Issue 237,  published December 3, 2019

Acast Opens Up

Since Acast acquired Pippa back in April this year, it’s been expected that there would be some kind of integration of the two. Acast has operated on an invite-only basis since its founding in Sweden in 2014, mostly choosing to work with existing publishers moving into audio — like the Financial Times and the Guardian — and larger independent shows that were at or near the threshold for monetisation. Pippa was a smaller, Anchor-esque DIY hosting solution that was particularly popular in France.

The melding of the two products is now complete and takes the form of Acast Open, which sees Acast’s platform open up to any and all podcasters for the first time. There are now three tiers offered below the existing invite-only pro level, the first of which is free, and with the higher two offering extra features like transcription and a show website. The Pippa brand has been retired, although its four employees are now on the Acast team.

While there’s nothing particularly novel about the features on offer from Acast Open — plenty of other hosting providers have very similar options — it is something of a departure for a company that has so far specialised in monetising the semi-pro and professional end of podcasting as its source of revenue rather than going the route of charging smaller shows for services.

Part of the motivation behind Acast Open, Acast co-founder Johan Billgren told me, was the desire to manage the complete pipeline, from a tiny show’s first launch to its later success as a big hitter. “I think for us, it’s a level of maturity. So we have done very well in our core markets in finding really high quality content that we can help to grow and help to monetize,” he said. “But we are starting to see shows that come from nowhere and become big and we want to be with them from the very beginning. This is a way for us to identify those future stars.”

Each likely show is assessed on a case by case basis to see whether it can graduate to the full monetisation system, but there is a rough threshold. “If you have more than 10,000 listeners a week, you’re definitely interesting to us,” Billgren said. At the moment, there won’t be any spot ads on Acast Open shows, although that is an option users will be able to turn on in a few months’ time.

Following the broader trend in the industry, this is the latest of a series of moves Acast has made in recent months to add revenue streams beyond advertising and sponsorships. In addition to Acast Open, they’ve opened Acast Live (an events business for their larger shows) and a content development arm called Acast Studios. The latter recently debuted its first series, called The Score: Bank Robber Diaries, which is a co-production with Western Sound, the outfit led by producer Ben Adair, who has worked on Dr. Death and Reveal.

The revenue from Acast Open’s higher tier fees is not expected to outstrip ad revenue any time soon, but it’s one of the several factors informing the launch. “There’s definitely a revenue component to it,” Billgren said. “It’s not going to be, you know, big enough to change our business model as it is, but it’s definitely there.”

As far as he’s concerned, Acast is now the only place to get the full spectrum of podcasting services. “We have our own apps. We have embed players, we have web hosting. We have monetization with in house sales, et cetera. So we’re taking care of everything that has to do with podcasting. And so if you’re a podcast creator, you don’t have to go anywhere else, you don’t have to sell your own ads. You don’t have to use a third party statistics tools or anything like that,” he said.

“I think we are the only ones on that now go both for the really big ones, like the absolutely biggest ones in the world, like the BBC and the Economist and the Guardian, all the way down to someone who just wants to try it out by themselves.”

While there’s no suggestion that advertising and sponsorships will cease to be the biggest portion of Acast’s revenue any time soon, this push towards diversification I think reflects the increased competition the company faces. As I’ve written about before, Acast has made a speciality of entering non-US podcast markets early, forging relationships with major publishers, and scooping up big independent shows — in the UK, for instance, they work with My Dad Wrote a Porno and David Tennant Does A Podcast With as well as the legacy publishers already mentioned.

But as more players move in, from an enhanced Spotify to new competitive ad-sales ventures like Podfront UK, that first mover advantage (which helps Acast seem like the “default” monetisation option to small to medium sized independents) dissipates. Adding more strings to the bow seems like the natural way to go as the fight for every ad spot hots up.