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Jan. 26, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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Hot Pod: Spotify is finally ready to bring podcasting to a new audience

Plus: How Recode thinks about podcasting, a new podcast CMS, the “public radio brain drain,” and more. (Also, your faithful Hot Podder begins to fly solo.)

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is Issue Fifty-Seven, published January 26, 2016.

Strap yourselves in, folks. There’s a crap ton of news this week, so much so that I was happy I got blizzard-ed in this weekend. Let’s boogie.

How Recode approaches podcasts. There was a time in my very short and very not-good attempt at a tech journalism career where all I ever wanted was to be Kara Swisher. What’s not to like? The no-nonsense persona, the scoops, the Aviators, the well cultivated network of spies all across the tech industry — in a press that’s thick with fresh blood, Swisher was a north star as far as solid tech reporting goes.

Which is all a roundabout way to say that I’m a big fan of the podcasts she’s been doing with Recode, the tech news site she started with Walt Mossberg and sold to Vox Media last summer.

The publication currently has three podcasts on offer: (1) Recode Decode, a podcast where Swisher and senior editor Peter Kafka trade off on conducting close interviews with tech and media bigwigs; (2) Recode Replay, which is essentially an archive of the on-stage interviews that take place during the publication’s (highly lucrative) conferences; and, now, (3) Too Embarrassed To Ask, a recently launched show where Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode answer listener questions about technology. Too Embarrassed To Ask, currently in its third episode, was initially developed as a “reviews” segment that was attached as a tail-end segment to Recode Decode, but was ultimately spun out into its own show following positive internal response.

Decode, as one would imagine, is what I want to talk about right now. The show works extremely well because it feels like a direct extension of the team’s reporting — it’s voicey, it’s interrogatory, and it’s deeply fixated on individuals. Much like the better pieces of reporting that come out of the site, and very much like the Recode’s live conferences that have become roughly synonymous with the concept of “live journalism.” For these reasons, Recode Decode is the best expression of what happens when you match journalism with the podcast medium, and while I understand it to be one of many ways in which a publication can effectively utilize the medium, it is certainly the configuration that makes the best use of a publication’s existing talent assets. (As opposed to something like The New Yorker Radio Hour, which, while perfectly enjoyable, clearly puts its editorial staffers in a position where they audibly struggle against the medium.)

“Of course, any revenue add is great for any company,” Recode podcast producer Eric Johnson wrote to me when I asked about the Recode team’s expectations with the podcast. “But our goal was to give our existing audience a new place to connect with the news through us — and to build a new audience. Podcasts are a great medium for reaching people who are on the go and may not always have the time to sit and read.” Johnson, who cohosts a podcast on the side called Giant Geek vs. Mega n00b, also highlighted the significance of Recode’s voice being unified across all platforms. “It works on Recode.net, and it works on stage; the voice is one of the things that helps make those more than ordinary interviews, and something we knew our readers would love to listen to,” he wrote.

All right, so that’s all the high level stuff. Here’s the meaty minutiae: For production, sales, and distribution support, Recode teamed up with DGital Media, something of an on-demand audio services company with a leadership team that’s made of former Westwood One and NBC Sports Radio folks. For hosting (and presumably monetization) technology, the site went with Art19, which I talked about last week.

And here’s a detail that’s super interesting, at least to me: As mentioned earlier, Recode was sold to Vox Media last summer. Vox Media also operates the Ezra Klein-led Vox.com, which produces a podcast with Panoply (my day job employer, by the way) called The Weeds, which is or will presumably be hosted on Panoply’s new CMS platform. (We’ll talk about that in a bit.)

