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Tuesday

7

March 2017

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COMMENTS

A New Podcast Production Company, Third Coast 2017 Dates, Unladylike Media

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

A quick note of the sausage-making variety: I had originally planned this issue around the theme of platforms which, in podcasting and just about everywhere else, seems to be the defining problem of our media-consuming era. However, the piece of news on which I had hoped to hang the week got pushed back for some reason or other, and I thought it would be bad form to break the embargo or perform some interpretative dance around the hole it leaves behind while continuing on with the theme. (The news is scheduled to roll out soon enough, though. You’ll know it when you see it.) Anyway, it’s all good, as this week turned out to have a thread of its own. You’ll figure that out soon enough.

That’s probably way more preamble than necessary. Let’s jump into the week.

Midroll Executive Producer leaves to start own venture. Gretta Cohn, the company’s New York-based executive producer of show development, is breaking off to form her own production company. Identifying details of the new venture — including a name, focus, and initial client list — will be rolled out in the coming weeks, but Cohn hit me up last week to tell me that the business will be a production company that’s closer to something like Pineapple Street Media than a straightforward podcast network. “We’ll produce shows for a variety of partners, and help brands and individuals create highly produced podcasts, from start to finish,” she said, noting that the company will specialize in highly edited and sound design-rich work. The company will also be producing original work.

The venture, whatever it will be called, is expected to officially launch in April.

Cohn enters the market with substantial experience as an operator in the new podcast industry. Her history with Midroll dates back to December 2014, when she was hired as a founding member of the company’s then-nascent New York office. There, Cohn was responsible for building out much of the company’s production staff, and she led development on several high-profile Earwolf projects including the fantastic Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People with Chris Gethard, the Katie Couric podcast, and the re-launch of the Longest Shortest Time. She also led the initial programming slate within Howl, the premium subscription service that Midroll launched prior to acquiring Stitcher, which included Fruit, the fiction podcast by Issa Rae. Prior to her time at Midroll, Cohn worked at WNYC, where she served as the associate producer on Freakonomics Radio and Soundcheck. In a previous life, Cohn was a cellist in a rock band.

When asked for comment, Midroll CEO Erik Diehn told me: “She’s dead to me. JUST KIDDING. Gretta is a talented producer whose star is rising, and we were lucky to have her dedicated to Midroll full-time for more than two years… She’s done so much for us for so long that I cannot begrudge her the urge to strike out on her own and become the architect of her own destiny for a while.”

Diehn adds, “And while we’ll miss her, we view her new venture as a positive development overall for the industry. Our business depends on the flourishing of a Hollywood-style ecosystem of producers and production companies working with us on individual projects — much as Pineapple Street did with Missing Richard Simmons. The more talent independent production companies with whom we and others can work, the better.”

March 29 will be Cohn’s last day at Midroll. You can find her website here.

Third Coast Festival announces 2017 dates. Mark your calendars, ye bleeding heart audio documentarians: this year, the Chicago-based international audio festival will take place on November 9 to 11 — slightly earlier in the weekend, from Thursday to Saturday, which the festival’s organizers tells me will make it easier for attendees to travel back to their respective lives on Sunday. This latest conference will mark the second edition of Third Coast since the festival shifted to an annual production. It previously took place every two years.

Maya Goldberg-Safir, the festival’s artistic associate, passed me a few details:

  • In addition to the usual run of events, this year’s festival will also feature a three-hour bootcamp for audio production beginners looking for more exposure to the work. That’ll take place on the afternoon of November 9.

  • The festival will take place in the same hotel as last year, and there will be a limited capacity to the festival: capped at 700 people.

  • Ticket prices will go up slightly this year. Keep an eye out for that.

  • Potential session leaders — and sponsors — are encouraged to reach out.

Tickets go live on August 22.

Anchor 2.0. The Betaworks-incubated social audio app, which caught a fair bit of buzzwhen it first launched just over year ago, is making another push to establish its value. This morning, the app rolled out its second iteration. Among its new features are:

  • What appears to be an audio equivalent of the “Stories” feature that we see in visual social platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. (Has anybody coined a term for the phenomenon where, over the long run, everything on the Internet will ultimately be the same exact thing?)

  • New audio creation tools, including the ability to pull in music tracks from Apple Music or Spotify, external audio clips, and pre-made musical fillers. (One imagines that music licensing will be a big part of this conversation.)

  • Distribution over voice-first platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, in addition to the usual places like iOS, Android, and that old thing called the web.

According to the press release, the app will also feature content from established publishers like the Gizmodo Media Group, IGN, and WNYC, among others. The nature of those content partnerships between Anchor and those publishers remain unclear to me. Further details can be found in the company’s blog post.

Also worth noting: the announcement comes with the revelation of a new $2.8 million funding round. It was led by Accel Partners, and includes The Chernin Group, the Omidyar Network, Mick Batyske, and Eniac Ventures, a previous investor.

I try not to make it a habit to write about social audio apps very much, but I do find this news interesting on two levels:

  • Anchor’s announcement this morning seems to pit the app directly against Bumpers, the creation-emphasizing social audio app founded by Twitter alums Ian Ownbey and Jacob Thornton. (Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s many co-founders, is an investor in Bumpers.) While it remains to be seen whether an “Instagram” or “Snapchat” or “Twitter” (or “Yo”) for audio is a digital product category that will actually end up being a thing, it’s nonetheless fascinating to watch this sector of the digital audio space work itself out.

  • In my head, I’ve come to place Anchor and Bumpers in one bucket, given both these app’s focus on serving as the mediating space between users and other users, while establishing another bucket specifically for short-form audio app 60dB and the AI-oriented Otto Radio which seems, to me at least, primarily occupied with developing a firm grasp on the interface between professional publishers and listeners.

This week I’m tracking… Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2017 Study that’s due to come out this Thursday.

Going Solo. “I dunno if this crossed your radar,” a reader wrote to me last month. “But I would love a Hot Pod interview with the ladies behind Stuff Mom Never Told You.” The reader mentioned that Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, the current hosts behind that feminist-oriented HowStuffWorks podcast, had published their last episode at the end of last year, and were moving on to start their own independent media company, Unladylike Media. (Not to be mistaken with the Australian podcast of the same name.) I had heard about the show’s current iteration ending, but I confess I missed the fact that a new venture was coming out of this. So, I reached out to Conger with a few questions, and she obliged with a set of lengthy, fascinating response.

“We’re much more Sisters Doin’ It For Themselves than….a revenge song title that will probably come to me 5 minutes after I send this,” Conger insisted, not wanting the story’s angle to mischaracterize the impetus behind Unladylike Media’s formation, or their relationship with HowStuffWorks. There’s a lot baked into Conger’s responses, so I figured it’s worth running the full Q&A. It runs long, so you might want to save it for later.

Here it is:

Could you walk me through the history of Stuff Mom Never Told You?

Caroline and I were never “supposed” to be podcast hosts. We were both printed word nerds, met at our college newspaper and hadn’t ever regularly kept in touch. HowStuffWorks (HWS) wasn’t even a podcast network when they hired me as a staff writer in 2008. Unbeknownst to me, Caroline was working as an editor at a mid-size newspaper.

