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Insider December 17, 2021 — A Sirius concern for transcript-free companies

And Radiolab gets Patreon-like memberships

I know I generally keep these intros pretty short, but one day, I’ll write you a poem or something. For now, no. Strictly business.

EXCLUSIVE: Harvard Law professor on fate of SiriusXM’s disability suit

Itching for some legal analysis on SiriusXM, along with Pandora and Stitcher, getting sued over their lack of podcast transcripts? Michael Ashley Stein, executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and a longtime law professor, talked to me about what might happen based on previous cases and the details of this one.

The suit states that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “requires companies that provide their services to the general public” do so “in a manner that is accessible to people with disabilities.” The plaintiffs allege that SiriusXM is in violation of that by excluding the Deaf and hard of hearing, and Stein thinks their demand for transcripts going forward is one “they have a very strong chance of winning.”

“This is a service that’s being provided to the public,” Stein says, adding that “it does not cause an undue burden to provide same-time transcripts.” Those transcripts might not be perfect, like the built-in, automated services already available on Zoom or the ones posted for select podcasts on Amazon or Spotify. But practically speaking, the basic technology already exists, and there’s a case to be made that it should’ve already been made available, period, especially because it’s relatively simple to do so.

Stein also says that if SiriusXM has to change its ways, other companies may eventually have to as well, pointing to past victories from disability rights groups but acknowledging that wins haven’t always caused big changes. Historically speaking, he says, “has the industry complied as a response to those winning lawsuits? Not so much.” But looking ahead, “is this something that can have a domino effect? Conceivably so.”

These kinds of cases make Stein scratch his head. He notes that transcripts would be useful for people of all ability levels, catering not only to consumers who are Deaf or hard of hearing but people who speak a different native language than the host they’re listening to. “One can see how it’s not just about disability, and one has to wonder why, with negligible or no cost, a podcast provider would not want to have the largest possible audience.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly an isolated incident: potential customers, clients, and users continue to be left out — a confusing approach for any business that wants to bring new people in the door. “Why did Papa John’s refuse to be accessible on their website?” Stein posits. “Don’t they want people buying pizza?”

In Spotify’s new acquisition, radio shows become podcasts become revenue

That big Swedish streaming company acquired an Australian company called Whooshkaa, which packages and readies live radio shows for distribution as on-demand podcasts. Whooshkaa has a proprietary system for removing radio ads and making space for new ones, which will be of use to the Spotify octopus’ existing processes of hosting shows (Megaphone) and placing ads in them (Spotify Ad Network). Check out Ashley’s write-up on The Verge for more details.

Radiolab pivots from donation requests to opt-in memberships

Don’t worry — you can continue to listen to Radiolab however you have been, but last week, the team debuted quite a few features as paywalled perks, in hopes of incentivizing fans to financially support the show beyond occasionally “pledging” to it or to WNYC, its parent station.

The Lab” is a membership program that unlocks an exclusive podcast feed with things like the show’s full archive right there at your fingertips (it’s otherwise only available on the website) and ad-free episodes (a completely new feature) for listeners pledging at one of three tiers, from $5 to $20 per month. This feed will also be accessible to “legacy sustainers” who supported the show on a monthly basis before The Lab debuted; if you’re unsure if that’s you, hit ‘em up.

I can’t help but think of this in the context of how the show The World recently went in the other direction, doubling down on its donation-only public-radio model. As part of getting a new site and rebrand, The World’s team also committed to not serving ads alongside its stories to honor its public-media ethos. That stands in contrast, however slight, to this new approach by Radiolab, another public-radio-operated entity, and even greater contrast to New Hampshire Public Radio, which recently went into business with Stitcher for the explicit purpose of selling ads. Lots of different approaches here, as on-demand audio continues to expand in the radio world and creates more opportunities to ask, “How should we package and deliver this?”

Acast report turns up anomalous finding

The company’s recent report on US podcast listening has a fair amount of findings that mirror other recent surveys (e.g., more people are discovering podcasts, listeners trust / feel companionship with hosts) and one in particular that really doesn’t: Acast found that only 20 percent of listeners consumed podcasts with other people, whereas just last month, Edison Research / NPR’s spoken-word survey found that that the majority of listeners do. The latter’s stat clocked in at 51 percent of total listeners and 61 percent of non-white listeners.

I’m told this might have to do with differences in phrasing when initially issuing the surveys, so if nothing else, keep that in mind when reading results! And, to be fair, this line of inquiry seems pretty new, so maybe as folks continue to explore the phenomenon of listening with other people, we’ll see some alignment of phrasing. (As well as alignment on what researchers actually want to know? Like, are you counting people listening side by side but to different things? Playing something aloud for the whole room? Sharing headphones, like Him and Her?)

Podcasts to get you involved in the real world

Double Elvis Productions, known for narrative, music-focused podcasts like Disgraceland, is now starting a series of weekly podcasts that summarize specific cities’ events so that you can go check them out IRL. These shows will extend beyond their M.O. of music, covering not only concerts but “restaurants, shops, and exhibitions.” Confusing, but interesting. This will (tentatively) start in February in Boston, with NYC, LA, and more said to come later in 2022.


Claudine Ebeid is joining The Atlantic as an executive audio producer, and Andrea Valdez is transitioning internally from SVP of audience strategy to managing newsroom editor. Then, three moves at three aforementioned companies: in keeping with its increasing focus on its podcast slate, New Hampshire Public Radio promoted Rebecca Lavoie from director of audience and engagement to director of on-demand audio; in keeping with its increasingly stateside footprint, Acast is transitioning Georgina Holt, formerly managing director for UK and Ireland, into the same position for the Americas; and in what may prove to be a very important tech-focused announcement, Joseph Inzerillo will soon start as chief product and technology officer for the one and only SiriusXM.No, the new song “Joe Rogan” is not what it sounds like. It is, in fact, a dig. And it’s very good.