Spotify finally introduces a long-awaited feature. The Swedish streaming company will finally be rolling out its video offerings over the next two weeks — about seven months after first announcing that they would be adding videos and podcasts to their library, according to The Wall Street Journal (paywall). Android users will get the updated offerings first by the end of this week, while iOS users will receive full roll-out by the end of next week. Podcasts will likely be rolled out alongside videos, as both media types are being served within the same framework within Spotify’s new UI, which bundles them together under a category called “Shows.” That’s a little hard to confirm, given that the bulk of the reporting keeps the language almost exclusively to video, with only Time, Billboard, and the original Wall Street Journal article providing allusions to a parallel podcast roll-out.

When Spotify announced they were expanding into video and podcasts last May, it rocked a few heads. The move ultimately shifts Spotify away from being a mere streaming service towards something more of a multi-media entertainment environment — which may or may not be an act of over-extension. After all, it’s one thing to fight a war against music labels; it’s another thing altogether to simultaneously fight wars with YouTube, Netflix, MCNs, and whatnot.

Anyway, this development particularly excited podcasters back when it was announced, not only because Spotify presents a whole new distribution point into a bought-in audience rich with fresh new souls to convert into the podcasting medium, but also for the potential for better analytics — or any new metric for that matter, given that we’re pretty starved for anything more than a mere download at this point.

But, as we know now, the actual rollout had been considerably slow, and news of developments had been few and far between. From the Journal article, it appears the gap between the announcement and this week’s rollout principally involved partner on-boarding and performance testing. It’s probably the same process that’s going on with Google Play, which announced that it, too, would be getting into podcasts (but not video) last October and has been fairly quiet about it since then.

In any case, these next two weeks mark the beginning of what may possibly be a new stage for podcast consumption, one of greater accessibility through existing streaming media services. And let’s not forget what this logistically means for podcasters: With an increase in the number of platforms trafficking in podcasts, there also comes an increase in the need to manage platform relationships for distribution and marketing purposes. Spotify may be a whole new access point to a whole new mass of audiences, but they’re also a whole new gatekeeper to figure out.

One more thing on Spotify: The company recently acquired two companies, Sound Wave and Cord Project. The former is a social tool that would enhance Spotify’s sharing and discussion features, which isn’t all that surprising. The latter, however, is a little more eye-catching. According to a Wired article, Cord Project’s product is a “sort-of walkie-talkie for the smartphone age,” but the piece specifically highlights that the company has distinct interest in designing “audio experiences.” And here’s the money quote:

The Cord crew is the start of a new team at Spotify dedicated to turning that data into entirely new kinds of auditory experiences…the long-term plan for Spotify involves podcasts, news, even video. ‘The place to innovate is on the consumption side,” [Cord Project co-founder Jeff] Baxter says. “So we’re still working on that.”

Cool.

Panoply publicly announces a new CMS named Megaphone. More platform news! Last week, my day job employer, Panoply, sister company of Slate and formerly third cousins of The Washington Post, announced the public launch of its new hosting, publishing, and advertising platform, which it’s calling Megaphone. The company also highlighted the fact that Gimlet Media, ostensibly a competitor in terms of content, has licensed use of the platform. The Financial Times (paywall) and Ad Age has the story, with the latter going fairly granular on features:

It allows for one-click insertion of ads into podcasts, geo-targeting of ads to specific podcast consumers, and A/B testing to see what’s working best. Its dynamic ad insertion capabilities also let podcast publishers place new ads in back episodes.

So, I gotta say: Despite thinking a whole lot about these podcast platforms — Art19, Acast, and now Megaphone — and spilling tons of ink about these platforms, and even working for a company that’s cranking out one of these platforms, I’m still personally a little unclear on the specific variables that actually differentiate one offering from the next.

We’ll go deep into that very question next week, for reasons that’ll become clear in a hot second. Stick with me here.

The Nerdette podcast returns, is now officially a WBEZ production. What’s going on over at WBEZ, the Chicago area’s public radio station of choice? A lot of interesting stuff, clearly. The station is officially producing Nerdette, a podcast that was previously a side project by two of its employees.

