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Insider September 30, 2021 — Who’s doing well with Apple Podcast subscriptions?

Facebook ads are tanking, but podcast ads are looking real shiny

We made it past Wednesday, and can you believe it’s October tomorrow? Also, it’s International Podcast Day today. I typically don’t ascribe to these fake holidays — no offense to whoever made this one up — but in the spirit of Hot Pod, I supposed I’ll recognize it. ‘Tis the season. Okay, below we’ve got a packed issue because we’re at the end of the quarter, so all the companies are dropping news. It’s subscription mania; plus, how will iOS 14.5, which is wreaking havoc on Facebook ads, impact podcasting? Let’s go.

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Subscription power hour

I knew subscription podcasts were going to be a big story this year, but when Aria and I were discussing this week’s news, we were like, “WHOA.” So below, please allow me some Subscription Talk. 

First up: Apple released new charts earlier this morning ranking shows and networks in order of the number of listening, paying subscribers they have. This means the charts account for anyone who is a paying subscriber and listened to an episode for more than 0 seconds. The fact that there might be people who are paying for podcasts but not listening baffles me. Maybe there’s a bunch of people who fat-fingered the subscribe button and didn’t realize it, or forgot to unsubscribe after the free trial and then never listened again? IDK! But here’s the top-five ranking. (There’s 10 total ranked, plus a chart ranking the top free channels, which I won’t discuss today. You can see the full list here):

1. Wondery+ from Wondery

2. Luminary from Luminary

3. Sword and Scale +PLUS Light from Incongruity

4. TenderfootPlus+ from Tenderfoot TV

5. PushNik from Pushkin Industries

It’s interesting that the top two networks selling subscriptions are two that already were doing so prior to Apple Podcasts’ feature launch. This makes me wonder two things: one, if many existing subscribers canceled their subscriptions and made the switch to Apple Podcasts. I had heard about this happening for at least one show, unrelated to these networks. I mean, if you were forced to use the Luminary app and now you can instead listen on Apple Podcasts, where maybe you were already listening to non-Luminary content, I can see why you might want to switch! (But really, I’m thankful for a pulse check on Luminary — what’s goin’ on over there?)

Two: presumably, both Wondery and Luminary know how to market their subscription products, whereas it’s a new thing for the other networks. Maybe the two companies are just seeing the payoff of their marketing pushes now because people don’t have to exit their typical app to pay for it.

The rest of the list is comprised of US networks — apart from Podimo Deutschland, which comes in at number eight — so it seems like Apple Podcast subscriptions are primarily a US podcaster game and a big network game. (Sword and Scale is the only individual show ranked on the list, although the subscription covers some S&S adjacent content that are separate programs.) We could spend a while talking about these rankings, but I always want to be mindful of your time, so let’s move on for now into… more Apple and Wondery subscription news!

On Tuesday, Wondery launched its Wondery+ Kids subscription offering, which is only available through Apple Podcasts. (Given that it’s seemingly the most successful seller of subscriptions on Apple Podcasts, this makes sense!) It costs $4.99 and provides early and ad-free access to new episodes of Tinkercast and Wondery Originals. Wondery+ subscribers will also be able to access the kids content, but they won’t be able to hear some Audible shows that are included with Wondery+ Kids. This comes after Wondery and Tinkercast signed an exclusive licensing deal in August.

Apple’s not the only app in the game, though, so in the next two parts of Subscription Talk, we move away to the open platforms. 

Acast and Scott Aukerman are partnering to launch a slate of exclusive podcasts under the name Comedy Bang! Bang! World. Subscribers will be able to sign up at ComedyBangBangWorld.com and can either pay $4 or $7 per month with various perks for each tier, including ad-free content, new shows, and access to a Discord channel. The key point here is that it’s available on every podcast platform that supports private RSS feeds.

And with that, we come to our final bit of subscriptions news: Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast is now selling and distributing its premium content subscription through Supporting Cast. Savage already offered a paid version of the podcast, so this is really just a platform change seemingly designed to free up the support team from having to maintain a working subscription platform of their own. But since switching in early September, Savage’s subscription revenue is up over 20 percent over the same period last year, per the press release. We, unfortunately, don’t have hard numbers there, so take it as you will, but growth is encouraging.

Like I promised, subscription power hour. This isn’t a theme that’s going away, and it’s one I hope we can soon get hard numbers around to understand how sustainable the business is and whether it’s one that’ll stick.

