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A Startup Bets on Rich Media

Entale believes that listeners don't just want to listen when they're listening to something. Cool? Also, why does this sound so familiar?

Entale, a London-based podcasting startup, is betting on podcasting newcomers wanting a listening experience that also comes with text, images and links. The company is part of an accelerator called Founders Factory, with backing from, among others, the Guardian Media Group, and last week, they pulled the latest version of its iOS app out of beta. The app promises “a rich interactive experience” for audio, and has signed content partnerships with the likes of Conde Nast, The Economist and Hachette.

Naturally, I was interested to find out more. Wil Harris, Entale’s CEO and co-founder, tells me he started work on the app at Founders Factory in July 2017, having previously been head of digital at Conde Nast and the co-founder of a YouTube focused multi channel network called ChannelFlip, which sold to NewsCorp in 2012. He was keen to start a company in podcasting, seeing an opportunity in the growth of on demand audio, and was encouraged by the success of other Europe-based startups like Audioboom and Acast.

Harris’ mission with Entale, he says, is to “solve some of the key problems in the podcasting ecosystem.” He identifies two particular sticking points: the fact that podcasting has a relatively high level of awareness but a relatively low user adoption rate (RAJAR figures in the UK put listening at around 11 percent, and the 2018 Infinite Dial US report estimates awareness at 65 per cent), and the fact that the ad market, especially in the UK, remains small (it is forecast to grow from £7m in 2017 to £11m in 2018 here).

He sees Entale’s target audience as “people who are interested in podcasts but who aren’t currently consuming because they’re perceived as being a bit difficult, a bit niche, a bit geeky maybe, and you don’t really know where to start.” “Power users” who are already familiar with how to subscribe to RSS feeds and organise hundreds of episodes into playlists, are not really Harris’s focus. Instead, he is after users who are keen to share short snippets of podcasts they like with friends and family, discover new shows easily, and experience extra interactive content alongside the audio like images, maps and links.

I was instinctively skeptical of this latter function. For me, as for many others, I think, podcast listening is a secondary activity I do alongside things like walking, cooking and cleaning, and I can’t therefore see how actively looking at my screen to consume extra content would be anything other than disruptive to that. However, Harris says this is a common reaction among existing podcast listeners: “It’s that wonderful fallacy of ‘I don’t do it so I can’t imagine anyone else doing it,’” he said. Entale’s data suggests that “there’s a huge segment [of users] who really want that deep dive” — he said that 22% of all listening time on the app is spent interacting with rich content. He also pointed out that more smart speakers with screens are launching all the time (Facebook and Amazon already have them, and Google just announced one this week), so the interactive content has a home beyond just the smartphone apps.

Google has talked a lot recently about wanting to increase global podcast listening, and Harris feels similarly strongly about converting non listeners into listeners. “Podcasting is never going to be a big industry if all we’re every doing is appealing to that 15 per cent that are already listening — we’ve got to make it mainstream,” he said. There are a few different ways that Entale is seeking to do this with their content strategy. Firstly, all podcasts are indexed in the app, so it can become a user’s go-to listening place. Then particular partner shows, that come via their deals with places like the Guardian or the Economist, have the extra interactive features. In addition, they’re seeking to bring on board creators with an existing audience, such as authors or social media influencers, who want to expand into audio. Publishers have been experimenting on Entale with podcasts linked to the release of new books, or with splitting up audiobooks into serialised podcast segments.

However, Harris and his team are mostly interested in partners or podcasters who already have brand or advertising deals lined up, or are using a micropayment membership model — Harris and the Entale team are primarily focused on providing the tech and engineering, rather than commercial support. For the moment, they’re fully venture funded, having received seed money from the Founders Factory accelerator.

Entale is currently pretty small — they’ve seen 6,500 installs of the app, with 24 percent engaged monthly usage in September, Harris said, and 1.6 million plays on the platform since launching in April. There are a couple of stats that stand out to me, though. Firstly, 70 per cent of plays on their platform are streamed rather than downloaded, meaning that they have really good data on how users listen to share with advertisers (capturing this was a key part of the app’s design, Harris said). Secondly, 9 percent of users clicked a link, whether to an article or a product, embedded in a podcast’s Entale rich media stream. That’s a pretty good conversion, and I could see the kind of brands who work with influencers on Instagram being interested in it.

Overall, Entale has a pretty solid if broad game plan, but I’m still unsure for now whether it can achieve the scale it would need to take its rich content, data capture plan mainstream. Harris says they’re focused on the UK and Europe for now, but that the US will be in their plan for 2019. If they can gain a substantial footing across the Atlantic, they might have a shot.

[Editor’s Note: Why does all sound like the talking points of early Acast?]