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Feb. 26, 2019, 11:20 a.m.

Is the podcast hosting business ready for a shakeup? (You can credit/blame data-hungry advertisers)

Plus: In the Dark wins a Polk Award, Criminal is heading to TV, and a podcast that’s just walking sounds and host-read ads.

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 197, published February 26, 2019.

Cadence13 is moving its podcasts onto the Megaphone platform. I’ve learned that Cadence13 (née DGital Media) is moving its hosting commitments to Panoply’s Megaphone. Cadence13 — whose publishing clients include Crooked Media, Tenderfoot TV, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and Tony Kornheiser — previously hosted its shows on Art19.

Cadence13 is the latest customer that Panoply’s brought in since divesting from its content business last fall. In November, the company signed Vox Media to a deal that brought most of its podcasts away from Art19 and onto Megaphone, though Today, Explained — which originated through a deal with Stitcher — remains on Art19. (Generally speaking, Stitcher appears to favor Art19, but it’s experimented with Megaphone, notably using shows from the Oprah Winfrey Network, in the past. It remains to be seen how the hosting situation will shake out for the upcoming shows from Stitcher’s expanded partnership with Vox Media.)

In December, Panoply signed Starburns Audio, the Smart Passive Income Podcast, Studio71, and a handful of other smaller partners, and in January, Panoply brought iHeartMedia’s podcast network onto the Megaphone platform, which also previously hosted on Art19.

It’s worth noting that Art19 still has a core of prominent clients, including Wondery and the aforementioned Stitcher. They also continue to drum up new business, signing Tribune Media’s fledgling podcast operations last month.

Okay, so I’m probably overcooking the whole Megaphone vs. Art19 meal here, though the two businesses are most definitely locked in some competition over similar client pools. But the broader context here, I think, is that the podcast hosting platform scene is due for some sort of systematic shift or shakeup. Two reasons for this: The first is the continued increase of demand for more intense platform-level targeting and monetization solutions (see Megaphone’s targeted marketplace feature and Art19’s Smart Audience tool). That demand is coming from the growing number of legacy/scale-seeking publishing businesses participating in the podcast industry.

The second, more oblique reason is Anchor — previously a hyper-active hosting upstart, whose ingestion into the Spotify whale introduces an added level of unpredictability to the “who wants to host where” decision tree moving forward.

Anyway, keep an eye on this particular thread. There’s rumbling up ahead.

A curious change on the Podtrac ranker. A few readers wrote in to point out that Podtrac, the podcast measurement and analytics service (and conjoined sister company of ad sales network Authentic), appears to have stopped listing “Global Downloads” as a count metric on its public-facing ranker in its most recent industry ranking update. (Some of those readers also expressed vaguely conspiratorial frustration, which I’m neither here nor there about.) Previously, the company listed both “US Unique Monthly Audience,” which aims to count the number of unique individual listeners consuming a given publisher’s shows, and “Global Downloads,” which counts the number of times a publisher’s shows have been downloaded, alongside each other on the public ranker.

This removal is particularly interesting in context: There’s currently a healthy debate in the podcast community about the right timeline for shifting from selling ads based on “downloads” — thought to be crude, rudimentary, and imprecise — to sells based on “listens,” which would theoretically provide ad buyers more precision and confidence. The barriers holding up the shift — which many industry types think is necessary for increased revenue growth — tend to be some mix of the political and the ideological. Political, as in some publishers are wary of how far their own metrics might drop when the change kicks in. Ideological, as in some folks are generally wary of ad tracking and/or everything that’s happened just about everywhere else on the internet.

So there’s nothing exceptionally strange about a move like this, IMO. My sense is that everybody’s going to reach a listens-oriented framework at some point anyway. But at least one reader appears to be frustrated by the fact that the change was apparently implemented without much heads up, which I suppose could be troublesome to how a given publisher constructs its public reputation. (For what it’s worth, I’ve always been dubious about the Podtrac ranker as a representation of the industry. See here and here.)

