his own independently-operated site, Mac Stories. “It’s about recognizing the divergence of needs and opinions in an industry that, in many ways, is still in its formative years.”

That, in a nutshell, sums up where we are right this second in the podcast community. On the one hand, you have a set of professionalizing, ambitious podcast companies pushing for better data analytics, discovery, and revenue opportunities — gripes that should be familiar if you read this column with any frequency — in their pursuit for maturity and considerable growth. And on the other hand, you have a grassroots population which has thus far enjoyed a version of the open internet, one that results from a delicate balance of power facilitated by the medium’s relative niche status up until this point. At stake in the tension between these two camps is, frankly, the fate of the medium’s future. (How dramatic! How lovely.)

It’s a story as old as content. But let’s start from the beginning.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a spicy article by John Herrman — a media critic-savant partially known for the excellent “Content Wars” column when he was a staffer the Awl —  about the relationship between the emerging podcast industry and Apple, which at this point still commands an outsized measure of influence over the space, and how those relationship-dynamics defines the current state that the professionalizing podcast industry finds itself in.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing, obviously, and there are so, so, so many nuances baked into the report, but the two key elements I want to focus on to get to the heart of this narrative are the following:

(1) The article paints a picture of a professionalizing and ambitious industry frustrated by the limits of its dependencies on Apple’s infrastructure, which still maintains its outsized influence over the space. The article interprets Apple as an indifferent steward of a podcast ecosystem that exists at the fringes of their operational focus — a state of affairs that may be shifting for the company as a whole, by the way, following reports that suggest an increasing shift in focus for the company towards services (see this Wall Street Journal article, and also this Bloomberg article on Apple Music) — and it chiefly illustrates this by exploring how the team that curates the iTunes promotions page, one of the very few reliable drivers for discovery and marketing in the space, is remarkably small and largely managed by one individual. (Hey Steve!)

(2) The heart of the piece is as follows: “The question for podcasters — and for Apple — is about what comes next,” Herrman wrote. “Apple has at least two obvious choices: to rush to accommodate an industry that is quickly outgrowing its origins, or to let podcasting be, at the risk of losing its claim over a medium that owes its very name to the company.”

The piece is, by and large, consistent with my own reading of the space, and I say this with full awareness that my coverage and focus has always been on the podcast companies, entities, and individuals that are agitating against the status quo for the purposes of growth.

That distinction is notable, because the article also drew a strong line of criticism that emerges from the grassroots layer of the ecosystem. The critique principally comes from Marco Arment, the creator of relatively well-known podcasting app called Overcast who is also something of an elder statesman for the older end of the podcast ecosystem. (Arment is also an angel investor in Gimlet, curiously enough.)

Writing on his blog, Arment expressed a deep skepticism of podcast entities advocating for more data and involvement from Apple. He argues that, in their endeavors to further grow its businesses, these agitating companies is will end up compelling changes that fundamentally compromise the open nature of the medium — that it would lead to Apple stepping into control over a previously open ecosystem, that all of this would lead to the creation of a “data economy” that deleteriously commoditizes the entire space, that the medium would naturally shift to a state that would shut out independent creators forever. Arment’s critique is, essentially, an argument of the slippery slope variety.

“Podcasting has been growing steadily for over a decade and extends far beyond the top handful of public-radio shows,” Arment argues. “Their needs are not everyone’s needs, they don’t represent everyone, and many podcasters would not consider their goals an ‘advancement’ of the medium.”

I’ve been tracking this entire conversation since the very second that the Times’ piece dropped, and I’m still struggling to find my own position on this. (It’s hard to form a take in such a short period of time, and I imagine my feelings will go through several iterations.)

But frankly, I’m torn.

On the one hand, I am thoroughly invested in seeing podcasts grow, mature, and further professionalize into a Big, Big Industry. I’d like this industry to grow to a point where it can command high and reliable revenue margins, generate high volumes of employment opportunities for creative audio professionals (not everybody can be self-employed and run a small, independent shop), boast an audience reach of hundreds of millions all over the world, that wields cultural influence and is capable of tremendous impact. And I simply don’t believe any of that is possible — or at least, it’s all incredibly difficult, a factor that I’d argue influences the industry’s financial accessibility — without much of what professionalizing podcast entities are pushing for. And I just don’t buy the notion of retaining the podcast’s RSS 2.0 roots and the black box nature of its knowability… like, I get the romance and nostalgia of it, I just think that’s really regressive.

