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Insider (June 18, 2021): Podcasts via Facebook, AI Ad Placement, FOX Goes Exclusive, and Parting Waves

Facebook’s podcast-publishing stage set for June 22. The Verge’s Ashley Carman confirmed the date that had been circling for the launch of Facebook’s native podcast distribution: Tuesday, June 22. We love a Tuesday drop. Before this time next week, podcast creators should be able to hook up their RSS feeds to the social network and get their shows out there that way, meaning accompanied by auto-generated News Feed posts and directly into the hands of potential sharers. Reportedly coming afterward will be the ability to pick (and share) episode clips à la Spotify, as well as the option, on the publisher’s end, to disable that ability. If we hear more, we’ll share.

SXM Media in beta with AI-powered episode selection for ads. On the topic of surveillance (oops, was that not what we were talking about?), SXM Media announced on Wednesday that they’re developing a machine-learning process for picking the right intra-show episodes for advertisers. The technology, currently called PodScribe Contextual Targeting, is slated to be available to advertisers in the “coming months.” It’s long been possible to advertise during a solitary episode or to opt to only run ads in a limited-run miniseries within a show, and SXM itself acknowledges that audio transcription isn’t new, either. What appears to be new here is mapping the output of voice-to-text technology onto the IAB Content Taxonomy in order to determine, without active man power, if advertising within a particular episode will land or not. Apparently, companies have a desire to speed up that process. The current options for doing so, says SXM, may require listening to individual episodes to rule out ones that would be uncouth to advertise on and may therefore “sacrifice scale to achieve brand safety.” One of the test subjects while the tech is in development is the Virginia lottery system, an arm of the government for which, according to the announcement, “brand safety is very important” and “[h]aving the ability to anti-target avert specific topics at the episode-level is a huge win to ensure our customers hear our messages in the appropriate context.” Yeah, I can think of a lot of less-than-appropriate times to toss in “jackpot payout!” between segments.

FOX News Podcasts+ debuts on Apple Podcasts. With Apple Podcasts Subscriptions now live, FOX has announced its subscriber-only feed on the platform. The paywalled “content channel” called FOX News Podcasts+ — Lord, please spare me from this “+” construction — already features commercial-free versions of the network’s dozens of existing shows, as one might expect. But, according to the press release, it will also offer “exclusive content,” spanning “FOX News Investigates specials, bonus shows from major political events,” and entire long-form shows about “faith, history, documentaries[,] and true crime.”

Now, that last bit had me thinking about something: misinformation. FOX isn’t the only body that needs fact checking, of course: Politicians fib on Twitter; authors sometimes get stuff wrong. But FOX does need it quite often. CNN in particular is in the habit of fact-checking false claims in FOX coverage, on topics ranging from climate change policy to hydroxychloroquine.

Given that, it’ll be interesting to see how things are and aren’t able to be vetted when they’re behind a paywall. Reporters seemed to have little issue circulating the remarks Joe Rogan made about vaccines on The Joe Rogan Experience, which is supposed to be a Spotify-only show, but that situation was different for three reasons: 1) Yes, you might have to go through Spotify to listen to its podcasts, but you don’t have to pay to do so, 2) Rogan’s statements weren’t false — just, some might say, heinously irresponsible, and 3) much of what I saw circulating was actually video footage, ostensibly lifted from the YouTube page where Rogan’s episodes also happen to live.

This instance only partially demonstrates an ability to work around platform exclusivity, so what FOX is embarking on may present new challenges. Something that’s said only to a show’s subscribers is, at time of publication, naturally visible to fewer people than it would be if it were streaming on social media or published on an unpaywalled site; plus, it’s logistically more challenging to contextually review audio than it is for text.

I’m really curious to see how this plays out. And if anyone has any experience with content moderation that they think would be valuable to share, you know where to reach me (@braccisaurus or ariahotpod@gmail.com).

Maddie Sofia shares decision to leave Short WaveOn Wednesday, Sofia, who hosts the daily NPR science podcast she helped to develop, posted a Twitter thread explaining what led to her forthcoming departure from the show, which she and now co-host Emily Kwong announced on tape two days earlier. Between the tweets and the official announcement embedded in Monday’s episode, Sofia cited personal compromises she had made in the name of reporting, as well as the particular demands of covering science throughout a pandemic.

I’d never actually listened to Short Wave before this news, but I don’t think I need to have listened to understand the reality; in fact, even if I were coming to this news as a noob, as a clueless and first-time spectator of the audio industry as a whole, I think I’d be able to spot the inconsistencies between how podcasting appears and what it actually takes to create. An example: Sofia’s own NPR profile describes Short Wave, a show focused on science that comes at predictable times and in predictable quantities, as “a break from the relentless news cycle,” and Sofia’s own words illustrate that, behind the scenes, it’s relentless anyway.

What I can add to this discourse is a simple “yes.” I might be a Short Wave noob, but I’m not a noob in general. While producing my own employer’s weekly science show — and even that same show when it published half as often — I felt taxed and short changed and other money-related metaphors that we often apply to the human condition. Doing research was like drinking water, in that you sometimes spread it out reasonably and other times try to tackle it in huge spurts and at any time of day that the idea pops into your head; at any rate, you probably tell yourself that there’s no way you could do too much, so you just keep at it.

You might be tasked with translating the script, which has already taken days on end to draft, into a written article, so that the show can have a landing page and be easier to search for. You might task yourself with creating the perfect sound design to get listeners as excited about a topic as you were when you first came across it. The list goes on. Now, you can then imagine that all this labor is multiplied by seven, or even fourteen, to produce something with the frequency of Short Wave. But I actually doubt it increases so neatly: I wouldn’t be surprised if, were it to be quantified, it would compound, actually amounting to much more.

I think it’s possible to experience burnout in any profession. Let’s pay attention, though, to audio creators expressing that they really can’t handle the pressure of this one, not only because podcasting is the industry we focus on, but because this industry is only picking up, not slowing down. If workload just keeps increasing, or even stays the same, we’ve got a tenuous future ahead. I’m humbled by Sofia doing all the processing required to make this kind of decision, and I admire her for making some of the details public so that other folks can learn from it. I wish her the absolute best and send everyone in similar positions the strength to step back or away, and I hope at some point neither will be necessary.