Tricia Bobeda, one of the two Nerdette hosts, writes in with some clarification:

Up to this point, Nerdette was produced mostly by me and Greta, outside of our day jobs at WBEZ. (I’m the Senior Editor of Digital. Greta is the Weekend Anchor and Reporter.) We produced 50 episodes a year for the first two years. It was super fun. We learned a lot, and are so grateful for the community that sprang up around our show. But everyone here agreed that to make the best possible version of Nerdette, we needed to bolster the time and resources dedicated to it…So now, WBEZ has, shall we say, put a ring on it. (Cue Beyoncé) Nerdette is now a WBEZ original production, led by the indelible Joel Meyer, our new EP. Production of the podcast has also been integrated into our WBEZ day jobs.

The podcast is gearing up for its second season, which will drop later this week. For more information, go here.

NPR’s head of news on the “public radio brain drain.” It’s a strange day when NPR’s ombudsman, the esteemed Elizabeth Jensen, links to an item you wrote on a whim about the scale of people leaving public radio, and it’s an even stranger day when said ombudsman uses it to generate a comment from NPR’s head of news, the similarly-esteemed Michael Oreskes, about said public radio departures.

Anyway, here’s the response from Oreskes, excerpted from a much longer piece detailing his preview of 2016:

Welcome to the real world. NPR is in an extremely competitive environment. People skilled in audio, people strong in journalism, people talented at storytelling: They are all in great demand. That’s a new experience for NPR,” [Oreskes] said, adding, “Once we get used to it and learn how to let it energize us, it’s a good thing. Not everybody should stay in a place for their whole lives. I’m always sorry to see good people leave but we’re not going to hang on to every single good person. We’re going to lose some good people and hire some other good people.

Chill answer, dawg.

Relevant bits this week:

  • The New York Times officially launched the Modern Love podcast in partnership with WBUR last week. It dropped with two episodes in the can, ready for your earballs. (The New York Times, Nieman Lab)
  • Midroll publishes the latest version of its annual audience survey results. (Midroll)
  • Deezer raises $110 million in new funding. The French streaming audio company is the owner of Stitcher, the notable podcast app, which it acquired in October 2014. (Recode)
  • Branded podcast agency Pacific Content hires Chris Boyce, former executive director of radio and audio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (Yahoo Finance)
  • “A new podcast from Wyoming is turning hosting on its head.” (Poynter)
  • “Kids love listening to stories. So why aren’t public media podcasts telling them any?” (Current)
  • More elections podcasts! FiveThirtyEight has one, and so does the Futuro Media Group, also known as the producers of NPR’s Latino USA. (FiveThirtyEight, Medium)
  • “Easy on the Ears: Podcasts Are Gaining Audiences, But Have Yet To Attract The Biggest Advertisers” (The Economist)
  • “The Digital Music Industry: New and Interesting Music is Harder to Find Than Ever” (The Economist)

And one more thing. So, quick announcement: I’m leaving Panoply, which has so far been referred to in this column as my “day job employer.” This is my last week as the company’s audience development person, broadly speaking, which has been a strange, difficult, amorphous, confusing, and often thoroughly enjoyable job, and I’m glad to be the first person I know who has such a position in a podcasting company.

What am I going to do next? Well, I think I’m going to try and build this Hot Pod thing into an actual sustainable publication. You know, because building a company is sooooo easy. Because the media business is sooooo lucrative right now. And because the market is sooooo not going to crater in, like, two years due to an overdue economic downturn. Haaa haaa haaa haaa.

Oh boy. What am I doing. What have I done.

Is this your first time reading Hot Pod? You can subscribe to the newsletter here, which mostly features irrelevant exclusive content (mostly different GIFs and stuff about what I had for lunch but whatever that’s the newsletter strategy I’m rolling with).

Nicholas Quah, for a little while longer, heads audience development at Panoply. Hot Pod is his weekly newsletter on the state of the podcast world; it appears on Nieman Lab on Tuesdays.

POSTED     Jan. 26, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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