Audioboom-Triton Digital Merger Called Off
The UK podcast company’s intended $185 million “reverse takeover” deal of the California-based Triton Digital has been withdrawn, as the former was unable to raise the necessary funds to complete the process.
“I think it would of been a tremendous coming together not only for Audioboom and our podcasters but the wider podcast industry,” Robert Proctor, Audioboom’s CEO, told me over email. “However, investors and institutions were not convinced and as the deal terms flexed to try and accommodate all parties then the final terms on the table were just not attractive to myself, my board or the wider Audioboom shareholder base. So it just could not be sanctioned I’m afraid.”
According to Inside Radio, Audioboom now finds itself in a precarious financial position. It has enough working capital to fund operations for only four more weeks, and its shares has now been suspended on the London Stock Exchange. The Inside Radio report also notes that a new financial officer, Brad Clarke, has been brought in to take on what’s next: another campaign to secure more capital in order to get the company back into a workable operating position.
As a reminder: the merger would have resulted in a new entity operating under the name “Triton Media Group” with current Triton Digital CEO Neal Schore stepping to serve as the combined company’s CEO and President. It would have theoretically combined Triton Digital’s work as a digital audio analytics and advertising technology provider with Audioboom’s work as podcast advertising network and creative agency. The deal was originally announced in February, and earlier this month, I sent out a Members newsletter noting that the deal was “taking longer than expected.”
Things do not look good for Audioboom, and it appears to look even worse for a good portion of the smaller podcasts the company works with. In recent weeks, as the deal has played out, there have apparently been reports of the company not paying some of its shows in a timely manner. Furthermore, Audioboom has now signaled — through the statement to Inside Radio — that it will begin trimming “smaller, unsustainable podcasts” and working on attracting “more commercially viable podcasts” in a bid to consolidate its audience base and reduce its operating costs.
In an email, Proctor wrote me: “I would like to take the opportunity through yourself to apologise to all of our highly valued podcast partners for our payment tardiness over the last 6-8 weeks, but they can be assured that we are putting everything in place to address the issues and as I say, hopefully everything will be back on track in just a couple weeks.”
Oy, what a sticky situation.
Gimlet parts ways with its Head of Product.
Nathan Bashaw is leaving the company following from what was described to be “an amicable and agreed-upon decision,” according to a spokesperson. Bashaw joined the company as Head of Product slightly under a year ago, originally brought in with an intentionally broad mandate: to figure out how software can accelerate the company’s business.
Bashaw’s departure is apparently associated with a broader strategic development: the company has internally decided that it will not pursue a direct consumer-facing app strategy.
Some context can be gleaned from an internal memo circulated announcing Bashaw’s departure:
During Nathan’s time here, a lot has changed in the podcast industry. We’ve seen a number of big platforms get more interested in podcasts – Spotify, Pandora, Google, TuneIn, and of course Apple as well. This has led us to reassess the role of technology at Gimlet, and ask ourselves this question: are we going to be a media company solely focused on content, or are we also going to make our own app and compete with those big platforms on distribution? After taking a hard look at that question, we’ve decided not to build our own app.
Instead we are going to continue creating and monetizing our superlative programming, developing it for TV & Film markets, and servicing brands through Gimlet Creative. That’s what we’re better at than anyone in the world, and what we want to remain 100% focused on. Essentially we’d rather partner with those platforms to further our strategy, than compete with them.
Lots to take in here.
PRX gets a new Chief Operating Officer.
That person is Shona Koester, a long-time American Public Media veteran. Koester previously served as Vice President of Distribution & Content Partnerships at APM, where she “previously held several senior management positions and established key partnerships with the BBC World Service and The New York Times” and “developed and expanded news and culture brands across a variety of distribution channels such as Marketplace, BBC’s NewsHour, The Splendid Table and The Daily podcast.”
Look, I’m just quoting the press release here, and you can read that whole thing on Medium, the press release publishing CMS of choice.
Fun fact: PRX’s previous COO was Kerri Hoffman, who is now CEO having succeeded Jake Shapiro when the dude took off to launch RadioPublic. Big, happy family, those folks.
Big times for PRX, curious times for APM: the latter recently announced that it will be winding down Marketplace Weekend at the end of June. Take note:
We’re grateful to the entire Weekend team – many of whom will stay on in new roles across our digital and on-demand portfolios – for their work on the program. Host Lizzie O’Leary will host the show through its completion, but has decided to leave her formal role at Marketplace. That said, you will still hear her as a fill-in host on our various programs and we’re thrilled to have her stay involved in that capacity.
