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2019 in Review: Et Cetera

Before we wrap things up for the year — with respect to the Tuesday newsletter, anyway — I’d like to highlight three more 2019 stories I thought were interesting, plus a couple more.

(1) The Apocalyptic Launch. So, I walked into 2019 thinking that we’re going to have to do a ton of reckoning with Luminary, the spendy paid podcast platform. Turned out, not so much. Instead, we saw one of the more bizarre roll-outs in the business, which also happened to catalyze a clear-cut case of an industry flexing its collective power to enforce its norms.

On paper, Luminary had a lot going for it… well, maybe it just had the one thing: money, and lots of it. That resource afforded them the opportunity to get into a position where it could set up a pipeline of deals that could potentially reshape the on-demand audio business as we knew it. But as it turns out, money can only get you so much.

Luminary’s April roll-out was ultimately derailed by miscommunication, miscomprehension, and misalignment. Also: the app simply isn’t good, which, you know, table stakes. The whole episode displayed a fundamental lack of understanding of how the ecosystem works, how to build goodwill in a community (let’s not even talk about the Sign Bunny fracas), and how to create a market with tangible value. In November, the company reshuffled its executive ranks, bringing in a new CEO — interestingly, a former president of HBO — while benching its founder.

What should we make of Luminary’s grand misadventure? Is it some proof that people won’t actually want to pay for podcasts? Nope. The biggest lesson from this debacle is simple: if you’re going to do something, do it right.

(2) The Rise of the West. In the summer of 2017, New York City Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment published a report declaring the city to be “podcasting capital of the world,” pointing to the growth of podcasting businesses within city limits. And for a while, the claim may have been somewhat true, given the prominence of long-standing New York-based audio giants (WNYC, This American Life, etc.) and the seeding of several companies that would become the face of this podcast phase (Gimlet Media, Panoply, etc.).

But by the end of 2019, there has been enough movement to suggest that the focal point of the podcast ~industry~ has swung westward, towards Los Angeles. I’m almost completely basing this on the fact that podcasting’s larger scale business activities are now increasingly intertwined with the broader entertainment industry clustered around LA.

(3) Dialectic Consolidation. Three subplots from the year that collectively amounts to a trend: Entercom’s acquisition of Cadence13 and Pineapple Street, iHeartMedia’s on-going efforts to bill itself as a notable podcasting concern, and Sony Music’s investments in Three Uncanny Four, Broccoli Content, and most recently, Neon Hum Media. If you can’t build ‘em, buy ‘em.

(4) Some other stories we’re still thinking about:

  • Caroline’s three-part series on burnout. Here, here, and here.
  • The unionization effort at Gimlet. Here.
  • Sketchy contracts. Here.
  • I will friggin’ die on my little “let’s technologically invert NPR” hill. Here.
  • The push for global podcasting businesses, between Podfront UK and all the international stuff Spotify is cooking up.
  • Podcasting in China isn’t what you think it is. Here.

Alright. That’s all folks. Just one last quick note of gratitude — thank you, so much, for reading Hot Pod, and to the paid subscribers, thanks for keeping us going. Shouts to Caroline for being a great co-pilot, and shouts to Aude White, who joined us earlier this year as a fantastic contributing illustrator.

See you next year.