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Insider: April 16, 2020

Ad Watch Good News iHeartMedia and Vox braces for cost-cutting... and more!

Ad Watch. Shortly after Tuesday’s newsletter went out, Digiday’s Max Willens put out a quick piece on how podcast ad revenue has been shaking out under pandemic conditions. The general takeaway is that ad revenue continues to grow, at least for now, though the piece just cites Entercom, Megaphone, and Stitcher, and no specific numbers were given.

Be sure to go over the more specific findings, though, which I think are significantly more valuable. Of particular interest: the fact that direct response advertisers appear to be the ones cancelling more so brand advertisers.

Keep in mind that it’s all fluid — much like, you know, the universe *gestures broadly* —  and this might just be the case for this specific moment in time. The way I think about this is that DR advertisers tend to be more responsive to market conditions, in the sense that they pull ad money out — and put ad money back in — more quickly than brand advertisers, generally bigger and more willing to let existing spends run. (Please disabuse me of this notion if this is an inaccurate mindset.) It may well be the case that the brand dollars haven’t pulled back yet, or we haven’t seen a wave of non-renewals kick in.

The other thing to consider is the nature of the DR pool: often substantially indexed on venture-backed startups, a good portion of which are direct-to-consumer companies that may have affected supply chains. Certain kinds of DR companies might not be as active under these conditions, others might. The question is how the aggregate spend will shape up, and secondarily, whether it’ll get spread out across publishers enough.

Something to watch will be how the advertising pool, both DR and brand, evolves over time, perhaps as we drift in and out of stay-at-home conditions: more tech, digital, and software services? More media companies? More participation from online betting companies, if sports get back into operation in bubble-cities?

We’ll see.Scale, Efficiency, and Other Corporate Lingo. An interesting new finding from the folks over at Edison Research, which posted on their blog on Tuesday:

Our research shows that a 50% reach of weekly podcast consumers can be achieved through buying the top five podcast networks. Achieving that kind of reach 10 years ago would have meant buying thousands of individual podcasts, but as these reach numbers continue to change, buying podcasts at scale is more feasible than ever.

The post positions this finding as a signal of maturity for the ad side of the podcast business: where the prospect of podcast advertising once very much meant figuring a way to reach relevant audiences through a huge set of niche pathways, what Edison is saying with this finding is that podcast advertisers can now go efficiently wide should they so choose. The larger end of publishers have nowadays achieved a size where such a move is possible. (Note that this doesn’t necessarily negate or devalues niche buys, of course.)Follow-up to the Wonder CEO-FIFA Scandal Story. ‘Cuz more than a few readers are asking for updates to this thread: Hernan Lopez, along with former president of Fox Latin America Carlos Martinez, were arraigned last Thursday as part of the US government’s long-running investigation into the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal, where they pled not guilty. The two men were granted a $15 million bail, with evening curfew and international ban on travel.

Here’s The Guardian’s write-up on this story. And just so we’re on the same page: THIS. IS. IN. SANE!iHeartMedia braces for cost-cutting measures. .According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company is expected to cut up to $250 million in costs to mitigate COVID-19-related revenue impacts, an effort that would involve furloughs of non-essential staff and executive pay reductions. They’re doing this as they see drops in traditional station revenues, which they hope can be made up with whatever gains they can find in digital and podcast revenues.

As with everywhere else, things change quickly in this pandemic. At a virtual industry event back in early March, CEO Bob Pittman had said they haven’t seen an impact yet by that point, before highlighting the company’s lack of international exposure. (Here’s the Billboard write-up on that.) He also went on to say, “In times of need like this, [people] are hanging out with us more and they are looking to us for information. We are not in the business of providing entertainment programs. We are in the business of providing companionship. We keep people company.”

But as we’re finding across the media business, companies can be hard hit in revenue despite reaching record audience highs. Especially so if you’re mostly advertising-driven. To be a little more doom and gloom: I’m not particularly optimistic on the part of subscription-driven businesses either. As things get more tough for consumers, they’ll be taking an axe to their monthly spending arrangements.

One more on this front…Vox Media, also, to pursue cost-cutting measures.From CNBC: “Vox Media, the digital media company that owns SBNation, New York Media, The Verge and other brands, is preparing to announce a furlough of about 100 employees later this week, according to people familiar with the matter.”

The company’s efforts will also include “limiting or ending relationships with freelancers and vendors.” I’ll letcha know if ya boi — i.e. me — gets the axe.Good news, everyone. The unmissable Taylor Lorenz, writing for the New York Times Style section:

Though it can be hard to see past the daily deluge of devastating headlines, there is plenty of good news in the world right now — and a great deal of interest in reading it.

Instagram accounts dedicated to good news, such as @TanksGoodNews and @GoodNews_Movement, have seen follower counts skyrocket in recent weeks. At the end of March, the actor John Krasinski introduced a “news network for good news” on YouTube; within a week, Some Good News had surpassed 1.5 million subscribers and 25 million views. Google searches for “good news” spiked a month ago and have only continued to rise.

This is one of those things where the dynamic has perhaps always been true, but where it becomes expressly more the case under heightened or extreme conditions — like, you know, the ones under which we live right now. Unfortunately, as Lorenz points out later in the piece, these good news-oriented media operations are nevertheless experiencing the same ad revenue crunches as almost everybody else, even with elevated numbers. Ah, the advertising puzzle, it continues to be a pickle.

Anyway, the reason I’m aggregating this story — aside from the fact that it just interests me — is that I read it in the wake of feeling the fuck out of a Twitter thread from the audio producer Sayre Quevedo (also of the Times, I should add, working for The Daily).

I’m reproducing that thread here in full, with his permission:

A message from my friend who does not work in podcasts but listens to all of them (probably even yours): “Not everything you make needs to be corona related. Folks need relief. They need escape. They need tools. They need connection. They need distraction.”

Being relevant in this moment does not always mean going out and interviewing nurses or reminding us what a shitshow we live in. Sometimes it means meeting people where they’re at: desperate for a laugh, a cry, and a good story.

Those are my words, not hers. Her word[s] were, “Please, enough with the fucking corona podcasts. Tell your friends to make literally anything else.”

Like I said, I’m feeling the crap out of this. It ties back to something we’ve talked about several times now — me in my initial survey of COVID-19 impacts on the podcast business, Caroline in her column “How much should you cover coronavirus?” — which is this tension between covering this massively traumatic event and providing a sense of escapism from this massively traumatic event. (The good news stuff, I think, falls squarely within this thread.)

Something that also falls from this: the question of what it means to be relevant, which is also the question of how to be useful, during a time like this when you’re a person who makes stuff for life and a living.

For what it’s worth, my perspective on this has remained the same throughout: serving your community can mean many things, but keep going, and listen out to what they need.

One more thing before we wrap up: wanted to quickly shout out Quevedo’s body of work, which, by the way, includes a fascinating mini-series that stood in as the sixth season of Raw Material, a podcast from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Check it out.