But at the same time, I also have my own background concerns over whether the podcast companies that will grow to constitute Big Podcasting — the Gimlets, the Panoplies, the Midrolls — won’t collectively drive the ecosystem to a state that reductively commoditizes the form and freezes out independents. (Those ad loads, they keep getting heavier and heavier. I see you.) And I do very much want to retain a relatively open podcast environment (no matter how conditional that openness is) where crazy shit like The Worst Idea Of All Time can still have a shot at an audience, no matter how small the chance of discovery.

Indeed, the tension between the two communities with very separate needs and beliefs that share the same infrastructure is very real. It’s podcasts-as-blogs versus podcasts-as-future of radio, it’s the independents versus the corporate. But whatever happens with Apple, we’re going to have to confront this question — the push towards professionalization is fully underway. As Herrman put it quite succinctly in a series of tweets: “Whether or not Apple encourages it, online audio will develop beyond current infrastructure… Anyway, I understand horror at the industrialization of a creative medium. Participants I talked to think it’s coming one way or another. So the question *right now* is: by apple’s hand, or someone else’s. These conversations should sound familiar!”

The question is, then: can we cultivate a media universe that can effectively and simultaneously support two very, very different kinds of communities without compromising the integrity and efforts of each other? Can we, as the meme goes, get you an ecosystem that can do both?

In other words, it’s not a matter of whether we will see audio float into the Content Wars, it’s a matter of how we navigate that fight. Yes, the way forward opens up a universe of potential horrors: atrocious advertising ad experiences, advertising fraud (which already happens, by the way), excessively invasive tracking mechanisms that grossly compromise personal privacy, and so on.

But what the hell: you can’t make an omelette without cracking open a few skulls, and you can’t get the great without running the risk of getting the very, very bad. Things will change — things always change — but there will be new balances of power to find. And maybe it’s naive, but I believe there absolutely can be a future that’s better for every one of us.

Two quick things:

  • The Times article had a particularly interesting news hook: late last month, seven “leading podcast professionals” were reportedly invited to Apple to air their grievances for a collection of employees. According to a source who was present, that seven consisted of a mix between newer, enterprising Big Podcast companies and folks from what can only be described as the “older guard.” My source also mentioned that there were no representatives from public radio.
  • Some perspective from friend-of-the-newsletter Joseph Fink, who tweeted me the following earlier in the weekend “I was interviewed for that article, but guess my response of ‘yeah I dunno, it’s all pretty much fine’ wasn’t interesting.”

And two related readings floating in my mind that’s connected to all of this, but I couldn’t work ’em in: “Podcasting in 2015 feels a lot like blogging circa 2004: exciting, evolving, and trouble for incumbents” and “No garbage fires here: Medium advances its quest to gentrify the world of Internet publishing,” both from Nieman Lab. (What a great site.)

Measured. Time now for someone much smarter than me to weigh in. I recently asked Andrew Kuklewicz, Chief Technology Officer at PRX, to talk a bit about his vision for some sort of middle ground in requests for increased data granularity. He writes:

There’s data, and there’s creepy data. I want to know what anonymous people actually play and hopefully hear. We don’t need to fall down the creepy, slippery, slope and get names, blood types, or shoe sizes. We can survive without this, but it’s easier to sell new sponsors on audience numbers that resemble reality rather than shared fictions.

Personally, I’m more concerned with growing audiences, providing better ways for listeners to find shows they love, and likewise for producers to find their true fans. The more that happens, the more it supports shows and creators, and we all benefit as they create more of their best work.

I don’t know what others are asking for, but I’m not looking for Apple to extend their store model to podcasts. Even if they did, I expect and hope it would be one option among many built on podcasting. I also value the openness of podcasting, with its underlying standards, but standards progress when there is competition fueling innovation. As web browsers got better with competition, and so did their standards. I want podcasting to do the same – progress made with competition on products and content, but cooperation on open standards, platforms, and measures.

It will be messy, messier than a benevolent monopoly, but I also agree with keeping independence over ceding control to buy simplicity.