Not long after I started, HWS began dabbling in podcasts as a way to stretch the deeply researched articles us writers and editors were producing each week. Stuff You Should Know* was such an instant juggernaut, the department essentially held an open call for new hosts and show ideas. That’s how Stuff Mom Never Told You (SMNTY) happened and eventually launched in February 2009 (first episode: Do men and women have different brains?). Also, credit where credit is due to then-HSW editor-in-chief Conal Byrne for getting that idea off the ground – and while knee-deep in a recession.

By happenstance, Caroline had left the newspaper job, moved back to Atlanta and gotten in touch with me. We met up at a sports pub of all places, and it’s almost like we never stopped talking. We just had conversational chemistry out of the gate. Unlike my typical “friend dating” anxiety, I wasn’t panicking on the inside that I’d run out of interesting things to say and bring our hangout to an awkwardly silent halt.

So when the current co-host** left, Caroline hopped on board. Then in December, after 833 episodes, we hung up our Stuff Mom Never Told You headphones.

What were the factors that led to your new venture?

The more success we enjoyed with show, the more Caroline sensed it was only a matter of time. I was a little more precious about, but then I went to Werk It at WNYC in June and never looked back. If any of those rad women are reading this, thank you!

SMNTY was a tremendous opportunity, and we miss the fan community we built dearly. But we also want to do better by them, and we couldn’t do that and remain a HSW at the same time, both on principle and practicality.

Speaking exclusively to our situation since we aren’t attempting to speak for anyone currently with the company, there was no incentive to growing the show. We tumbled through two acquisitions*** on scrappiness and inertia. But without IP ownership or revenue shares, the pot at the end of the rainbow was starting to look like fool’s gold. Meanwhile, we were producing two podcasts and as many as four videos each week; our content-ing game was fire, no doubt.

Plus, producing a massive library of more than 800 deeply researched episodes was a crash course in efficiency at the cost of creative growth. The medium had evolved so much during the show’s run that Caroline and I were also itching to break it all down and build something better and smarter, more dynamic and inclusive.

Not to mention we wanted to commit the radical act of women making media and owning it, too. It’s refreshing when feminism isn’t side-eyed as a liability.

You said that “there was no incentive to growing” SMNTY. Could you talk more about that?

Personally, I’ve thought about that a lot — what shifted my mindset to it no longer being OK to just Make The Thing and not worry so much about whether I was getting back what my time and talent are worth. When I pitched SMNTY in 2008, IP rights and revenue shares were a moot point. I earned a salary as the HWS staff writer I was hired to be, and that was that.

But in the meantime, the value of podcasting began growing inversely to the cheapening of editorial content, which was the HSW bread and butter — not to mention my own as a word nerd. Throw in the company changing hands a couple of times, and it makes sense that the industry outpaced their podcast model. What then shifted for me was not wanting to wait around for course correction while still not owning or profiting from growing the show. Plus, I’d been there since soon out of college and had just turned 30. It was time to bet on myself.

And you mentioned that “it’s refreshing when feminism isn’t side-eyed as a liability.” Was that an issue at HSW?

A feminist podcast about gender, bodies and sexuality was understandably outside of the HSW core brand’s science/tech/trivia wheelhouse from the get-go. So it speaks highly that we even got the green light to launch. Nor were we ever censored. But when you’re 1) inherently off-brand (in a marketing sense) and 2) that brand ethos is feminism and 3) upper management is predominantly male, it can sometimes feel like an elephant in the room.

Tell me more about Unladylike Media. What’s the premise, how does the business work right now, and how does it functionally differ from the arrangement with HowStuffWorks?

At its core, Unladylike is us making the media we want to see in the world and wish existed when we were growing up. It’s also us taking a bet on ourselves, which is re-energizing to remember during this hustle. Neither of us left HSW until we left, so we’ve hit the ground running from the ground floor.

Next spring, Ten Speed Press is publishing Unladylike the book, so we’re currently splitting our time between manuscripting and developing a podcast pilot with Midroll. Women, gender and feminism are still our holy trinity, but it’s a completely different concept from structure and sound to topics and narratives. It’s exactly the creative challenge that we’ve been pining for.

That means the business is still in development, which is a good thing because we’re taking the time to build a quality foundation instead of throwing spaghetti against the wall. Looking ahead, we envision Unladylike as a multi-platform destination for sisters doin’ it for themselves.

Unladylike Media, Congers tells me, which aims to “inform and inspire women, girls and nonbinary folks,” is due to roll out their new website today. And in addition to the Midroll pilot and book deal mentioned in the interview, Conger and Ervin have also been publishing a weekly newsletter.

When reached for comment, HWS Chief Content Officer Jason Hoch said: “We love their work and wish them luck on their new efforts. We respect the confidentiality of our private arrangements with our hosts, although we can say that everyone in our company shares in the company’s success.”

Last week, HowStuffWorks announced their latest podcast, FoodStuff, with Blue Apron as the launch sponsor. It is the network’s thirteenth podcast.

* The network’s flagship show.
** Molly Edmonds was the podcast’s other original co-host. She left the show in 2011.
*** The current owner is the Seattle-based Bluecora, which bought the company from Discovery Communications in 2014.

Bites. 

  • “Uber plans to turn its app into a ‘content marketplace’ during rides.” This provides the bigger picture surrounding a development that I’ve previously highlighted — that of Otto Radio establishing a partnership with Uber last October. (TechCrunch)
  • Missed this last week: Charley Locke’s latest is on the ethical slipperiness of host-read ads — a long-time concern, to be sure. I don’t think I’m as skeptical as Locke appears to be with her analysis, but I am here for this quote from a communications professor: “When hosts do the ads, advertisers are assuming there’s a parasocial relationship between the host and the listener.” (Wired)
  • “Christians Turn To Podcasts To Say Things They Can’t Say In Church.” (NPR)
  • Well this is interesting: “These shiny concept earphones are the latest vessel for Sony’s digital assistant.” (The Verge)

Post Note. Quick housekeeping note: I’ll be traveling later this week to SXSW, so if you’re a Hot Pod Pro subscriber, I might be spotty with Saturday’s newsletter. And if you’ll be at SXSW as well, come check out the panel on podcast advertising that I’ll be moderating! Also, come say hi. I’m probably not going to do very much in Austin, other than hitting up some pod stuff — like the Recode tapings, the 30 for 30 panel, and the PRX live show situation — because I don’t do festivals or huge clumps of people very well. Mostly, I plan to walk around, dip into Barton Springs, and maybe check out some trees.

In other news, I tried the Kevin Nguyen-Tom Hiddleston GQ bolognese recipe last week, and it was 100%.

Friday

3

March 2017

0

COMMENTS

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

6

December 2016

0

COMMENTS

A Mess of (Distribution) Options

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

TLDR
  • Midroll makes a slew of executive hires.
  • The Quick and Dirty Tips network looks forward to a focused 2017, and welcomes a new sister podcast network.
  • NPR One opens up an in-app pathway for direct donations to the public radio mothership from non-American listeners.
  • The Financial Times caps an aggressive year in podcasting with the launch of “Everything Else,” their fifth launch in 2016.
  • The IAB releases a revised Digital Audio Buyers guide. Is grouping podcasts with the rest of digital audio a good thing? *shruggie*
  • Notes on navigating an environment saturated with distribution points.

