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April 10, 2018, 9:54 a.m.
Business Models

True podcast love, in all of us command: This is how Canada listens to podcasts

Plus: Pandora thinks it’s figured out podcast discovery, the challenges of Spanish-language shows, and the rise of the still-playing-athlete podcast.

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 158, published April 10, 2018.

Infinite Dial Canada. The Great North gets its own report from Edison Research and Triton Digital for the first time, and it’s long overdue. You can read the whole thing here, but I’m going to break out the most interesting data points with some comparisons to the U.S.:

Podcasting:

  • The share of Canadians that listened to podcasts within the last month — the key track I follow — is 28 percent, which is three percentage points higher than the U.S. Keep in mind of the absolutes: Canada’s population is a fraction of the United States’.
  • However, familiarity with the term “podcasting” is slightly lower: 61 percent of Canadians, three percentage points lower than the U.S.
  • For weekly Canadian podcast listeners, the average number of podcasts consumed per week is five. In the U.S., it’s seven.

Smart speakers:

  • Smart speaker ownership in Canada (8 percent) is less than half of that in the U.S. (17 percent).
  • This stands out to me: Canadian awareness of the Google Home (55 percent) is considerably higher than that of Amazon Alexa (46 percent). Among Americans, awareness of the Amazon Alexa is a whopping 70 percent over Google Home’s 56 percent.
  • This likely has to do with Google Home having a few months worth of a headstart over the Amazon Echo in Canada. Here are the ownership breakdowns: Among Canadians who own a smart speaker, 63 percent own Google Home but not Amazon Alexa, while 30 percent own an Alexa but not a Google Home. A meager 7 percent own both.

Audio brands:

This section is chock full of revealing little insights. Most notably:

  • Given that Pandora is not available in Canada, Spotify leads in most usage (26 percent) and awareness (64 percent). But it’s also remarkable to see just how much Apple Music gains in the Pandora vacuum: most used by 16 percent of Canadians versus 10 percent of Americans.
  • In the absence of Pandora, Stingray is ascendant, a testament to Canadian industry. (Most used audio brand among 14 percent of Canadians.)
  • iHeartRadio’s Canadian footprint isn’t nearly as strong as in the States. Awareness among Canadians is a mere 43 percent, down over 20 percentage points from its awareness level among Americans. Only 3 percent of Canadians listened through iHeartRadio in the past month, while the share of Americans is 11 percent.

One more thing: Note the relative absence of Amazon Music as a prominent audio brand in Canada (42 percent awareness, lumped in with “Others” in the most used audio brand survey), and, conversely, the relative strength of Google Play Music in the country (58 percent awareness, most used audio brand among 14 percent of Canadians).

I’d argue this is directly related to the shape of smart-speaker ownership in the country — where Google Homes are more dominant than Amazon Echos — and a further expression of how smart-speaker adoption drives listening behaviors towards the platforms that are bundled with them by default. To repeat my conclusion from the last time I wrote about this: “That’s the upside to the fight to figure out the ecosystem: to reap the benefits of becoming the default presence, brand, or experience on this rapidly-growing device category.”

Original-recipe radio:

From my writeup on the recent American Infinite Dial report: “The share of Americans aged 18-34 who don’t own a radio receiver in the home is now 50 percent. A decade ago, in 2008, that share was six percent.”

The situation is about the same in Canada. For Canadians in that age group, the share is 51 percent.

“Pandora CEO is doubling down on podcasts,” writes Yahoo Finance’s JP Mangalindan. The article contains the second public mention of Pandora CEO Roger Lynch’s intent to build the “Podcast Genome Project,” the on-demand audio equivalent of the personalization engine that it has built for music consumption. The first was this Variety article, published back in January.

From Mangalindan’s piece:

If Pandora pulls off its podcast ambitions, it would be a significant step for improving how people discover podcasts and how advertisers target a newer demographic via streamed content. As it currently stands, competitors like Apple Music and Spotify offer podcast charts to scroll through, but they’re not personalized to a person’s tastes.

“There’s nothing personal with that stuff,” Lynch explains. “It’s just what everybody else does. That’s what music was. You know to look at the Billboard chart. OK, what’s popular? And then Pandora came out and said we need discovery. That hasn’t happened yet in podcasts, but we’re going to make that happen.”

Yeah, okay. Let’s see what happens.

Reeling in. The New York Times announced last week that it is bringing Still Processing in-house. The conversational podcast hosted by Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris was previously produced by Pineapple Street Media, who delivered over 60 episodes across the last year and a half.

Still Processing will now be handled by Neena Pathak, who joins the Times from BuzzFeed. Pathak started work yesterday.

It’s worth noting that the Times still has two podcasts that aren’t produced in-house: Modern Love and Dear Sugars, both co-productions with the Boston public radio station WBUR.

