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Hot Pod Insider

Insider: April 15, 2021 — Follow-up to Sidechannel, Spotify’s New Chart Push, Netflix seeks Head of Audio

Housekeeping Note. Just in case you missed Tuesday’s intro: I’m teaming up with seven other independent newsletter writers — Casey Newton, Delia Cai, Anne Helen Petersen, Eric Newcomer, Ryan Broderick, Kim Zetter, and Charlie Warzel — to create a new shared Discord server where we’re going to experiment with a bunch of different ideas, community shapes, and maybe the occasional live experience.

Again, it’s called Sidechannel, and as a paid subscriber to Hot Pod Insider, you’ll get access to the server. For the unfamiliar: Discord is basically a Slack equivalent that has a fairly audio interactivity layer stitched into the platform. You’re going to have to download the app on your phone or laptop, by the way, to access this benefit. And if you’re unfamiliar with Slack, well, it’s essentially a chatroom of sorts — something like AIM, I guess? That was slightly before my time, I think.

Okay, so, quick update on the launch: We’re officially rolling out on Monday, and if all goes well, there will be something pretty special associated with the occasion. On that note, I’ll be sending out an extra newsletter around Sunday evening to provide details on what that launch thing is, along with notes on describing in more depth about how we’re thinking about Sidechannel, how I personally hope the Hot Pod-specific part of the space will be used, plus instructions on how to join the server and get started.

In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about this thing for now. We’ll see whether this experiment will stick around for the long run, but at the very least, it’s going to be interesting.Spotify’s New Chart Push. The lamer metaphorical version of this headline would be something like… “Spotify Charts a new course” or something like that. But even I have limits.

The story: Yesterday, Spotify rolled out a new Podcast Charts experience that contains “new and more detailed charts, a web experience, and highly shareable features.” Notably, the company accompanied the release with some preemptive messaging on what the charts do — and do not — actually convey, presumably with the intent to deliver a sense of transparency that the podcast world historically has not gotten from the Apple Podcast charts, the only other major charts system in the business.

Here are the relevant chunks from the press statement, describing the key modules in the new charts experience:

“Top Podcasts” is where you’ll find the overall most popular shows — ones fans have been listening to for some time, and rising newcomers. It’s determined by a combination of overall follower counts and the number of recent unique listeners.

“Top Episodes” is where you’ll find of-the-moment trends in what people are listening to today. This chart is determined exclusively by the number of unique listeners on that day, providing a look into what’s buzzworthy at the moment.

We’ve built our charts to be as trustworthy and transparent as possible: They’re based on a combination of number of unique listeners and number of followers and provide expanded opportunity for podcasters to get their shows discovered.

At least with respect to the “Top Podcasts” chart — can’t speak for the “Top Episodes” chart, which is a layer that doesn’t get talked about very much — Spotify’s articulation of the algorithm seems to match what many have suspected the Apple Podcast charts to be based on all these years. Which is to say, it’s more a hotness chart than a bigness chart, a choice that reflects the true goal of those chart systems, which is to serve as a discovery mechanism and not a map to the biggest and most popular destinations in the podcast world. Though, of course, we don’t know the algorithm bit for sure, as the Apple Podcast team has historically been opaque about the matter, leaving generations of podcast publishers and creators to guesstimate, work around, and in some cases, game or exploit.

In any case, Spotify’s choice to pursue transparency around this point is a piece of smart business: That messaging ostensibly contributes to evoking a level of trustworthiness within Spotify relative to Apple Podcasts’s opacity, and furthermore, it sets up some greater incentive structure for podcast creators to play Spotify’s charts game as opposed to Apple’s charts game.

This is perhaps made explicit in this chunk of the release:

The best way to support your favorite podcasters is by following them and listening to their episodes, since there are now more ways for them to be discovered. The depth and breadth of Top Podcasts and category charts allows many more podcasters to claim a spot, while Trending rewards new and emerging podcasters.

In other words: “Tell more people to listen to your show on Spotify, and you’ll increase your chances to rise up our charts and get discovered by more listeners.”

Two more quick thoughts on this. Firstly, one of my bigger historical frustrations with the Apple Podcast charts — between the way it’s algorithm is thought to be composed and the opacity around its communication — has been the secondary effect of how other people, particularly those not super familiar with podcasting or those eager to build a strong marketing case for their shows, often constantly take Apple Podcast chart placement as a bigness meter and misrepresent the meaning of their show’s high placement on it. “Chart-topping hit” is a marketing phrase that often gets tossed around in press releases and general interest write-ups about podcasts, and while, to be sure, that designation means something valuable, it doesn’t mean what most people tend to think the term means.