Midroll’s new executive hires:

  • Korri Kolesa is the new head of sales, replacing Lex Friedman as he settles into his new Chief Revenue Officer role.

  • Eric Spiegelman is the new VP of Business Affairs, taking now-CEO Erik Diehn’s place. I’m being told more information on this hire will be released soon.

  • Peter Clowney is the new executive editor. He was previously the head editor at Gimlet Media.

Of particular interest is Kolesa, who is taking over what is probably Midroll’s biggest revenue engine, its ad sales business. A digital media veteran with ample experience heading up sales teams for digital products not quite yet understood by the advertisers — she led the strategy for sites in the Fox Interactive Media portfolio like MySpace and IGN in the late 2000s, if that means anything to you — Kolesa is being brought in by Midroll to transition its sales operations out of its often patchwork startup configurations towards structures more capable of scaling. She was most recently a Project Director at Spark No. 9, a consultancy aimed at launching new businesses.

“Our team already knows how to sell, so the focus now is going to be, ‘what can we optimize?’” said Lex Friedman, who has headed sales at the company since 2013. Friedman was recently promoted to Chief Revenue Officer following former CEO Adam Sachs’ departure over the summer. Friedman will still be involved in the sales side, but his role will see him spending more time figuring out the next steps for the company’s emerging live events strategy and getting ready for a “significant announcement” regarding its premium subscription business, Howl. That’ll come “pretty soon.” Kolesa started work yesterday.

The Road Ahead for the Quick and Dirty Tips network. The decade-old, 12-podcast strong network recently surpassed its 250 million lifetime download mark, and it’s getting ready for a busy, but focused, 2017. As network head Kathy Doyle told me over email:

We’re focused on continuing to build QDT’s audience and increase distribution for our core shows. We’re always open to testing new talent but, for now, we want to ensure we’re able to tap into the surge we’re all seeing in podcast consumption and make sure we’re reaching new listeners as we work to continue our great growth.

Also on the plate: the launch of a sister network. For those unfamiliar, QDT is a joint venture between MacMillan Publishing and Mignon Fogarty, whose Grammar Girl podcast anchors the network (you can find more details in a recent profile by freelance journalist Simon Owens), and Doyle informs me that the publishing house is getting ready to launch the MacMillan Podcast Network, its own slate of author-centric shows. She writes:

We’re taking our expertise and leveraging relationships with in-house Macmillan authors who are logical fits for the medium. These new shows will come in a variety of formats to help deepen relationships with readers and expand an author’s platform.

This new MacMillan network appears to be the logical conclusion of a long-running trend that sees authors adopting podcasts as a channel to deepen and sustain their relationship with audiences — and not to mention, to build out an alternative revenue stream to book sales. (See: Maximum Fun’s Magic Lessons podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert, Panoply’s Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, and so on.) I’d be interested to see if other book publishers will follow suit; though, given that none of them possess an arrangement quite like that between MacMillan and QDT, I kinda doubt it.

Anyway, the nascent MacMillan Podcast Network is kicking things off by releasing a preview of an upcoming author show: Raise My Roof with Cara Brookins, which is meant to accompany Brookins’ memoir that’s scheduled for a January release.

Some non-American NPR One listeners will be able to donate directly to NPR through the app, starting next year. This marks the first time the public radio mothership is establishing a contribution pipeline directly with listeners, according to a Current article on the matter.

If you’re asking, what about Americans? Well, join the club. When I popped the question over to the network, a spokesperson replied: “We are actively working to improve the local-station pledge experience within the app over the coming months… In 2017, we will expand on this by working with a pilot group of stations to explore a more direct connection between their listeners and their payment gateway.”

That likely means direct donations from American listeners to NPR will remain off the table. If that bums you out, considering purchasing 50 Nina Totin’ Bags off the NPR merch site. The effect is probably equivalent, plus some percentage sales tax.

The Financial Times rolls out the latest in its growing line of podcasts last week: Everything Else, a culture magazine show. This marks fifth podcast that the paper has launched in 2016. (Which, y’know, seems kind of aggressive.)

When I asked how the paper evaluates its podcast strategy, a spokesperson replied:

We measure the success of our podcasts in a number of ways. Subscriber numbers are important, of course, but we also gather data on engagement — whether readers favorite or share our podcasts, whether readers write in and interact with our hosts. Shows like FT Management’s Business Book Review and Alphachat have particularly enthusiastic listener responses.”

High engagement is great, but of course, the larger question is whether the organization will be able to translate that into a proportional revenue outcome that would justify the investment. Anyway, when I requested for some stats on the publication’s podcast audience, I was told there were over 3.5 million downloads of FT podcasts in the last 30 days. Cut that up however you will.

Just a side note: the only FT podcast that I consume with any regularity is Alphachat. That show goes deep, really embracing its casual wonkiness — a direct extension of its parent blog, Alphaville, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary — and that’s generally a winning formula for the specific value proposition that the medium brings to a publication like the Financial Times.

The Outline went live yesterday, with a new podcast in its lineup: “Sound Show.” The publication now has two other shows: Tomorrow, which basically functions as founder Joshua Topolsky’s personal stump, and Out West, a fan theory pod for HBO’s Westworld, which wrapped its first season this past weekend. And for those keeping tabs: the pods are hosted on Megaphone.

Outline audio director John Lagomarsino tells me that he’s totally taking freelance pitches for Sound Show. “We’re not limiting it to just in-house writers, by any means. Multi-story episodes with a mix of writers/producers is totally the vibe we’re gonna arrive at,” he says. Hit it up, buds.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) releases revised Digital Audio Buyers Guide. For those unfamiliar, the IAB is a trade association that functions as a kind of mediating body between various aspects of the digital media ecosystem and the advertising community. The IAB has played a somewhat active role in attempting to attract more advertisers to the podcast industry, in part by trying to get podcast companies to cooperate over a standard ad metric (last I heard, with mixed results), in part by setting the narrative for advertisers. The buyers guide comes out from the latter, and this particular version was prepared by Jennifer Lane, the association’s newly appointed Industry Initiatives Lead for Audio. Lane previously worked at the digital audio trade news site RAIN News.

Obviously, check out the guide in full if you work on the advertising side of things, but this is what I’m primarily thinking about:

One has to wonder about the narrative/branding effects of lumping podcasts together with the rest of digital audio, placing the format — and its very specific quirks (as well as potential) — within the same buying conversation as streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartMedia. Those latter companies currently function at a much greater scale than podcasts, and the value propositions for the two groups, both in terms of advertising formats and content, are drastically different. That being said, there is some transaction to be made in that consolidation of types, I think; podcasting is able to get some spillover attention from those digital audio platforms whose narratives are already established, while those platforms benefit somewhat from the shiny novelty of podcasting’s (re)surging profile. (It is, after all, something new to talk about, no?) The question is whether or not that transaction is equitable, and that’s up to you to decide. My personal, initial impression is that it isn’t, and that the podcast industry suffers more from experiencing a high likelihood of being subjected to inappropriate one-to-one audience comparisons.