Seems something to know if you’re in the market for qualified audio professionals, no? Anyway, APM is also enjoying a killer sophomore season for In The Dark, which reminds me: I should start writing about that.
Much Ado About Programmatic.
From a relatively generic recent AdExchanger write-up, “The Podcasting Ad Opportunity Is Increasing – And So Are Its Growing Pains“:
On its Q1 earnings call, Pandora’s Lynch said the company plans to leverage AdsWizz technology, which it acquired in March, to “improve the monetization of non-music content.” Podcast publisher and tech company Panoply also operates a programmatic exchange Megaphone Targeted Marketplace, which isn’t a real-time auction, but offers the ability to buy audiences across podcast shows rather than contextually.
While the technology is there, many publishers in the US are still hesitant to sell programmatically for fear it will compromise the listening experience, Serrander said.
“Programmatic is getting into more of the discussions with agencies and marketers,” he said. “But podcasting needs to come around to the idea that creative can still be intact and the podcast experience can still be great even though something is served programmatically.”
I’ve gone on the record a couple of times to voice my reticence over the notion of programmatic podcast advertising, and every time I’ve done so, I’ve gotten push-back from various corners of the Hot Pod readership for reasons you might expect: there are aggressively attractive business reasons for the technology to be implemented, and we still live in that sweet Schroedinger’s cusp of potential where we have yet to see whether we’ll fuck this whole thing up or we won’t.
Personally, I’m broadly wary over pushes for programmatic advertising to make its way into podcasting given, well, *gestures towards the general direction of the internet*, and I’m specifically wary of programmatic advocacy from parties that stand to directly benefit financially from the implementation of the technology even if it comes at the expense of the general user experience. (Especially when said parties — particularly platforms or broad networks — won’t generally be at the forefront of getting push-back from listeners should those programmatic ad executions yield bad experiences.) But again, I understand the incentive to push for it: advertisers and agencies live in a world where programmatic marketplaces are table stakes as far as digital advertising is concerned, and publishers as well as podcast technology platforms stand to gain quick benefit from the arrangement. And I’ll say it again: all this is the case despite the question of whether programmatic podcast advertising will either lead to better consumer experiences or, at the very least, not lead to degradation of said consumer experience.
To no one in particular over Twitter, and then to National Public Media COO Bryan Moffett in specific, I floated the question to get it off my chest: does anybody actually think programmatic podcast advertising is a good idea?
So, a few things.
There’s a place for it. Sometimes a buyer wants an efficient buy against a specific audience in a specific medium. A demographic, or psychographic. Data allows that, and that’s a big draw. The buyer might want only women 18-44 on the east coast. The emerging markets like MTM or Podwave in theory allow that.
In theory. It’s early days here, and there’s not much scale to be found. But the principle has merit.
On the creative side, you can definitely have quality creative with programmatic. When we sell into Podwave, the ad could pass all the rules to run in an NPR podcast. You can have professional voice talent read good copy and make a good podcast ad.
You don’t get host reads, which totally has value. You don’t get endorsements. But you can get an effective ad.
The worry is that the efficiency of buying this way will also make it easier for people to just take bad radio ads and run them. And that can and will certainly happen. But in any robust exchange, publishers should still maintain control over the creative.
So that’s an answer. I don’t think it’s inherently bad. It can be abused, of course, and the nature of it makes that easier than direct sales. But done well it could also be a good tactic for certain marketing needs, and can still sound good in a podcast.
Over Twitter, PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman, who will most definitely be on the hook if her company’s podcast advertising experiences go down the crapper, concurred with Moffett:
I don’t think this is the right question. How do we improve the creative economy so we get the best and most impactful content? How do we use the power of technology to improve on lessons from the past? I agree with @bryanmoffett -publishers have to lead.
