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Breaking: Shake-ups at Panoply and Slate

(1) Panoply appears to be out of the content business. Several sources in the company inform me that, earlier this afternoon, the company internally announced that it will no longer be developing new podcasts and that it will be letting go of its entire editorial staff. I’m told that the layoffs are effective starting the end of the month.

The company also announced that it will now shift its operational focus to the Megaphone targeted marketing platform — that is, Panoply’s podcast hosting, analytics, and monetization technology, which it acquired in the summer of 2015 and, more recently, forged a partnership with Nielsen to build a marketplace for targeted podcast ads.

I’ve obtained an email that the company sent out to its ad sales clients:

Panoply announced today that we have made the strategic decision to move out of the content and direct sales business to focus on technology and Megaphone Targeted Marketplace Sales.

Panoply will continue to introduce new features in Megaphone for publishing partners, accelerating its functionality and value, and advancing Megaphone as the tech leader in podcasting. We will work to rapidly grow MTM revenue to provide a larger layer of additional revenue for our partners.

However, with direct sales no longer being part of our business, we will need to transition your sales from Panoply for 2019. We’ll continue to handle your direct sales through 12/31/2018. We will reach out to you by the end of September to discuss the optimal way to help you move forward. We have truly loved working with you from a sales perspective, and look forward to continuing that relationship with Megaphone and MTM.

Prior to this point, Panoply, a sister company of Slate, was your standard end-to-end podcast company. It produced original shows (like The Message, Empire of Blood, Family Ghosts, and By the Book) and handled ad sales for a portfolio of podcasts. It also helped produce and monetize existing shows like You Must Remember This. In its earlier days, the company pursued a content strategy that heavily involved production partnerships with external publications like Politico and Tablet Magazine, and has since shifted to focus more on original programming.

Last October, the company announced the launch of Pinna, a paid listening app that focused on serving children’s podcast programming to users.

The reasoning behind the shift, and the layoffs, isn’t immediately clear. Neither, I should add, are the fates of many of its ongoing podcasts, some of which remain quite popular, like Happier with Gretchen Rubin. It should further be noted that Panoply recently announced a new fiction project at the IAB Podcast Upfronts last week: Passenger List, which will be co-written with The Bright Sessions‘ Lauren Shippen and stars Kelly Marie Tran in the lead role; what happens there is also uncertain.

[Updated 5.40pm ET] Panoply CEO Brendan Monaghan replied with the comment:

After much consideration, Panoply has decided to focus solely on our growing podcast hosting and ad services business, and exit the podcast content business. Our editorial staff was notified of the change today. They are an amazingly talented and creative group of people, and we will miss working with them.

Happily, some of Panoply’s producers and shows will be moving to our sister company Slate. The last day for most staff editorial staff members will be Sep. 28, although some will continue working on projects for a limited time after that.

Panoply’s upcoming thriller Passenger List will launch as scheduled in November. We are currently in discussions about where other Panoply shows will relocate.

On the advertising side, Panoply’s growing sales team will focus on selling into our Megaphone Targeted Marketplace (MTM), the industry’s first and most accurate demographic audience targeting system. As a result, we’ll be exiting direct ad sales for individual shows. Growth in MTM has been explosive, and we will be focusing exclusively on MTM ad sales in 2019.

Our main goal in this reorganization is to reinforce Megaphone’s position as the clear leader in podcasting technology and advertising services, and every person at the company will be laser focused on creating tools to help podcasters thrive.

Obviously, this is a massive development, but it’s one that’s compounded by this next story…

(2) Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, Jacob Weisberg, the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group (which includes both Slate Magazine and Panoply Media), announced in a tweet this afternoon that he is leaving his position to launch a new audio company with the author Malcolm Gladwell. The new company will handle the production for Gladwell’s two podcasts, Revisionist History and Broken Record, along with new upcoming projects.

Weisberg and Gladwell’s new company will apparently focus on developing podcasts, audiobooks, and smart speaker content, according to a source familiar with the matter.

I’m also told that many Slate employees were caught off-guard by the announcement, and many are beginning to wonder what all this means for the future of the Slate Group.

A quick note of context: Slate and Panoply Media are sister companies, and while they once shared an organizational backbone, they have since separated to function as entities independent from one another.

That’s all for this special newsletter issue. More soon, hopefully.