In any case, I’ve previously written about my suspicion that we’re bound for a convergence in platforms and types either way — that at some point, the term “podcasting” would have no functional purpose as the content being developed in the industry becomes more agnostic in how its being distributed. (We’ve begun to see some of that. Two examples: iHeartMedia’s peculiar creep into the podcast space, Audible’s repackaging of one of its original programs for distribution outside its Channels ecosystem.) I stand by the conclusion I made back when I first wrote about that potential convergence: that the podcast space, as well as the digital audio space more broadly, would begin to be more defined by its content type than by its distribution structure.

Related: iHeartRadio is apparently producing a podcast with Arianna Huffington’s new media venture, Thrive Global. Hm.

A Mess of Options. The number of potential distribution points for on-demand audio is kinda getting out of hand. Consider the following question on this date, the last month of 2016: if you’re a podcast publisher, which distribution platform should you be keeping a close eye on and investing tangible resources towards?

You have, of course, the de facto stronghold that everybody already knows about and has probably dedicated much of their distribution strategy to wooing: the native iOS Podcast app and its underlying iTunes infrastructure, whose share of ear is roughly upwards of 50%. But you also have the wide, wide range of independent third party podcast apps, from Overcast to Castro, all of which command some small percentage of the overall podcast listenership. And then you have Stitcher, previously one of the biggest of those third party apps, which was acquired earlier this year by Midroll Media and is therefore likely to see some resurgence in capital and activity. Now, let’s not forget the slew of new, buzzy contenders, like RadioPublic and 60dB (and not to mention the public radio-specific NPR One, which is less new but remains nonetheless part of this category), all jonesing to do some exciting with the consumer-side experience. And then you have the larger music streaming platforms, like Google Play Music and Spotify, which over the past year have added podcasts into their inventory… to so-far little revolutionary effect, it appears. (Which reminds me: best not leave out Pandora’s lone dalliance into the space with This American Life and Serial.) And then we have the more unconventional routes to market — things like Otto Radio, with its car-specific integrations and recently announced partnership with Uber, and the Amazon Alexa platform, which is pulling in a steady stream of short content publishers. And what about the spread of older audio streaming platforms in the space, like iHeartMedia and TuneIn, which are agitating their way into podcasts, whatever that means for those companies that come from drastically different structural interpretations of digital audio? Oh, and what about the connected car dashboard? (What ABOUT the dashboard?)

It’s a mercilessly long list, and from the whispers I’ve been hearing, it’s only going to get a whole lot longer as we move into the new year. Which is theoretically interesting; while I don’t completely buy the oft-uttered refrain that podcast discovery and distribution is broken — even now at the very end of 2016 (garbage, garbage 2016) — it remains well below par, and what’s theoretically exciting about all of this is how this reflects a high level of competition in approaches on how to improve listening experiences and growing the overall pie, which I view is a good thing.

But at this point in time, all those approaches are yet-to-fully-realized potentials, and a good chunk of them are requesting support — or at least, cooperation and participation — from publishers. This presents a problem for the perpetually resource-constrained podcast publisher, which I articulated at the top of this item: which nascent distribution platform should I be keeping a close eye on and investing tangible resources towards? I can’t tell you what to do, but here are three quick thoughts on the matter:

  • The basics: keep in mind that any such partnership is a transaction, and just the math of figuring out of whether any such arrangement you strike up equitably benefits both sides. After all, both publisher and platform are targeting the same thing: more listeners/users, and at the end of the day one imagines there would be some eventual tension in how both parties are competing for listener/user loyalty.

  • It’s quite possible that we end up in a situation where each app commands very specific kinds of users. Consider the possibility that a user who ends up primarily listening to podcasts over Spotify isn’t possess the same demographic or psychographic profile as a user who favors RadioPublic. These differences, then, should be the basis of a publisher’s strategy in the way it chooses which distribution partnership to invest more time, energy, and resources in. This also suggests a way every distributor can illustrate its value proposition in attempts to cultivate greater cooperation or participation with a given publishing partner.

  • This point should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: if you’re a resource-constrained publisher, don’t overextend yourself across all possible partnership options. Pick your battles, and your partners, wisely.

Anyway, that’s all I’ll say about that.

Bites:

  • Sam Sanders is leaving the NPR Politics Podcast roster at the end of January, though he’s staying at the public radio mothership and will be launching a new show. (Twitter) Sanders’ co-panelist, Asma Khalid, is leaving NPR to work the biz/tech beat at WBUR. She will also be launching a new podcast. (Twitter)
  • DGital Media is reportedly seeing revenue “in the high seven figures.” (LA Biz Journal)
  • “Hearst Is Launching a 10-Person Team Tasked With Building Voice-Activated Experiences.” (AdWeek)
  • “Using podcasts to capture stories: Gardner Pilot Academy sixth-graders push their writing and technical skills.” (Harvard Gazette)
  • “Here’s the climate change podcast you didn’t know you were looking for.” (The Verge)

Moves:

  • Bryan Moffett has been named the Chief Operating Officer at National Public Media, the entity that handles ad sales, underwriting, and sponsorship for NPR and PBS. He previously held the role of General Manager. Smart move.
  • Brendan Baker has left Love + Radio to spend some time exploring new projects and creative directions. “Basically I want to take what I’ve been doing on L+R and apply it in new contexts. So I’m open to collaborating with other shows or producers on special projects, but I also consult and teach workshops on sound design and would like to do more of that, too,” he told me over email. “I think we need producers need to start to thinking more like film directors. So I’d really love to talk to people who are in a position to fund audio projects that take a more cinematic approach toward direction and production.”
  • I’m being told that Leital Molad, who had helped launched WNYC’s health show Only Human and served as executive producer on that project, is the new Executive Producer for Podcasts at First Look Media. This development apparently took place back in October. Not sure what’s going on over there, will let y’all know soon.

Tuesday

7

June 2016

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COMMENTS

Scripps Acquires Stitcher, Midroll CEO Steps Down, Hivio 2016

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

Big Moves at Midroll Media and EW Scripps. Okay, two big things from Midroll:

(1) EW Scripps, the parent company of Midroll Media, has acquired Stitcher, the podcasting app that’s widely considered to be the popular alternative to the default Apple podcast app, for $4.5 million in cash. According to the Wall Street Journal report on the move yesterday, Stitcher will now operate under Midroll, with the former’s dozen or so employees being transferred onto Midroll’s payroll. Stitcher previously operated under Deezer, the French streaming audio company, after the latter acquired it for an undisclosed sum in October 2014. Stitcher had been quiet in terms of new developments ever since.

Acquisition talks started in earnest in early January, Midroll’s VP of Business Development Erik Diehn told me over the phone yesterday. “It’s one of those things where serendipity drove the whole process,” he said, further mentioning that both companies had compelling strategic reasons for the acquisition. In a separate call, Midroll CEO Adam Sachs provided clarity on this point: “Stitcher, as we know it as a podcatcher, is the second most popular podcast player in the world, and there’s a lot of value in there right off the bat,” he said. “But there are a lot of other pieces that are also really valuable, like the fact they come with a strong technology team.” Sachs pointed out how Midroll’s technology team has up until this point been fairly small, a state of affairs that complicates the fact that the company is increasingly pushing deeper into initiatives that require a lot more tech talent, like its premium subscription app Howl.

Speaking of Howl, it remains unclear how Stitcher will affect that particular technological piece of the company’s business. Diehn told the Wall Street Journal that at some point, the apps will “intersect,” and he told me that any plans for such intersection is TBD. “One thing we don’t want to do is disrupt Stitcher, and we don’t want Stitcher to disrupt Midroll,” Diehn said. He further added that Midroll aims to leave Stitcher’s role as a provider agnostic platform intact, in that it will continue serving users podcasts regardless of where they come from. “We won’t turn it into a walled garden, we’re leaving ads intact, and you won’t start seeing a giant feed of Comedy Bang Bang and Lauren Lapkus and the occasional Midroll show,” Diehn said.

The acquisition met some criticism, however, particularly from Overcast app creator Marco Arment and prominent tech blogger John Gruber, both of which represent strong voices in the podcasts-as-open-web-extension contingent of the ecosystem. They highlighted Stitcher’s nature as a proprietary platform, whose possible dominance — combined with some suboptimal elements of the platform’s agreements with creators — will lead not only to a closed ecosystem that’s bad for both creators and consumers . Both posts are worth the read (you can find them here and here). Midroll’s VP of Sales and Development Lex Friedman tweeted his disagreement, of course, and promised a more substantial rebuttal in a blog post to come.

Alright, so there’s that, but then there’s also the bombshell that…

(2) Adam Sachs, the company’s CEO, is stepping down. Sachs has been the CEO of Midroll since June 2014, taking over from Jeff Ulrich, one of the company’s original founders. He shepherded the company through its $50 million acquisition by Scripps in July 2015. Previously, Sachs was the co-founder of Stepout, a dating app that was acquired by IAC in September 2013.

Sachs first announced his departure to the company in an email sent out last Tuesday. “The truth is that I’ve been running a startup (Stepout and then Midroll) for nearly a decade and that’s exhausting!”, he wrote. “Still, at my core, I’m an entrepreneur. I still have the fire in my belly to build companies.”

According to the note, he will remain at the company for another week, after which he will spend another month on a consulting basis to aid with the transition. There is no clear successor or succession plan in place, though Diehn and Friedman are expected to take up the brunt of Sach’s managerial responsibilities. Sachs told me that a replacement might not take place any time soon, but added that he believes the company has a strong enough management team to handle the interim.

He has no idea what his next move will be, or so he tells me.

As for The Wolf Den, the company’s podcast about the podcast industry, there is also no clear successor in line. Though, from what I hear, Friedman and Chief Content Officer Chris Bannon are campaigning hard for the role.

Highlights from Hivio. I spent the better part of last week in Los Angeles, checking out a digital audio conference called Hivio. The conference drew a quirky mix of commercial radio, public radio, online audio, podcast, and assorted media types, and though it wasn’t immediately clear who, exactly, the intended audience was meant to be, I found the dynamics involved in the hodgepodge nonetheless informative. Many of these worlds have thus far kept each other at arms’ length, even as some grow more prominent and others begin to question their foundations, and as all these different digital audio sectors continue down what I’m fairly convinced is a collision course, it was great to get an early preview on how everyone will deal with each other.

Anyway, the conference programming drew out a lot of information — and even more rote talking points — and you can check out full recaps elsewhere, but here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • NPR’s VP of Programming and Audience Development, Anya Grundmann, noted in a presentation that the number of NPR listeners (across all platforms) over the age of 55 is now roughly the same as the number of listeners in the 13-34 age group. That data point comes from an Edison’s Share of Ear study covering the first quarter of 2016.

  • “We’re pleased with the experiment,” says Lizzie Widhelm, Pandora’s SVP of Ad Product Sales and Strategy, when discussing the company’s partnership with This American Life. Worth noting: Widhelm positioned the partnership as a move to keep its more engaged users from going off-platform in pursuit of spoken word content, something that those users previously couldn’t find on the service before.

  • ESPN’s SVP of Audio, Traug Keller, dropped a 40 million monthly download number for the company’s on-demand audio content. ESPN, by the way, isn’t a participant in Podtrac’s measurement system, so your mileage may vary.

  • Maximum Fun’s Jesse Thorn notes that the most popular show in his network is “Adventure Zone.” He also talked about the network’s unique conference/live events business, the “MaxFunCon,” noting that his team is developing a cheaper version in an effort to disrupt itself.

One more thing: it was interesting to see a few commercial radio executives citeZenithOptimedia’s podcast ad spend projection (paywall) — about $36.1 million in 2016 — when discussing the medium’s emergence in relation to their own businesses on-stage. Since that projection was first published some months ago, I’ve heard several podcasting executives vehemently dispute it in private, typically saying something to the effect of “if that’s the number, then my company makes up 30-40% of that.” Granted, that retort is totally expected, but I’m inclined to agree just intuiting from the download numbers and CPMs that can be found in publicly available reports. (The Podtrac ranker, for all the caveats involved with its sample, is also very helpful in this regard.)

However, despite these private push-backs, I haven’t encountered any podcast executive willing to provide a specific alternate estimate… until last Friday, of course, which saw Acast’s Chief Commercial Officer Sarah van Mosel provided an estimated range of $80-200 million for 2015 during a presentation — a number she particularly draws from her previous work as WNYC’s VP of Sponsorships.

A Glimpse at Future Panoply? Last Friday, the Graham Holdings-owned podcast company (and my former day job employer) announced its latest big-swing project: “Revisionist History,” a ten-part miniseries by author (and Charlie Kaufman-lookalike) Malcolm Gladwell. The company drew some notable write-ups for the announcement, withFast Company and CNN.com providing coverage on the teaser. Interestingly, the project is positioned as “the thing that Gladwell decided to make instead of a book this season,” which is a pretty solid pitch I guess.

On stage at Hivio, Panoply Chief Creative Officer Andy Bowers called the podcast a template for future projects. “A lot of podcasts we’ve done so far has followed a simpler, conversational format,” he said, noting that the company will likely be developing more projects with higher production values from here on out. This move makes sense, though I do wonder how this will affect existing Panoply shows, which typically result from partnerships with other publishers.

Revisionist History” drops its first episode on June 16.

Podquest Playoffs. Last Thursday, Radiotopia released the list of ten podcast pitches that have been accepted as semi-finalists into Podquest, its talent search program. From this group of ten, three finalists will be announced in July at the Podcast Movement conference in Chicago, where they will then be made to develop three pilot episodes over the course of four months. The winner, which will be invited into the Radiotopia network, will be announced in November at the Third Coast Festival.

You can find in-depth descriptions of all ten semifinalists on the Podquest site. And if you’re curious, you can find the stat-breakdown of Podquest applicants (1537 entries! 53 countries! Wah!) on the PRX blog.

Congrats to the crews, and good luck! I’m rootin’ for ya.

Related: “The new audience is really where we are where we want to be — the diverse audience and the young audience, and the young people who haven’t been buying radios. How are they finding content and how do we get in front of them?” Still curious about what’s next for PRX? Check out this Fortune article featuring an interview with PRX’s newly minted CEO Kerri Hoffman by Lauren Schiller, which pairs well with my write-up from two weeks ago.

Towards More Pods For Kids. A couple of months ago, I wrote a few pieces exploring the relatively quiet genre of kids podcasting, and over the course of my research, I spoke to Lindsay Patterson, one of the creators of “Tumble: A Science Podcast for Kids,” who proved to be a very, very strong advocate of the space. Now, the Austin-based producer is taking her advocacy to the next level, collaborating with a number of other kid-focused podcast producers to form what they’re calling “a new grassroots organization of podcasters and advocates for high-quality audio content for children.”