The announcement also listed two other new hires: Jessica Cheung, who joins from NPR as an associate producer for The Daily, and Stella Tan, who started yesterday as a news assistant embedded in the audio team.

Another post-Feral Audio switch out: Doughboys, a former Feral Audio podcast, has joined the Headgum network instead of transitioning over to Starburns Audio. In case you haven’t been following this thread, here’s the background.

A curious development at Patreon. The membership platform company announced last week that it has added Goli Sheikholeslami, CEO of Chicago Public Media, to its board of directors. “At WBEZ, Goli has grown their membership over 30% during her tenure at the company,” Patreon CEO Jack Conte wrote in the post announcing the move. “I’m psyched to continue learning from her experience running media companies and building successful membership programs.”

Patreon primarily targets creators looking to develop direct relationships with their audiences and is a prominent option among independent podcasters looking to build out membership support structures within their business models. Notable users include Chapo Trap House, which pulls in over $97,000 a month through the platform; Last Podcast on the Left, almost $35,000 a month; and Jesse Brown’s Canadaland, over $20,000 a month.

The company isn’t without its operational controversies. In December, Patreon implemented a new payment model that some creators argued penalized smaller donations in favor of bigger ones. The change was later walked back.

Going for that Players’ Tribune money. There’s an interesting trend of podcast networks partnering up with professional athletes — ones who are still on active rosters and not, like, retired folks on the media circuit — which, on the one hand, is pretty attention-grabby, and on the other, kinda seems like a tricky media product to put together? It’s a rare media-savvy athlete that’s able to cross over from knowing how to play the media towards knowing how to play media.

Anyway, three examples of note in recent months:

Meanwhile, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant posted his fifth appearance on the Bill Simmons podcast a few weeks ago, and I gotta say: Semi-adversarial compositions make for good content, fellas.

This week in political podcasting. I completely missed both these cycles when they were happening, but in case it’s relevant to your interests:

  • There was an extended, public, podcast-centered beef between Vox’s Ezra Klein and Sam Harris, the famed atheist public intellectual and host of the Waking Up podcast. There’s a lot going on here, and if you’re interested, go here and here. But suffice it to say, political blog jousting has firmly migrated into podcasting…
  • …which was an idea that appeared in something the conservative columnist Matt Lewis wrote last week on the Kevin Williamson–Atlantic controversy, which apparently hit its climax via a podcast-related discovery.

Blog culture follows where the bloggers go, and the bloggers are here in podcast-land. And/or large media companies. People move, y’know?

Global. “In a world where about 6 billion people don’t speak English, we don’t want to treat language as a barrier for the stories our clients want to tell,” Martina Castro tells me. “Especially considering that podcasting is inherently a global and (mostly) free medium.”

Castro is the CEO of Adonde Media, a young globally-oriented podcast company that works with clients — which includes brands, traditional media companies, and eventually, she hopes, other podcast networks — to create audio shows that match with the language of their audiences. One of the original co-founders of Radio Ambulante, Castro started the company last year through Startup Chile, a seed accelerator created by the Chilean government housed in Santiago.

The way she tells it, Adonde Media comes out of her experiences getting to know the podcast community in Latin America since she moved to the region in 2015 after spending over a decade in American public radio. “It reminded me of what it was like for producers back in the U.S. before the Serial boom, or what it was like in the early years of Radio Ambulante, when we couldn’t yet prove there was a demand for what we wanted to create,” she said. “We saw then what is still true about the Spanish-speaking world — we not only want to hear more diverse and complex stories about ourselves, but we are also hungry to tell those stories.”

Her original pitch for Adonde Media was a company that focused on “bilingual” podcasts. The company’s first major client was Duolingo, the language-learning platform, which approached Castro just as she was starting her time at Startup Chile last year.

“They were looking for help in creating a podcast that would help their intermediate level Spanish-learners continue improving their comprehension skills and vocabulary,” Castro said. “The goal — as is with all of Duolingo’s products — was to make something entertaining that would make you almost forget you were learning.”

The end result was the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, a show built around personal essays that were delivered in Spanish but peppered with injections of English-language context. When asked, Duolingo reps declined to provide download numbers, but they replied: “We’ve been really happy with the performance of the Duolingo Spanish Podcast…we were thrilled to see it hit No. 1 overall and it remains in the Top 5 in the education category. More importantly, we’re getting great feedback from Duolingo users and podcast listeners.”

The reps added: “I’d say our first foray into podcasting has surpassed our expectations and we’re actively working on pre-production for season 2 now.”

With a successful project under its belt, Adonde Media had itself a solid start, but Castro eventually felt the need to re-articulate its value proposition. “We started out describing ourselves as a bilingual podcast production company, but I learned that this was a bit confusing to people. Some told me they weren’t sure if we were exclusively working on projects that involved two languages, or if I was translating podcasts,” she said. The solution involved a shift towards an idea of a “global” podcast — which, in turn, evokes a broader, more intriguing concept of a global podcast market.