One important footnote on data and listening metrics: Doc Searls, the furthest thing from a sell out when it comes to privacy and people owning their data, has pushed for an idea where people should own their own listening data, and share with whom they choose. Most great ideas are tried a few times before they take off (e.g. six degrees before facebook), maybe 6 years later we should give Listen Log another go.

Sweet.

Designing A Elections Podcast For The Non-Wonk. If you’re launching an elections podcast, man, I don’t envy you. It’s one of the most saturated podcast genres in the market right now, a state of affairs not unrelated to the fact that there’s a US presidential election going on at the moment and it’s all been absolute bonkers.

A sample list of elections pods, which has considerably grown since the last time I discussed political pods: the “NPR Politics” podcast, the “FiveThirtyEight Elections” podcast, Politico’s “2016 Nerdcast,” Mic and the Economist’s “Special Relationship,” Slate’s longtime stalwart “Political Gabfest” and the topically-driven “Trumpcast,” MTV News’ “The Stakes,” the New Republic’s “Primary Concerns,” Vox’s “The Weeds” (occasionally, the show largely sticks to policy), The Ringer’s “Keepin’ It 1600” (featuring former Obama staffers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, no less), The Huffington Post’s “Candidate Confessional,” Futuro Media Group’s “In the Thick,” “The Pollsters,” and so on.

(For the record: I listen to a bunch of these, largely because… well, it’s my job, but also because I’m just a very curious foreign person despite my inability to actually vote. But man, I can’t even begin to imagine how any discerning voter should choose from this pile.)

Into the fray walks No One Knows Anything, a new political podcast from BuzzFeed. No One Knows Anything is the company’s sixth podcast overall, and the last show launched before Jenna Weiss-Berman, BuzzFeed’s Director of Audio, left the company to launch her own podcast venture. It also has the distinction of being the first in BuzzFeed’s pod roster that actively draws from talent and material from its news desk. Anchored by BuzzFeed politics reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro, the show aims to distinguish itself from the gabfest-style horse race roundup pod formats of its competitors, choosing instead to tell larger stories about the election.

I recently talked to the very awesome Meg Cramer, who produces the show (and who previously worked at APM’s Marketplace), and asked her a bunch of questions about the show’s design, podcast structures more broadly, and miscellaneous production-related things. Here are excerpts from our chat:

On process. “We’re on a weekly production schedule. We do it a little differently every time. We don’t script the show… we have very, very light scripting, and what we do instead is, like, we have a loose structure, we go into the studio, Evan and his guest host will move through the structure and hit every point, riff if they want to, usually beforehand we have the ‘found sound’ audio planned out. So, if we know that we have a supercut of people saying “Trump will never get elected,” I’ll be in the studio cuing that up and they’ll react to the cut in real time. And then we, like, put the tracking together with all the interviews in whatever order they happen in, listen to a rough cut of the episode, and then do an edit altogether, and then go back and do pickups.”

On the shows’ relationship to the news cycle. “There will be times where we have to speak to the news that’s happening that week, but for the most part, I don’t think that’s what we’re going to do. Because for the most part, that’s what a lot of other political shows do. And we’re trying not to be like a wrap-up show, and we’re trying to tell stories about things have already happened because we want as much information as we can get when we tell those stories. We don’t want to predict — this is like an anti-prediction show.”

On the show’s target audience. “We’re trying to serve a general news audience with a show about politics, because there are lots of things that serve the political news audience and we’re trying to reach a broader group of people than that,” she tells me. “People who are not necessarily political junkies, but who care about their vote. They’re probably going to vote, but they really care about who the next president is going to be and they want to be thoughtful about how they cast their vote.”

On the theory of show structures. “There are lots of things that you can refer to when you talk about structure. You can say, “every episode we will have this kind of segment, or every episode we will do a certain thing,” And I try really hard to resist that because I think it can be very tempting to give yourself a superstructure when you start a project, and you also learn that your superstructure was maybe a cool idea or a cool concept but it turns out to be very restricting and it doesn’t let you tell certain stories. It winds up being a situation where you’re working for the structure rather than have it work for you.”

On newsroom integration. “I’m interested to learn what it’s like to get a lot of people in a newsroom involved in podcasting. I think places like Slate has their flagships shows where people get to try out being on a show — being a panelist, being a guest — and they get to see if they’re good at it. I think that one thing that I’m really excited about this project, it’s not going to just be about me and Evan. I’m excited that other people in the newsroom get to try out having a big voice on this platform.”

You can check out the pod here.

Reservations Over Dynamic Ad Insertion. I haven’t written about dynamic ad insertion in a while, and I really should, because it’s one of the bigger narratives that’s been driving the technology piece of the space for the past year or so.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, podcast hosting platforms (like Panoply’s Megaphone, Acast, Art19, Triton Tap, and so on) that support dynamic ad insertion would allow publishers to easily swap out ad spots within a given podcast episode. This structurally breaks podcasts away from having “baked-in” ads — where they are one with the episode for the rest of time (or the internet, or until somebody replaces the file) — and drives them to a state where the ad inventory of a given episode is dramatically deepened and the friction of ad serving is drastically reduced. It also sets the conditions for tailored advertising experiences like geo-targeting and a programmatic audio advertising business to be built somewhere down the line.

To put it another way: money, money, money for publishers. If they can swing it, of course.

It’s a vision of the future that’s renders the podcast space drastically different in its monetization potential compared to whatever’s come before, one that would make podcasts function like the rest of the internet — for good or for bad, we don’t know yet (see the newsletter’s headline item). I imagine it’s being pitched as a win-win situation; advertisers get to more specifically target listeners, and publishers get to squeeze more value out of a given ad slot.

But some advertisers are not without reservations. Advertisers like Mack Weldon, the fancy bright-colored underwear startup, which now dedicates about a quarter of its monthly ad spend to podcast buys.

I recently traded emails with Collin Willardson, the company’s marketing manager, about some of his concerns. He listed out three in particular:

  • Firstly, Willardson argued that the imposition of format requirements for dynamic ad insertion support would end up putting a cap on the creative vitality that can go into the ad read. “Our biggest reservation with dynamic ads is that the ad is capped at 30 seconds,” he wrote. “We have found success when the host is allowed to do the read however long they feel best. They’ll know if they get the message across to their listeners, and sometimes they aren’t able to do that in just 30 seconds or less.” (I imagine the 30 second cap may differ from platform-to-platform and from show-to-show depending on how campaigns are sold, but I take his overall point.)

  • Secondly, Willardson also touched upon the value being lost when ads are no longer permanent — a feature that was appealing for some buyers. “Another reservation is knowing that our ad will not be there forever,” he argued. “We want to be associated with the show we have chosen carefully, even if you listen to it 5 years from now. There is something special about being a part of a show that you can listen to and be entertained by 5 years later, and we want to be a part of that experience.”

  • Finally, Willardson brings up what may well be the fundamental hurdle presented by the technology: the dissolution of the “intimacy” so associated with the media format. “Dynamic ad insertion disassociates the host from the advertiser, so they care less about the actual product or brand they’re trying to sell. Audiences pick up on that, and quickly tune out. On a medium with a built-in 15 sec skip button, a 30-second ad is too easily never heard,” he wrote.

I’ve been hearing variations of these concerns from a few advertisers — all of which are direct response advertisers relatively new to the medium — over the past few weeks. For what it’s worth, I don’t think these reservations are particularly insurmountable or fundamentally detracts from the value of dynamic ad insertion technology; rather, my sense that Willardson’s arguments stem from a frustration with the pitches currently being made by podcast publishers.

Bites:

  • The worst kept NPR pod secret is finally out: the Code Switch podcast will launch May 31. In case you’re unfamiliar, Code Switch is NPR’s FABULOUS blog that covers stories on race, ethnicity and culture. The pod is going to be hosted by Gene Demby (who also hosts the Post-Bourgie pod) and Shereen Marisol Meraji. I, for one, am extremely excited about this. (NPR Extra)
  • Eleanor Kagan has been announced as BuzzFeed’s new Director of Audio. She produces Another Round, and will continue doing in addition to developing new projects. (Twitter)
  • Katelyn Bogucki, who has until this point headed up the Huffington Post’s podcast operation, is heading over to Gimlet, where she joins the company’s Creative team.
  • “From out of nowhere, the US Energy Department launches a great podcast.” (The Verge)