iHeartMedia, the debt-laden radio broadcast giant, announced this morning that it is increasing its investment in the podcast space with the acquisition of Stuff Media, which owns the HowStuffWorks podcast network, for $55 million. According to the press release, the acquisition will be used by iHeartMedia to “leverage Stuff Media’s original content, programming and experienced podcasting management team and to further expand its podcasting platform.” This comes slight under two years after the broadcast radio giant formalized its podcast efforts with the hiring of Chris Peterson, and a little over a year after HowStuffWorks spun out as an independent company from System1 while raising $15 million in Series A funding from The Raine Group.
As part of the acquisition, HowStuffWorks president Conal Byrne will now serve as head of iHeartMedia’s podcast division while Chris Peterson will be promoted to the division’s EVP.
Now, just how big is this acquisition? My boy Benjamin Mullin over at the Wall Street Journal has some useful context:
The deal is among the largest in the emerging podcasting business. In 2015, E.W. Scripps said it was acquiring Midroll, the podcast-advertising company, for $50 million with an additional $10 million earn-out. In January,Liberated Syndication Inc. purchased the internet-hosting company Pair Networks for $16 million in cash and stock. In May, Pandora acquired AdsWizz, a company that provides ad technology for podcasts and music platforms, for about $145 million.
So, is that big? Within the podcasting context, sure.
Let’s talk audience reach: the press release and much of media coverage cites Podtrac numbers, which puts HowStuffWorks at nearly 5.3 million US monthly listeners (across 40 shows) and iHeartMedia at 5.6 million monthly listeners (across 643 shows). Of course, Podtrac numbers and references to its rankers should come with the requisite caveats, perhaps the most important being the fact that it covers only most, but not all, the major podcast publishers. (Gimlet and Midr-, er, I mean, Stitcher, for example, are not formally covered by Podtrac’s ranker.) Another caveat: there appeared, back in January, to be some weirdness about how Podtrac measured iHeartMedia’s short podcast counts, which James Cridland documented, in case that’s relevant to your judgment of the company.
Of course, all this action and change has uncorked a round of anxiety — and cynicism! — in my feeds: is this, indeed, the evidence of the podcast bubble bursting? Look, far from me to say this as a guy who writes a podcast newsletter called Hot Pod and loves the stuff, but I’ll just say: I don’t think this is the bubble that people are thinking of.
I’ll get to that question on Tuesday. In the meantime, hit this up from the dude Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab.