Skip to contents
Stories

Drama, darling

Two weeks after Podcast Movement, the Ben Shapiro fallout continues

I hope you all had a chill Labor Day à la Miss Flo. I spent more of it on Twitter than I would have liked because of the spit 🙏, a gift from the messy drama gods. I don’t care what Chris Pine’s PR says — we saw what we saw.

Speaking of drama, the Ben Shapiro / Podcast Movement brouhaha simply will not die. Let’s get into it.

Cumulus cuts ties with Podcast Movement over Ben Shapiro controversy

Do I love getting a juicy, unprompted news nugget in my inbox after 4PM? Not really. But I do appreciate the shit stirring on Cumulus’ part. Yesterday afternoon, the company announced that it will not be participating in Podcast Movement next year after the event’s organizers apologized for Ben Shapiro showing up at the conference last month.

“At Cumulus Media, our tenet is that Every Voice Matters and we support conferences and trade events where differing political viewpoints can be expressed and received with respect. As such, we were dismayed and disappointed by Podcast Movement’s handling of the reaction to our partner, top podcaster, and conservative talk leader Ben Shapiro’s mere presence at Podcast Movement,” the company said in a statement. “After giving the leaders of Podcast Movement sufficient time to appropriately address their misstep, we are disassociating from Podcast Movement, including canceling our 2023 sponsorship plans.”

A quick recap if you have not been following: Podcast Movement, the podcast industry’s biggest conference, took place in Dallas two weeks ago. Most major audio companies were represented there, including Cumulus Media and The Daily Wire (The Daily Wire is Ben Shapiro’s media company, and Cumulus handles its audio ad sales). Shapiro made an unexpected appearance at the conference, some people were mad (most people were just like “huh”), and Podcast Movement’s organizers issued a lengthy Twitter apology (more on that later) for the “harm done by his presence.” It kicked off a shitstorm. Right-wing media had a field day, claiming the conference and its attendants were intolerant, while some conference attendees are still demanding more accountability from Podcast Movement. 

Podcast Movement appears to be siding with those who were upset about Shapiro’s appearance, tweeting on Friday: “We’re putting in place policies to guide our social media & events with inclusivity, diversity & respect for all. It’s a journey. We’ll keep listening, keep growing together.”

Even if the conference was ready to potentially exclude The Daily Wire from future events, pissing off Cumulus may have been another consequence for which organizers were not prepared. Cumulus is the third-biggest radio company in the country. Its podcast operation is not as big as, say, iHeartMedia’s, but it’s not insignificant. In addition to The Daily Wire, Cumulus also represents other conservative shows like The Bulwark with Charlie Sykes and The Dan Bongino Show. It makes sense that Podcast Movement would want to salvage its relationship with the network and potentially demonstrate that there is a place for conservative talk at the conference.

It is unclear what steps Cumulus expected Podcast Movement to take after the blowup and if anything in particular prompted the announcement yesterday (the company did not respond to request for comment). It does feel like something was in the works because…

Podcast Movement quietly removed its Twitter apology

Yeah, that’s a weird one! I spotted this when trying to link it above for all of you, but the infamous apology thread is now… gone. You can still check out the full thread courtesy of the Wayback Machine, an internet tool for which I am forever grateful.

Podcast Movement posted the apology on August 25th, saying that the decision to accept money from The Daily Wire was “unacceptable” and a mistake. According to snapshots on Wayback, it appears the apology was removed as of September 4th.

Podcast Movement did not immediately respond to a request for comment. I’m curious to know why it was taken down after everyone already saw it and whether discussions with Cumulus had anything to do with it. I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated if I hear anything. 

Can podcasters compete in the creator economy?

Love a new Forbes list (I’m biased!). Yesterday, my former employer released a list of the top 50 creators, ranking stars based on their clout, entrepreneurship, and (duh) earnings. Only one podcaster — Call Her Daddy’s Alex Cooper — made the list. She got a plum spot, ranking third behind MrBeast and Charli D’Amelio. But the list, which is dominated by YouTubers and TikTokers, demonstrates that Cooper is the exception rather than the rule.

To be clear, she is not the only person on the list with a podcast. Emma Chamberlain (#5), Rhett & Link (#7), Markiplier (#11) and several others on the list do, as well. But none of them started in podcasting, and more often than not, the podcast is a side hustle rather than the main show. Missing from the list (and rightly so) are traditional celebrities who transitioned to podcasting and social, like Conan O’Brien, Joe Rogan, or Dax Shepard because they established themselves first through film and television.

Cooper really stands alone as someone who rose to prominence purely through podcasting. She has gained an undeniable following among young women and has been strategic about using video and social media to increase engagement (think the Unka Jams moment). And even then, the audience is nowhere near the level that creators get on YouTube and TikTok (she has a combined 3.6 million followers across platforms — nothing to sniff at but nowhere near the tens and hundreds of millions of followers creators in her league have). 

Being one of the top stars in the podcast industry has earned Cooper a sweet $60 million deal with Spotify and media clout. But it has been a while since another creator who wasn’t a C-list celebrity or an athlete or a YouTuber has been able to break through. It seems like the impediments to creating a sustainable creator economy through podcasting alone are the same ones we keep talking about — discovery, sharing, and monetization, problems that have yet to be solved by the industry. There’s also the commitment of podcasting — even avid podcast listeners can be reluctant to add new shows while scrolling on TikTok takes negative effort.

Is there a limit to how much creators can achieve through podcasting alone? More on that…

Are podcasts doomed to become videos?

I really hope not, but Anchor co-founder and former Spotify exec Michael Mignano makes a solid argument for why that might be the case (though he does not see that as a bad thing). In a new blog post, he writes that video podcasts may be the best way to scale audiences and increase engagement.

“For as long as I can remember, everyone has been waiting for podcasts to become a bigger business and more equitable for all stakeholders. Video may be the key,” he writes. “Podcasts may go the way of video, but it may actually be a very good thing for all involved.”

He argues that the video market is simply much bigger than the audio market (fair!), that the pandemic made remote recordings more common (which happen on video-capture services like Zoom and Riverside anyway), and that videos are more shareable on social than audio-only clips. And the success of Alex Cooper, who has managed to tap into that video market and take advantage of social, is strong support for such arguments.

But, but… do we not lose something if podcasts become indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill videos? Look, I am here because I love audio. Chances are, you are reading this because you also love audio. From a practical sense, I like that it physically demands less of my eyeballs, which are fixed on my computer most days. I also appreciate that, unlike with video, it all comes down to the storytelling, conversation, and aural engagement (video, as you can see from the Forbes list, consistently rewards hotties). I often have no idea what the podcasters I listen to look like, and that’s totally fine because I honestly don’t care. 

I am not naive about the fact that many in the industry will (and maybe should) embrace video and that it will be key to podcasting’s expansion. But I do think there are enough audio-only consumers to sustain traditional podcasts as an art form, even if it never gets as big as video.