Oh, Conan. Let’s talk about Conan O’Brien’s Variety cover, shall we? It raised the blood pressure of a fair few in the podcasting space this week. In particular, the subhead on it — “Conan O’Brien is among a new wave of podcasters helping to transform the niche medium into a viable business — and the original online headline for the accompanying feature (now changed), which said that he and other “Top Hosts” were “Driving the Podcast Revolution”. The small nugget of news buried in amongst all of this was that Conan’s Team Coco podcasting arm has “recently signed a mid-seven-figure deal with podcasting network Midroll that will keep [Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend] going for two more seasons”.
Understandably, podcasting stalwarts who have been working in the medium for a decade or more were a bit narked by this framing. O’Brien himself freely admits that he came very late to podcasting, but even though his team’s flagship show attracts over a million downloads an episode, it does still stick in the craw for some that a famous white male talk show host is being acclaimed as a major innovator in an industry that has grown and developed in a lot of ways thanks to people who do not enjoy his privileges.
I feel like this flare up is similar to the one around that NYT “peak podcast” piece from last month, and really every time a mainstream publication drops a major clanger when writing about podcasting. It also reminds me a lot of the kind of conversations I have with Hot Pod readers and those interested generally in the future of podcasting whenever the news of another major acquisition or tech change by a big platform breaks.
People worry a lot that the emerging popularity and conventional media-ness of podcasts will kill (or has killed) the medium’s potential for diversity, creativity and individuality. A lot of money is turning up very quickly, and who gets to access those resources and for what projects is a really fraught subject. I don’t have the answers to most (or indeed any) of the questions around this, but I do understand where they come from and why people get angry and frustrated about this.
It’s not so much about Conan himself (I mean, his podcast isn’t bad, and he clearly has some talented people on his team) but what he represents when he appears on a magazine cover as a “revolutionary” in a medium he wasn’t even using 12 months ago. It’s an origin story being rewritten, or overwritten, and those who remember the old version can’t help but be provoked by it.
On a lighter note, I did enjoy the fact that Marc Maron used his appearance on Conan’s talk show after the cover came out to rail at his long-time friend for his sudden expertise in audio. “There were some of us, Conan, that were in the mines!” he fumed, reminding O’Brien that he started WTF over a thousand episodes ago, in his garage. In the mines, indeed.
Disney Notes. Disney Music Group (DMG) is getting into podcasting, beginning with For Scores, a series that promises “a magical journey into the world of film and television composers”. It’s dropping four interviews at a time, each with a composer working in an area of the extended Disney universe (from Marvel to classic features to documentaries). It’s launching without sponsorship at the moment, although they’re looking into adding that later on.
Interestingly, they’re not going too heavy on the “this is DISNEY” branding for it, and Robbie Snow, SVP of global marketing for DMG told Billboard that “we have the intention to do podcasts from composers from both TV and film across Disney and Fox. It could be FX, it could be Freeform, it could be ABC”. Other podcasts from the music division are also on the cards.
Sports Season. Barstool Sports, which let us not forget, was embroiled in an ugly harassment episode with comedian and Punch Up The Jam host Miel Bredouw earlier this year, has announced that podcasts now account for one-third of the company’s revenue. No specific numbers were forthcoming in this interview with CEO Erika Nardini, but she said that Barstool Sports is “on a path toward $100 million” in revenue in the next year, and that audio accounts for upwards of 35 percent of that.