“We want to increase visibility for the medium and enable the creation of more great audio shows for kids,” Patterson told me over email. “And since we exist in the children’s space, we think that standards and ethics should be a big part of the conversation.”

The organization will kick off its work with a public survey project that hopes to identify the makeup, behavior, and dynamics of the potential audiences for kids podcasts. “There’s no baseline data for how kids consume (or don’t consume) podcasts,” Patterson wrote. “Our June 2016 survey is a first step toward understanding how our audience values what we do.”

At this point in time, the podcasts participating in Kids Listen are: Tumble, Ear Snacks,Brains On!, Sparkle Stories, Book Club for Kids, StoryPirates, and Zooglobble. (These names!) Its digital presence consists of a Slack, a website, a hashtag (#kidslisten), and social media. “The beginnings of something great,” Patterson added.

The survey launches today. You can find the Kids Listen website here.

New Podcast Study from comScore. The report found that podcast advertisements were found to be the least intrusive compared to other kinds of digital advertising formats,according to Adweek. It should be noted that the survey study was commissioned by Wondery, a fairly new podcast network based in Los Angeles, suggesting increased efforts among podcast companies to raise the overall awareness of the space. To my eyes, the study itself isn’t as interesting as the fact that comScore produced it. There’s been an emerging argument among some circles that the big thing holding back more brand advertisers from jumping into the space is not necessarily the medium’s well-known measurements problem, but the absence of a reputable, legacy measurements company like comScore and Nielsen actively participating and vetting the space. This comScore study isn’t quite the active participation that will lead to a so-called legitimization the space is looking for, but I think it’s a good step.

Where to, newsmagazine? Add Steve Lickteig, former executive producer of All Things Considered and current executive producer of Slate podcasts, to the list of public radio emigres publishing essays on the future of audio. Lickteig wrote a Slate piece last Thursday arguing that voice-recognition technology — a la Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s… Ok Google thing, which will soon be integrated into car dashboards en masse — will marginalize (or even kill) the straightforward broadcasts, a state of affairs that poses a significant threat to the newsmagazine format.

Central to Lickteig’s argument is the expectation that on-demand consumption behaviors will vastly supersede consumption behavior around linear formats. Here’s the key quote (heads up, the Keith Olbermann reference is related to the lede in Lickteig’s piece):

While listening to the radio remains easier than the alternative, it’s not very satisfying for the generation of people raised in an on-demand culture. People Keith Olbermann’s age (he’s 57) feel an obligation to consume news as it’s served. Tell a bunch of 19-year-olds that it should be up to the professionals to determine what news is most important, and they’ll laugh until their earbuds fall out.

There are a couple of really interesting elements in Lickteig’s argument here that you can spool out, including the notion that us ~millennials~ and post-millennials (whatever you call those people) have in large swathes no love for editorial judgment, but I think the most interesting and pressing element here is the glimpses Lickteig provides at an underlying process that sees the further atomization of audio content and information into discrete units that users can customize, shift, and reorient… not unlike the way we exist as digital consumers of music now. (If I branded myself as some sort of thought leader, this would be the point where I’d regretfully coin the phrase “the Spotification of News.”)

Here’s my counterpoint to Lickteig’s bullish argument: as a voracious consumer of many, many different types of media, I’d argue that the tyranny of choice and control is totally real. And it’s absolutely crippling. (Consider two things: the gaping abyss that stares back at you from the Netflix menu, and the relief embedded in celebrations of Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature. Also: most meal hunting experiences with Yelp.)

Which isn’t to say, of course, that I disagree with the broad strokes of Lickteig’s forecasts: indeed, the broadcast newsmagazine format as we know it today will likely become ineffectual -as will all other creations of linearity, like the nightly news, SportsCenter, and the front page. But I’d argue that this isn’t a consequence of the decline of broadcast; rather, it’s a consequence of the relegation of broadcast from being the primary information channel to being one-of-many in a much larger arsenal of information presentation. And yeah, sure, a story of decline is always one that sucks, but there’s that thing about lemonade: when you’re no longer expected to be dominant, you’re liberated from the pressure — and design limitations — of dominance.

That’s no small consolation. In my mind, at least.

Bites:

  • DGital Media announced “league direct partnership” with the UFC to produce a show covering the mixed martial arts league. This will prove to be an interesting addition to the company’s portfolio of partnerships, which includes Recode and Yahoo’s The Vertical. (UFC)

  • Bloomberg News launched the latest in its steadily growing stable of podcast, “Material World,” a show that will deliver stories on the consumer goods world. I’ll more about Bloomberg pods at some point — they’ve got a unique structure going on over there — but for now, keep your eyes on Bloomberg News HQ. (iTunes)

  • Radio Diaries published quite a remarkable episode recently, featuring a young woman in Saudi Arabia, Majd, documenting her life over two years. It aired as a 22 minute segment on All Things Considered, with which the podcast has a partnership, last Tuesday. I listened to it over the weekend, and my goodness, it’s quite lovely. (Radio Diaries)

  • NPR launched “Code Switch,” its newest podcast, last week. The show will explore issues at the intersection of race and culture, and from the sound of its first episode, it appears to draw heavy influence from the specificity and presentational looseness of the NPR Politics podcast. Nieman Lab has a great interview with principals Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, which you should totally check out. (Nieman Lab)

  • Speaking of public radio launches, WNYC rolled out “More Perfect,” the Radiolab spin-off focusing on the Supreme Court, last week. The podcast is being billed as a mini-series. (Radiolab)

  • Audioboom signs the popular “Undisclosed” podcast to an “exclusive ad sales deal.” (RAIN News)

Thursday

2

June 2016

0

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Wednesday

16

March 2016

0

COMMENTS

The Hot Pod Review: Beautiful / Anonymous

Written by , Posted in Wednesday Reviews

THPR.Header

There’s a late night call-in relationship advice radio show that often blares out from the speakers attached to the bodega beneath my apartment. I don’t know much about the show — I don’t even know its name — but I do know that the majority of callers dial in from Connecticut, and that the host has spades of familiar, mantric soundbites. “You must love yourself to get through yourself,” she said once. “Do you miss him? Do you love him?”, she asked forcefully another time, certain that the answer would be yes. She always seems so cheery, rooted in some sort of robotic performance of empathy, but there’s a sense that the cheer, to stay with that word, is that of a lord looking over a small, contained fiefdom, basking in her control.

I think about that radio show quite a bit when I’m listening to Beautiful / Anonymous, the new Earwolf show that dropped its first two episodes earlier this week. Short for “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People,” the show has a high-wire premise: comedian Chris Gethard (this guy on Broad City, among other things) anchors a call-in show where he’s committed to staying on the phone with an anonymous caller for a full hour. Put it another way: it’s a call-in show by way of hostage situation.

Img credit: Earwolf

I’m drawn to the inversion that Beautiful / Anonymous plays out; to how Gethard, parachuted into a conversational fog of war, has none of the power of that late night call-in radio show host. That he has to grapple and struggle and fumble in order to gain some sort of foothold over his situation. He asks questions, makes observations, deploys humor to maintain momentum; basically doing the work of any participant of a basic, decent human conversation. He illustrates, interestingly enough, that the foundational elements of proper conversation is rooted in a balance between exploring the terms of the other person and establishing a sense of… well, not control per se, but a kind of self-control over one’s environment, from that knowledge. (I’m told by show’s producer that the calls are all real.)