When I reached out for comment, Velvet Beard, the company’s VP of product management, wrote back: “We are re-evaluating the information provided on the rankings. There is a link at the bottom of the post requesting feedback.” Here’s that post again. I was also reminded that the rankings are only published online for free; no Podtrac clients pay for either rankings data or for inclusion in the rankings.

Anyway, I’ve always found podcast measurement a little hard to effectively track and write about; “new analytics implementation” as a concept is far too dispersed across a large group of players to reliably track, and companies tend to like to keep mum about such internal affairs. But it nonetheless remains one of the industry’s more important stories.

In The Dark wins a George Polk Award in journalism. It’s the first podcast to nab one. Also honored: Bill Siemering, an influential founding member of National Public Radio and the author of its original mission statement.

I’m told that In the Dark, led by reporter Madeleine Baran and senior producer Samara Freemark, recently reached 40 million “all-time downloads, requests, and plays” across its two seasons. It will publish four additional episodes to its second season, which tracked the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man tried six times by the same white district attorney for a 1996 murder in Winona, Mississippi. The new episodes will follow the case as it reaches the Supreme Court.

Anyway, I took this opportunity to check in with American Public Media, which sent over two updates:

  • The organization recently hired Phyllis Fletcher as a new podcast editor. Fletcher was formerly NPR’s northwest bureau chief (or, as I’d prefer to describe it, the bureau chief of the best region in America).
  • Plans are in place to launch at least three shows in the spring, including a new project from Lauren Ober, formerly the host of WAMU’s The Big Listen.

A middle market for live shows? [by Caroline Crampton] Live performance as a channel of growth for the U.K. podcast scene is something I’ve been tracking for a while, and the scene over here seems to have bubbled up quite a bit over the past few years. There are straightforward arguments as to why more creators would want to build the channel out: Live shows can be a really good way for podcasters to connect directly with their audience and a good source of revenue, if you can make the economics work. For me, increasing live podcast activity is also a signal of increasing awareness and saleability around podcasting. Put simply, if events beyond the London Podcast Festival and My Dad Wrote a Porno tours are doing well, it suggests gains in the breadth and depth of U.K. podcasting.

A new upcoming live podcast venture seems to speak to this. Described as a “first-of-its-kind business” by its organizers, Podcast Live will take a slate of podcasters — primarily nonfiction-oriented — to different venues around the U.K. to host interactive versions of their shows. The first event, set for April 7 in London, will feature a lineup of political podcasts from across the ideological spectrum, including the anti-Brexit Remainiacs and the right-wing Delingpod. (Sidenote: April 7 will be only a few days after the U.K. exits the E.U. on March 29 — maybe, who knows, our legislature is a hot mess right now — which could make it extra spicy.)

The venture is the product of four U.K. audio industry veterans: Phil Riley, former CEO of Chrysalis Radio and founder of Heart Radio; Michael Connole, former finance director of both Chrysalis Group and Global Radio; John Myers, former CEO of Guardian Media Group Radio; and Matt Deegan, creative director for Folder Media and co-founder of both the British Podcast Awards and the Next Radio conference.

Over email, Deegan told me the event has been in development for about six months, and that he was particularly cued into the opportunity after working on the British Podcast Awards in 2017 and 2018. “We all know that for many podcasters (especially in Europe) it isn’t yet their main job and they can’t always devote the time that they would like to,” he said. “Quite a few podcasters were doing some shows but were keen to do more, and other podcasters knew they should be doing live shows, but just didn’t have the time to organize them.”

The angle for Podcast Live, apparently, is to solve an economic problem: serving as a platform both for podcasts with experience hosting their own events but who find the upfront costs prohibitive as well as podcasts who have yet to try out live performances.

Deegan reckons the U.K.’s podcasting scene is now well populated enough to make this work either way. “I think the number of British shows that are generating more than 50,000 listens an episode seems to be growing and growing,” he said. “At this level, you really start to build a broad, geographically dispersed, engaged audience. We’re seeing podcasters do well from events, but also from things like Patreon subs and merch. They’ve built the critical mass to be able to sell out events. For smaller podcasters, we hope that by being alongside the bigger ones, it will help kickstart their own events and tours.”