Seemed like everyone came out of the woodwork for this tweet. Here’s Panoply’s Director of Product, Joel Withrow, who doesn’t really tweet but tossed this one out anyway: Pods lack virality. Massive volumes of cheap, low-engagement ears cannot be pushed around the pod ecosystem like digital display and even video. Plus the entire set of avail impressions is much lower, which means the industry simply cannot support CPMs beneath a certain value… These differences (plus hindsight) act as a defense against a race to the bottom. The targeting itself is not inherently bad or good. It’s all about execution: brand safety, quality creative, which translates to advertiser value, higher CPMs, more revenue for publishers. Two things to these:
- To be clear, I’ve thought through this question enough times that, of course, programmatic advertising isn’t inherently bad — much in the sense that no singular tool is inherently bad. My reticence largely comes from a lack of faith that publishers, as a broad collective of competitors and collaborators, will holistically bring us to a place where podcast advertising won’t be commodified down into some replication of what we see in radio. I agree with Hoffman and Withrow, certainly: publishers have to lead, yes, it’s all about execution. But I also think that not all publishers will fall in line; some will lead, but some may not follow, and others still will do their own thing, say, sticking to their own experiences from broadcast radio. After all, we still exist in a podcast ecosystem that hasn’t yet consolidated onto the same page on measurements, even though all the necessary guidelines are in place for adoption.
- Which brings us to the question of enforcement: in the absence of a world where publishers can reliably lead to cultivate and carry out a culture of good and user-first programmatic podcast advertising creatives, what tools does the ecosystem have to better foster a programmatic advertising future that you can count on? I can’t think of much, but the one thing I can think of is: the creation of a market for creative agencies to build high-quality third-party podcast advertisements — you know, shit like this.
Look, I’m more fatalist than optimist, so allow me to say that I’m absolutely certain programmatic podcast advertising will make its way into the ecosystem very soon. This, I’d argue, is the side-effect of a relative lack of aggressive experimentation with business models. An overarching concern among some independents may have been the anxiety that what happened in every other echelon of the media and creative industries will happen here in podcasting, but alas, very little seems to have happened that could’ve been able to cut that cyclical thrust of history off — no new business model, no comprehensive trade association organizing, no major livable alternatives to the way this may play out.
We’re in the Great Game now.
Show Notes: Dissect is back with its third season.
The serialized music podcast will now train its absurdly intense direction on Frank Ocean’s stellar second album, Blonde. it’s worth noting that Dissect, once an independent podcast, is now a Spotify Original production. I previewed the new season for Vulture this week — lord, I’m fucking horrible at vacations — though there’s some detail on that acquisition that didn’t go into the piece.
Here’s what host Cole Cuchna told me about the move to Spotify:
There was a lot of outside interest in Dissect during Season 2. It was an incredibly stressful time. I was working full time, producing Dissect at night and in the early morning, fielding calls and emails from people interested in the podcast, and attempting to balance all that with my family life. I received a call from Courtney Holt who’d recently joined Spotify as the new Head of Spotify Studios and Video. My initial call with him immediately felt different than all the others. He understood Dissect and truly believed in the work, and I believed him in the vision he laid out for the future of original content on Spotify, which included a big push and ongoing commitment to podcasts. I was able to quit my day job and join Spotify full time to produce Dissect as a Spotify Original. It’s really a dream come true.
(1) A quick follow-up to this week’s newsletter on the NEA-backed Luminary Media: “IPO Slowdown Leads Silicon Valley Venture Giant NEA to Sell $1 Billion Worth of Startup Stakes.” (Wall Street Journal)
(2) “HBO & Sky Partner On ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’ Documentary From Amy Berg.” (Deadline) Serial finally heads to TV… but not in the way you’d think.
(3) Vox Media head honcho Jim Bankoff gave a long interview to the Hollywood Reporter about… well, a lot of stuff. But when asked about an area of growth for the company, he noted: “Podcasting. We’re having enormous success with Today Explained, which is a real hit out of the gate. It’s doing things in a different way than some of the other daily podcasts. We have Ezra Klein’s show and Kara Swisher with Recode Decode. The Verge and SB Nation are doing great work in audio and building up a really strong podcast network.”
(4) “Rupert Murdoch is to create a new radio and podcasting operation at the top of his News UK London headquarters to capitalise on the growing audience for digital audio…” (The Drum)
(5) From earlier this month: “Mozilla Plans—Then Pulls—a Petition Requesting Amazon Be More Transparent About Kids’ Data.” (AdWeek)
(6) “To make Stories global, Facebook adds Archive and audio posts.” (TechCrunch)
(7) For all you Ira Glass nerds, here’s the link to a video of his speech at this year’s Columbia Journalism School graduation festivities.
(8) From a study executed on Pandora: “Older listeners are as likely to pay to avoid ads as they are to stop listening altogether.” (Digital Content Next)
(9) By now, you’ve probably heard that the US Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting earlier this week. Be sure to read Josh Benton’s media business-oriented take on the matter over at Nieman Lab: it’s a gem. Meanwhile, I’m getting my body ready for the renewed onslaught of betting podcasts. Sports Haven, here I come.