One realizes, at some point, that he is always with an equivalent of a nuclear option in his back pocket: he could simply work to compel the person on the other end to hang up. I mean, he won’t do that, but if he does, he wouldn’t have a show, but the flip-side of that is that you get to see someone engaging in the work of trying to connect with another person.

Seeing that dynamic play out is reason enough to check out the show, but you should note that the high-wire premise often translates to very choppy pacing. Indeed, the two episodes have a tendency to run out of steam by the first ad-break, but because there’s a discernible end to the proceedings, the last ten minutes end up being really engaging home stretches.

Listen: iTunes | Earwolf

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Friday

11

March 2016

0

COMMENTS

Hot Pod Pro: Infinite Dial 2016

Written by , Posted in Member Content

Edison Research and Triton Digital dropped the 2016 edition of their annual Infinite Dial study yesterday. On my count, the study is the biggest reputable independent survey on consumer adoption of digital that involves podcasts as an active category — and it has observed the medium almost since its inception.

This article is only for members of The Thing.

Tuesday

8

March 2016

0

COMMENTS

Pod Consumption Surges, Midroll Makeover, iTunes

Written by , Posted in Hot Pod Weekly

Edison Research: Monthly Pod Consumption Surges. More than one in five Americans report having listened to a podcast within the past month, according to data teased in a new blog post by Edison Research. Specifically, 21% of Americans (or an estimated 57 million) report having done so, representing a pretty significant jump from 2015, which saw 17% of surveyed Americans reporting that behavior. In 2014, that number was 15%, so we’re talking about a doubling in percentage point growth.

Another sweet way to cut it: monthly American podcast consumption grew about 24% between 2015 and 2016. Don’t you just love stats?

It’s certainly an encouraging data point for all who are enthusiastic about podcasts as the future of radio/audio/blogging. And I’m certainly tempted to think that we’re finally seeing evidence of tangible wide-scale conversions from all the buzz and hype that podcasting enjoyed last year.

A plausible counter-argument is as follows: is this number a true reflection of solid, genuine, and sustainable consumer acquisition (and retention) across the medium, or does it more represent a period where listeners are merely testing out the format? That question, to some extent, is irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a question with no meaningful immediate answer, because the process is still playing itself out. And secondly, the number itself is an influencing factor — as a positive public indicator that fuels for the industry’s vision and presentation of itself, one imagines that countless folks out to build new businesses within the medium will use this statistic in a pitch deck, playing out a fulfillment of their own prophecy.

Which is all to say: this data point is very good, and I’m going to call my mum and tell her I didn’t screw up my life joining this industry. Cool? Cool.

Anyway, Edison’s data point here is excerpted from the much larger Infinite Dial 2016 study, which is scheduled to be released later this week. The study comes out a partnership between Edison Research and Triton Digital, a digital audio technology and advertising company.

I’ll post some initial thoughts on Friday’s members newsletter, and I’ll write up a complete item on next week’s Hot Pod.

Midroll Tightens Its Brand. Scripps-owned Midroll Media is sunsetting its Wolfpop podcast network this week. Wolfpop was previously branded as Midroll’s pop culture-oriented owned and operated content arm curated by comedian Paul Scheer — as opposed the company’s flagship comedy-oriented Earwolf brand (yeah, it’s a little confusing, which is probably why we’re seeing this consolidation, I imagine).

Ten out of Wolfpop’s thirteen podcasts will now live under the Earwolf umbrella. The three shows that will not continue its relationship with Midroll are: Rotten Tomatoes, Picking Favorites, and Off Camera with Sam Jones. The company also announced that Hello From Magic Tavern, a well-loved and utterly weird podcast previously supported by theChicago Podcast Cooperative, is joining the network.

Midroll Chief Content Officer Chris Bannon made these announcements on the Earwolf forums yesterday, citing that “this change is a way for us to make Earwolf a bigger, better and more inclusive network.”

I reached out to Bannon, who previously served as WNYC’s VP of Content Development and Production, and asked whether we’d be seeing any news programming coming out of Earwolf anytime soon. “I’ll certainly be taking a hard look at what we can contribute to our listeners’ needs for smart news programming,” he wrote back. “Right now, it feels as though many of the newsmakers are venturing pretty deeply into the comedy space, though. We will have announcements on the news front soon.”

Coy, Bannon. Very Coy.

This development was foreshadowed by a job posting that the company put up last week, which contained the following self-description:

“This group, led by our VP of Business Development, identifies and brings aboard great new podcasts and creators for all three of our major lines of business: Midroll, the leader in podcast ad sales; Earwolf, our owned & operated podcast network; and Howl, our premium audio subscription service.”

In related Midroll news: the company has also hired Jenny Radelet, who previously served as Executive Media Producer for the launch of Apple’s Beats 1 service, as the Managing Editor for Howl, the company’s subscription service. She started work yesterday.

Limited-Run Local Journalism. This week, WNYC will kick off “There Goes The Neighborhood,” a limited-series podcast that’ll explore the topic of gentrification in Brooklyn. I personally get all my New York-related gentrification news from The Awl, but I’m intrigued to see that the show is produced in partnership with The Nation — another example in a swell of collaborations between audio companies and existing publications (see WBUR’s Modern Love, WNYC’s the New Yorker Radio Hour, KPCC’s recently concluded The Awards Show Show, and the majority of Panoply’s operating model). The show will run for eight episodes and is hosted by Kai Wright, The Nation’s Features Editor.

“Neighborhood” is notable to me for two reasons: firstly, it looks to be a strong piece of local journalism, something I don’t get to see very much of in podcastland. Granted, it’s local to New York, perhaps the most saturated media market in the world, but still. Secondly, it’s the first major audio project that features the involvement of Rebecca Carroll, who joined WNYC last October as a producer of special projects about race in New York City.

“I’m here to generate ideas,” Carroll said to me over the phone last Friday, when I asked about her role within the station. “We’re experiencing a moment right now in American culture where our most famous public intellectual is Ta-Nehisi Coates, where we have the Black Live Matters movement, Black Twitter, and an election that comes down to the Black vote. It’s a moment where blackness and black culture is being listened to, and my aim is to wrest that moment and harness it in a way that can be fanned back out into the most creative, innovative, interesting life-changing way.”

There Goes The Neighborhood” is scheduled to debut tomorrow, March 9. A teaser for the show is up already.

An Indie Label Comes Alive. Night Vale Presents, the new indie podcast label — that’s what I’m calling it, guys, just roll with it come on —  founded by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the creators of the wildly popular “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast,  published its first title today. The show, “Alice Isn’t Dead,” is an audio drama written by Fink, and it’s scheduled to play out across 10 bi-weekly episodes.

“Alice” is, in a lot of ways, quintessential Night Vale. It shares its predecessor’s particular brand of creepiness — American Gothic, but everything’s twisted slightly to the left — and, like Night Vale, “Alice” displays Fink’s fascination with Americana. Where Night Vale is a love letter to small town America, “Alive” is a meditation of the expansive, desolate imagery of the desert highways that make up the vast middle of the country. I’ve heard cuts of the first two episodes, and I really, really like ‘em. (The Times in on it, by the way).