With that reframing in mind, Castro tells me that her team, now 12 strong, has a couple of projects cooking in the oven. Most notably, the company is working with TED on their upcoming Spanish-language expansion podcast, TED en Español, which is set to launch in collaboration with Univision on April 26. They’re also working on a French pilot as well as their first original podcast.

“I can’t say much about those projects right now, but the goal is to launch the original podcast in the Fall,” Castro added.

On the challenges of developing non-English podcasts. Given the centrality of that question to Castro’s work with Adonde Media, I posed it to her in our email exchanges. And much like last week’s mini-profile on Lauren Shippen, Castro’s reply was lengthy and comprehensive, so I’m going to crib the same move and run the whole thing.

Here we go:

I am going to focus on Spanish-language, because that’s the sector I’m most familiar with at this point, but I think in all cases I’d say you need to start with creating amazing content. I see two problems: One, there aren’t enough high-quality podcasts to start. Second, for the ones that are pretty good, there’s no marketing or promotion so listeners can find them. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem: you need to create high-quality podcasts and give them a proper marketing budget for people to want to listen, but enough people need to listen before companies will invest the money necessary in making high-quality podcasts. But let’s back up even further — the word “podcast” is still not even understood in most parts of Latin America! This is a place where Apple has way less reach, so the term “pod” is just lost on them (I have landed on describing it as the Netflix of audio).

But there are promising signs. In just the last three years we have seen a lot more interest in podcasts from the Spanish-speaking world. BBVA, one of the largest banks in Spain, recently launched not one podcast, but a whole channel. Companies such as Claro and Telefónica are starting to sponsored podcasts in Argentina, and the launch of Slate’s gabfest in Español and of Spotify’s Viva Latino show that big players are interested in investing in podcasts in Spanish. There are also already branded podcasts in Spanish, notably No Ficción from Penguin Random House Books.

Also, the content is getting GOOD. In Chile, I’m a fan of Las Raras and Relato Nacional, both narrative journalism podcasts. Posta.fm and Lunfa in Argentina are rather well-established podcast networks, not to mention Podium in Spain which produces the hit podcast El Gran Apagón, a sci-fi fiction podcast that had 150,000 listens in its first month when it launched in 2016.

But I won’t lie, non-English podcasts still have a long way to go. Few of the producers I’ve met are making a living off of their podcast. And in terms of listeners, anecdotally, I can tell you that most podcast listeners whom I’ve met in Chile and Uruguay listen to podcasts in English. This was supported by the first collaborative audience survey of Spanish-language listeners that we conducted via Podcaster@s last year (EncuestaPod 2017) where we learned 47% of those surveyed listen to podcasts in English.

The best recipe for combating the chicken and egg problem is — and I’ll hit you with another cliché — a perfect storm of things coming together. We need a combination of growth in smartphone use (at 56%, Chile is leading the way for Latin America), cheaper streaming, better financed production of high-quality content, and big enough players entering the game to inject the necessary marketing dollars necessary to bring the term “podcast” into the Spanish lexicon. I actually don’t think we are too far from that.

Bites:

  • NPR creates two digital leadership roles, Current reports. The first is Kerry Lenahan, who joins as VP of product, and the second is Joel Sucherman, who is promoted to VP of new platform partnerships. (Current)
  • Staying in public radio, Seattle member station KUOW is reorganizing its drive-time staffing — which includes eliminating seven positions — to switch up the way it’s serving the time slot. There’s a lot going on in this report, including an internal memo stating that “NPR’s research has shown people are no longer relying on ‘Morning Edition’ for their first news in the morning” and pushback from NPR to that memo. (Current)
  • Fresh off the heels of launching its first audio drama, Marvel is reviving two of its old insider podcasts — This Week in Marvel and Women of Marvel — and rolling out a new one: Marvel’s Voices. (Newsarama)
  • On the adaptation beat: “Come Sunday,” a film adaptation of the 2005 This American Life episode “Heretic,” is hitting Netflix this Friday. The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Condola Rashad, and Lakeith Stanfield.
  • Smart-speaker watchers: Slate tech writer Will Oremus interviewed Al Lindsay, VP of Alexa Engine Software at Amazon, for his podcast recently. Lots of intriguing stuff in there. (Slate)
  • “Spotify’s first hardware device might be this music player for your car.” (The Verge) Apparently, the company has some sort of announcement event scheduled for April 24?
  • PRX’s Podcast Garage is working on crowdsourcing a list of Boston podcasts to promote local shows and introduce Boston listeners to new content. They’re calling it the Neighborhood Podcast List. Cool! (Podcast Garage)
  • “Podcasting’s New World: Groupies, Stage Fright and Sold-Out Shows.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Photo illustration of Pierre Eliot Trudeau wearing AirPods based on photo by Sherwood411 used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 10, 2018, 9:54 a.m.
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