I am perhaps in the minority of caring about this — in large part, perhaps, because it’s my job to field these press releases — but to the extent other people care about it too, I think I have a specific remedy: Just run an explanation of what the charts is supposed to represent within the experience of the charts itself.

Secondly, this is probably a good point to float the basic argument I’ve seen against the charts system more generally, if only to round out this story: An ecosystem that places enormous emphasis on a charts system is also one that overemphasizes bigness or hotness; and when it comes to the podcast universe, where the small should be as privileged as the large, that’s not a situation to have.

Sticking to Spotify… I am very, very intrigued by Spotify’s Car Thing.

I haven’t done very much work around car OEMs and entertainment systems as a distribution point — other than one column back in 2016, when I knew even less than I do now — but I think I’m going to try and change that going forward.

And speaking of Apple… The tech giant is holding a Spring event next Tuesday. Not sure if there’s going to be any podcast-related stuff in there, but I’m keeping an eye on it nevertheless.When a media company becomes more media company-er. This came across my desk yesterday: Netflix appears to be hiring for a Head of Audio on its Editorial & Publishing team.

I’ve written about Netflix’s podcast adventures in the past, generally understanding it to be a more interesting take on branded podcast marketing than most. And they’ve stuck to it: Over the past few years, the company has built out a podcast portfolio that includes shows like You Can’t Make This Up, Netflix is a Daily Joke, and Strong Black Lead — a collective body of work that, in direct and indirect ways, contributes to a sustained and engaged community around their products that has the goal of generating further affinities around the Netflix brand. And given the fact they’re now hiring for this position, I suppose it’s fair to assume that the bet is paying off, or at least is generating some discernible value for the company.

Companies investing in branded media marketing is by no means a new trend. (Shout-out to Nintendo publishing the Nintendo Power magazines for a stretch starting in the late eighties.) But there seems to be a spike in revived interest within this area recently. Over the past few weeks, there’s been stories about DraftKings, the sports betting operator, and Electronic Arts, the major video game publisher, allocating more marketing resources towards initiatives that would position them as a “media business” on top of their existing businesses in bids to create deeper communities around their core products.Data Watch. “Roughly one-quarter (22 percent) of U.S. adults said they’re listening to podcasts more due to social distancing and stay-at-home habits, according to a Morning Consult survey conducted March 23-26, 2021, a slight uptick compared to 18 percent who said the same when Morning Consult asked in March 2020.”

The accompanying write-up attends to the question of whether this increase will be sustained as the US fully opens back up and people head back out into the world, and how some podcast publishers are thinking about things.

Maybe it’s my own bias and rare spurt of optimism, but I’m not worried. I’ll tell you if I am, though.Elsewhere… Radiotopia adds The Stoop to its roster; Polygon launches a new podcast called Galaxy Brains with Dave Schilling and Jonah Ray; Lemonada Media’s twelfth show is a podcast about healthcare called The Cost of Care.

Also, Ashley Carman at The Verge has a look at a few different Clubhouse-native creators, and asks: Will this world keep going past the pandemic? (Whenever that happens, could be this year, could be next.) I suspect this might be a situation where the creator ecosystem is the one that will lead: If there’s an endlessly generating pool of interesting stuff on there, that’s a strong enough reason to keep people coming back. The question is whether there’s enough incentive built in for creators to keep coming to Clubhouse, as opposed to drifting off to another platform — say, Locker Room — or another medium altogether. Say, podcasting.Revolving Door.

Meant to include this in the Danny Lavery blurb on Tuesday, but had to cut for space: Supporting Cast hired McKay Murphy as its first ever Director of Growth & Marketing. She previously managed growth at Stitcher Premium, Stitcher’s in-app subscription service.

Meanwhile, Joe Purzycki, a co-founder of the podcast company Luminary — remember Luminary? — is founding a new digital media startup with Jon Kelly, founder of Vanity Fair’s The Hive vertical, and early Athletic employee Max Tcheyan. The New York Times regards this new company as trying to be the “Vanity Fair for the Substack era,” which, okay. Axios reports that it has received a “multimillion-dollar” Series A funding round led by 40 North Media.

Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.