“Night Vale Presents” was conceived out of a logistical necessity. Fink and Cranor had wanted to develop more projects beyond their core show, and built Night Vale Presents to be a framework that supports them. “We don’t have any plans to try to grow it into an empire or start taking tech funding or any of that,” Fink told me over email. “What we do hope to do is keep making new podcasts, both our own and works by other artists who haven’t worked in the podcast space before.

I’ll run the full email Q&A I had with Fink in Friday’s members newsletter. Seeing a trend here? I’m told it’s called a ~marketing funnel~

On iTunes, Part One. So, the most common inquiry I get from Hot Pod readers tends to involve the same subject and overwhelmingly comes in the form of a gripe: how, exactly, does the iTunes charts work? (The second most common inquiry, for the curious: how much so-and-so makes. That’s… I don’t know what to say about that. Leaving that for another day.)

It’s a question I try to stay away from, for a simple reason: I don’t think it’s something that should be fixated upon. Sure, 70% of podcast listening happens through iTunes and the native iOS podcast app, or so we’re told, and regardless of whether that’s true or not — it’s impossible to verify, frankly, given the immature state of podcast measurement — it remains the case that there are many, many other avenues for podcast creators to reach potential new audiences that have not been adequately utilized, including basic stuff like search and social. And it benefits the medium as a whole if more creators leaned harder into non-iTunes avenues. Think about it: attempts to convert audiences through the iTunes platform is a play to win already well-worn, probably maxed out podcast audiences, and if every podcast creator assumes a strategy with iTunes — the platform in general, the charts in specific — at the core, then every podcast creator is essentially competing for the very same pool of ears.

So that’s where my head was at. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that there may something to be gained by really thinking through the theory and context of the iTunes charts, and asking the question: how does the charts shape the space? However, in order to do that, I would first have to try and understand how the charts work in the first place.

Which is exactly what I’ve been trying to do over the past couple of weeks.

At this point, I’m going to lay down two core hypotheses, and I’m going to argue for their theoretical fidelity by disclosing that they are informed by a combination of these things: a survey I recently ran among Hot Pod newsletter subscribers (I pulled 18 representative responses that you can view here), conversations with many, many, many podcast creators, stuff published by other podcast folks who have conferred with iTunes reps in the past, and drawing from my own experience with my old day job employer. iTunes reps, understandably, declined to publicly comment.

My hypotheses are as follows:

(1) The charts are particularly biased towards new subscriptions, and to some extent interactions with the iTunes link and engagements through reviews. Which makes sense: iTunes, like Facebook and every other platform that actively benefit from keeping users within their ecosystems, are incentivized to maximize engagements. Thus, achieving half a million downloads outside iTunes won’t reward a show as much as getting that same number of downloads on iTunes, and so on.

(2) The charts are designed chiefly as a discovery tool, and it performs its duty by identifying and rewarding podcasts with a sense of momentum. Thus, what’s privileged is relative positive change; getting an additional 1,000 interactions on top of a 10,000 interaction base (say, subscriptions) will send you up quicker than an additional 1,000 on top of 100,000. Again, this makes sense: if the charts were designed to display a power ranking of the most successful shows, then the top ten placements would simply never change, with the biggest shows standing to just keep getting bigger. And because iTunes is fully incentivized to provide a chart that, well, actually provides value to users to keep them on the platform, they’d need to rely on a discovery mechanism that allows for the top chart placements to constantly change. In a lot of ways, the charts are actually pretty democratic.

These two hypotheses don’t explain the charts in totality (nothing can, really, other than the algorithm-turned-sentient), but I believe them to be strong starting points to understand the charts. In sum: the charts are designed for discovery, but the engine they are built upon are iTunes interactions — and so podcasts move up because they engender more iTunes-driven subscriptions and downloads, because moving up is a form of reward. Once you settle into that, some things begin to make sense. It’s how you get a Disney enthusiast podcast in the top 5 between Serial and Alice Isn’t Dead — as it was positioned at 4pm ET on March 4. It’s also how you get a parodic sports talk radio podcast sitting on the top spot in that same time period, even though it’s only loaded with a preview. (The prescriptive here is fairly clear: if you wanna play the charts game, optimize your marketing for iTunes interactions. Didn’t want to point it out, but what the hell I’ve already gone this far.)

And here’s where we get back to my original query: what effect does this particular chart system have on the podcasting space?

As my inbox suggests, it generates a lot of angst. I’d argue that feeling comes out of an interpretation that the iTunes podcast charts should serve as a mechanism that adequately signals or communicates a podcast’s value or worth. Which is an understandable interpretation to hold because, and here’s where I make a sweeping overgeneralization, charts are typically designed to serve as tools to signal value.

And that’s the thing: that’s not what the iTunes charts is designed to do. It was designed to optimize for engagement on its platform, and not to provide a direct and clear representation of what’s valuable. (Although, the rocketing up of a podcast on the charts does indicate a kind of value — it’s just we’re getting a proxy-value.) But there is a strong tendency to read iTunes as a prime arbiter of value because, well, we don’t have anything else.

Absent of other means of context or evaluation, a singular chart of this nature leads to a muddled representation of the podcasting landscape, as it renders any act of interpreting relative value between podcasts almost impossible. And this provides a poor feedback loop for podcast creators, because a big part of understanding the health of your show is knowing how it stacks against other shows.

But here’s the other thing: I don’t perceive this as a story about the problem with iTunes — as far as I’m concerned, there is no problem with iTunes, because iTunes gotta iTunes. Rather, it’s a story about the medium’s larger problem of being to know itself, and the fact that the main way the industry does is dependent on a single, and incredible incomplete, point of view.

Okay, so I’m running out of space right now, and I wanted to talk about two more things: how the iTunes charts impact the relationship between podcast creators and advertisers, and what market opportunities are baked into the situation. The former will come in next week’s letter, but I’ll drop it in the member newsletter as well, which you get if you support Hot Pod by signing up for The Thing. Which, you know, I’d argue that you should if you find any of this work valuable at all, because it’s the only way I’ll be able to keep doing it.

Bites

  • “How Politico’s ‘Off Message’ Podcast Is Rising Above Site’s Staff Departures.” A winning combination of strong booking…  and loose lips. (The Wrap)

  • “No More Car Talk as WBEZ Turns More Airtime over to Podcasts.” Something’s going on at Ben Calhoun’s Navy Pier operation. (Chicago Mag)

  • And while we’re on the subject of Nick Quah hobby horses: Recode is probably going to continue expanding their podcast offerings. I buzz with excitement. (CNN Money)

  • “Facebook Messenger Adds Music, Starting With Spotify’s Song Sharing.” All the potential around messaging that you’re already excited about, now with more audio! (TechCrunch)

  • Amazon rolls out two alternate versions of their Echo product, including a puck-sized model designed to latch onto non-Amazon speakers and turn them into voice-based gateways to the Internet. In case you’re new to this column, I’m personally very pro-Amazon Echo as far as its potential for non-visual — read: audio-oriented — computing. As a person who’s morbidly afraid of losing his eyesight, I’m all about that. (The Verge)