The iOS 14.5 ad reckoning… and you

Last week, Alex Kantrowitz, formerly of Buzzfeed News and now of his own Substack Big Technology, published a piece about the reckoning that is Facebook ads in the age of iOS 14.5. For the uninitiated, iOS 14.5 not only shipped with the option to turn off tracking across apps and the web, but it proactively prompted users to do so, and given that we’re now onto iOS 15, the update more people tend to install, this feature will likely only become more popular. This means apps that pay their bills with ad targeting, like Facebook, are being severely hampered from doing that job well. Anyone who advertises on Facebook likely tracks to see where you go and what you do after you see that ad — did you buy that protein powder? 

That’s no longer as easy to do on Apple devices. Kantrowitz reports that one company, called Carousel, went from spending millions of dollars each day on Facebook to a few hundred thousand dollars. Facebook, prior to the iOS update, generated 80 percent of the traffic Carousel sent to its product pages. Now, it accounts for 20 percent. 

Naturally, in a Carrie Bradshaw moment, I had to ask: but what’s the podcast angle? So I reached out to a few folks in the podcast ad space to get their take. If people are shifting dollars away from Facebook, are they looking to audio? Here’s what they had to say:

Stephen Smyk, SVP Podcast and Influencer Marketing with Veritone One, says he and the team’s clients had been preparing for the update “for months,” and a number of clients did increase their podcast ad spend in Q3 and Q4 budgets. “There are a variety of reasons (podcasts growth, podcast being a ‘cool’ channel, etc.), but the Facebook impact was definitely tossed around as a reason for additional money to spend by a number of clients,” he writes me in an email. “We have had a couple of clients increase budgets and have explicitly said they have more money to spend because they can’t spend it on FB. This is a small group, but I am assuming that we will see more of this over the next few months as the impact becomes more evident.”

Rick Selah at Podcast Ad Reps says: “I think budgets shifting at these agencies are because of two things: 1) research is proving the ROI from podcast campaigns is at an all-time high, and 2) brand clients are hearing the ‘podcast noise’ and asking their agencies why they haven’t recommended a larger portion (or any) of their budget into podcasting.”


And finally: John Goforth, CRO at Magellan AI, says: “I’m not hearing (yet at least) a ton of ‘Facebook was working great, but with 14.5, it now sucks, and I need to spend my money elsewhere.’ I have heard and continue to hear much more feedback more along the lines of diversification. You could argue they’re somewhat one and the same. Marketers are just feeling uneasy around marketing channels that are so dependent on data that might or might not be available in a year.”

Podcast ads were hot, continue to be hot, and the Facebook and Apple debacle is making them hotter. I know there’s also widespread industry murmuring about the risk of Apple stopping sharing IP addresses through Apple Podcasts, at which point the joke would be on all of us, and the TV network newsletters would be having their laughs, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

A couple quick things, then some moves, and you’re onto Friday!

Don’t just listen — interact, says Spotify

Spotify is making interactive podcast polls and Q&As available to all its Anchor creators and viewable to all Spotify app users. I covered this for The Verge earlier today, so check that out if you’re curious, but the main takeaway for me is Spotify is going to Spotify and keep certain features locked to its software. Want to make an interactive poll? Anchor, baby. Want to target your ad to our audiences? Megaphone, baby. I’ll have more on interactive podcasts soon, so I’m saving my deeper thoughts for then.

An NPR shakeup

Lulu Garcia-Navarro, host of the Weekend Edition Sunday from NPR, announced on-air on Sunday that she’ll be leaving the show and the network, and today, The New York Times announced she’ll be joining as host for a new opinion podcast. Huge news and big congrats!

As a listener of Weekend Edition, though, I’m sad to see her go, and as someone who watches the audio space, I’m also concerned. Sam Sanders, host of NPR’s It’s Been a Minute, tweeted that Lulu would be leaving and pointed out the mass exodus of “hosts from marginalized backgrounds” that have also left the network recently. When asked whether this was “an issue of being poached by other organizations or the culture of public radio,” Sanders just says, “yes.” The DMs and email, as always, are open.

Finally, here we are: the moves!

~ MOVES ~

  • Sean Carter is joining The Washington Post as its first full-time audio engineer-composer. Carter has, up until now, been a freelance audio producer, sound designer, and composer who worked with clients ranging from “Vogue and Vice to the United Nations.” I, for one, am excited to hear the new Washington Post podcast tunes.
  • Emily Martinez, formerly the executive producer for originals at Audible, is joining Campside Media as executive producer. She’ll be based out of Campside’s New York office and will “help lead a growing team of producers, and oversee several narrative projects of her own.”
  • This one’s less of a move and more of a congrats, but Daniel Alarcón, host of NPR’s Radio Ambulante podcast, was named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” These awards are given out annually to “talented individuals who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits.” Major congrats!!!

Thanks for reading this longer one today. Aria’s has you covered tomorrow, and I’ll be back Tuesday with more. Enjoy the day!