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May 19, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Business Models

PRX is creating a new company, RadioPublic, to bring mobile audio to bigger audiences

“Building an app is just the tip of the iceberg.”

There’s a new public benefit corporation in town. The Cambridge-based PRX announced Thursday the formation of RadioPublic, a new company whose emphasis will be on building the mobile listening platforms of the future, helping audio stories break into new audiences.

“We’re two entities, integrated all along from mission to governance to technology,” said Jake Shapiro, who was the CEO of PRX and will now be heading up the newly formed RadioPublic. Kerri Hoffman, previously COO, will serve as PRX’s CEO. “It’s really hand-in-glove, and allows each to focus on core competencies while growing together.”

Organizing as a public benefit corporation means that the group will have a for-profit element, while maintaining close ties with the mission of PRX to help create and sustain diverse audio content and build out a wider listenership for these shows. This structure is not unusual in the audio space: This American Life became a public benefit corporation last summer, and classic programs like Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion have made similar moves in the past.

RadioPublic has been incubating for about a year. Early on, Hoffman and Shapiro said, they thought they might just expand on the work PRX was doing without spinning up a dedicated company.

“The initial thought was, let’s do this inside PRX — let’s figure out if we can raise more money, and we figured we had enough experience to understand the building of mobile apps. But building an app is just the tip of the iceberg,” Hoffman said. To be able to scale what they were building required more focus and more money, and “we also didn’t want to compete for those resources,” Shapiro added.

(Currently, investors include the American Public Media, Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, The New York Times, Graham Holdings, The McClatchy Company, Homebrew, PRoject 11, UP2398, and Matter Ventures — a public media accelerator which PRX cofounded with KQED and Knight).

In addition to Shapiro, RadioPublic already has two staffers on board, Matt MacDonald and Chris Rhoden, both of whom had worked at PRX. It’s hiring and will start building and private beta testing apps in the coming weeks, before launching its first product to the public.

PRX itself has had plenty of experience building original tech. It worked with This American Life on that show’s dedicated mobile app. It’s built an app for storytelling show The Moth. It also created PRX Remix, an infinite, curated stream of radio stories, podcasts, interviews, and other materials brought in from programs like The Moth or Snap Judgment, available as a phone app as well as online and on terrestrial radio (you can hear the stream in Boston on WGBH from midnight through 5 a.m.).

“I would consider all of those apps we’ve built as prototypes that have led to much of the insight we used in creating RadioPublic,” Shapiro said. “From each one of them we’ve learned a lot — about the technology, and also what kinds of user experiences make sense for what we’re building, how much interactivity makes sense, how should we think about discovery. All of those things we’re then harnessing for RadioPublic. And on the talent/producer side, what PRX has built with Radiotopia has been a huge engine for learning also — how to find new audiences, how fans react and engage with shows they love, to finding revenue sources through crowdfunding and sponsorships.”

POSTED     May 19, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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