The decision to design each event around a particular subject matter — in April’s case, politics — is an interesting one, which contrasts the patchwork nature of many other live programming lineups. It helps distinguish Podcast Live to some extent, speaking towards the aim of being specific in targeting audiences. “By theming days, we hope we’ll help expose their podcast to more fans of that genre,” Deegan said. “We want a Podcast Live event to be a way to meet people who have similar interests to you and also expose our audience to new content that they didn’t know about our haven’t experienced before.” Focusing on nonfiction topical podcasts also creates a point of difference, since there is already a comparatively well-established circuit for comedy and interview podcasts and some fiction shows.

Podcast Live will take a cut of all ticket sales for the days that they organize. In return, the podcasters will get the event admin handled for them, some marketing, and a decent recording of their show to use on their own feed. At the moment, the organizers aren’t being paid for their involvement. Deegan noted that they waiting for the venture to be profitable before they are compensated for their time.

The effort strikes me as part of a broader trend in the U.K. for companies that sit in the mid-range of the podcasting space — providing infrastructure to shows with a decent audience but without the huge reach to run things alone, and taking a revenue share in return. In the same way that Acast has been able to attract mid-sized shows onto its platform for monetization — because those shows aren’t yet big enough to attract the attention of big brands but their audiences may have some value to smaller advertisers — Podcast Live could fulfill a similar role for the live events market. Sure, there are always pros and cons to working with a third party rather than owning all of your own operation, and creators will have to reckon with those tradeoffs. But I think it’s encouraging to see things launching in the U.K. that seek to work with the audio space here as it is now, rather than just hanging around waiting for more listeners to show up so it looks more like the U.S.

Tracking

  • The creators of Criminal, Lauren Spohrer and Phoebe Judge, are set to turn a few of their stories into scripted television projects, according to Deadline. The report notes that they are working UTA’s Oren Rosenbaum, and that they’re looking to expand their show portfolio — which also includes spinoff This Is Love — and help bring in more people into the medium.
  • LA Times Studios has launched its first “brand-funded podcast,” called Obsession, which is backed by Focus Features, which is looking to plug its new film Greta. For those wondering — like myself — LA Times Studios is an in-house team at the publisher, managed on the business side (and not involving the newsroom), which works to produce projects outside the Times’ owned platforms. The division is said to be important in the development of Dirty John, a collaboration with Wondery, along with its adaptation deal.
  • WaitWhat, the studio founded by former TED executives June Cohen and Deron Triff, has raised $4.3 million in Series A funding in a round led by Cue Ball and Burda Principal Investments. The company is responsible for the production of Masters of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, who also invested in the round.
  • The Cut has a great interview up with former Another Round cohost Tracy Clayton, who now has a new podcast project with Netflix called Strong Black Legends. (Note to self: Look into this Netflix thing.)
  • Missed this earlier in the month: Apparently, former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s new venture will involve original podcasts? Here’s The New York Times’ writeup on the upcoming company, due to roll out stuff in the summer.
  • Because I can, I wrote about the author Jon Mooallem’s Walking podcast, which is nothing but recordings of him walking through the woods, plus host-read ads.
  • I hear that The Read will celebrate its sixth year of publishing next week. Shouts to Crissle and Kid Fury.

This time last year. To refresh: I’m copping this new feature from the very smart Ali Griswold, who writes a damn good newsletter on the sharing economy called Oversharing, where we go over the headlines from this point last year.

In the February 27, 2018 issue, Anchor officially relaunched — re-pivoted? — into its current form of a hosting platform, McDonald’s launched a sauce-cast with Gizmodo Media Group, something something Logan Paul, and we ran a Q&A with the Preserve This Podcast project.

POSTED     Feb. 26, 2019, 11:20 a.m.
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