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Insider: April 9, 2020

This Week in Virus-Related Launches Quality Control Kids-Specific Curation

Heads up: I’m working to pull some information from Ad Results — the ad agency broadly believed to facilitate one of the largest shares of advertising money in the podcast business — on the trend lines they’ve seeing with their client base. I’ll probably get it in time for Tuesday’s newsletter, but for now, they’ve hinted that they’re seeing at least somewhat positive things. More soon.Further resources for the economically affected. Vulture has compiled a list of twenty support resources for artists, some of which, like the Artist Relief fund, can explicitly apply to podcasters. Here’s the post.This Week in Virus-Related Launches: the New York Times and Magnificent Noise drops “Together Apart,” a show hosted by a conflict facilitator whose expertise is in how we gather; the Los Angeles Times rolls out “Coronavirus in California: Stories from the Front Lines,” with the local focus; and The Moth is holding its first-ever Zoom-powered virtual mainstage on April 15. It’s a cool idea! There’s a sliding scale $10 donation rec, which went on sale yesterday.ICYMI: Apple Podcasts and Spotify have curated collections around coronavirus-related podcasts. Both versions — here’s Apple, here’s Spotify — appears to mix pandemic-specific pop-up projects, and shows that can broadly cater to life during stay-at-home orders.

These collections are useful starter kits for people looking to add pods to their arsenal of media things to help them navigate this moment, but they’re more interesting to think about as a potential filtering and quality control solution. Apple Podcasts and Spotify, along with most other third-party podcast apps, face the same balancing act as many other media distribution platforms when it comes to questions of information quality and “censorship”: as a platform, how do you guide attention to better sources without drawing accusations of gatekeeping?

This balancing act is infinitely more crucial during a time when information quality, facing the threat of misinformation and potentially harmful opportunists, looms over literal life-or-death outcomes. Consider, for example, a recent Daily Beast report on a white nationalist that has rebranded himself as a coronavirus “expert” during this pandemic… and that he may very well be developing a following.

Officially curated collection cleans up the first touch by adding some distance between users and the raw results of typing “coronavirus” into the search engines of these platforms. It’s not a complete fix to the overarching problem, of course, but IMO, it’s a decent starting patch.iHeartMedia adds multi-year extension to deal with Lore’s Aaron Mahnke.According to the circulated press release, the deal includes commitments to upcoming seasons of existing Mahnke-led shows like Cabinet of Curiosities, Unobscured, and Noble Blood, along with upcoming projects like a new scripted series due out in the fall. The partnership will also involve a new slate of five podcasts, one of which will come from Rabia Chaudry, of Undisclosed and Adnan’s Story fame.Curation. Earlier this week, the Radiolab team rolled out “Radiolab for Kids,” a spin-out podcast feed dedicated to distributing kid-friendly episodes from their archives. That collection includes stuff like “Goo and You,” “Space” (a perennially kid-friendly topic), and “Is Laughter Just a Human Thing?”

I like this move a lot! It’s a really smart! Last week, we covered how kids podcasts have been experiencing a considerable bump lately as families are spending more time indoors together with their children as part of global social distancing efforts. Meeting that specific pop in demand, Radiolab’s effort here reflects two things that remain true about podcasts: first, that the podcast feed is still the primary interface and curatorial vessel that mediates the relationship between the creator, and second, that the back catalogue of any given podcast is valuable in ways that shouldn’t be overlooked.

More folks should try and cop this move, including and beyond this kids-friendly orientation. Provided it makes sense with the nature of their archives, of course. (Documentaries? Sure! Comedy? Sure! Sports talk? Probably not.)This isn’t directly podcast-related, but it sure is interesting. From Rolling Stone:

Apple Music is the latest company to offer industry relief amid the coronavirus pandemic. It told independent record labels Tuesday that it is launching a $50 million advance royalty fund to make sure their artists get paid.

According to a letter sent to the labels and obtained by Rolling Stone, independent labels that earn at least $10,000 in quarterly Apple Music earnings will qualify for the royalty advances. To qualify, the indie labels must have a direct Apple Music distribution deal.

It’s a more direct relief effort compared to the stuff Spotify is doing with its COVID-19 Music Relief project, which identifies, elevates, and donation matches select organizations dedicated to providing support for the music community.

I imagine there are political complications around Apple Music’s approach here, seeing as how it tightens the direct financial relationship between the artist-label structure and Apple Music, essentially functioning as a kind of bank-like entity. Then again, crisis periods tend to open up all kinds of norms, permission structures, and Overton windows.Keep an eye out on this. Citing ad revenue slowdowns — despite record audience growth — Vox Media has established a direct support channel to further diversify its business model. I imagine everyone, native-podcast publishers included, will be going through a form of this, particularly if they haven’t already firmed up some sort of direct revenue pillar.Meanwhile, in sports radio… The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis with a predictably insightful column on sports broadcasting in the age of a pandemic:

On Twitter, sports radio’s audience is often consigned to a distant universe. But when the fate of the country depends on everyone following the rules, a host who can speak to that universe becomes important. Put a different way: For years, we’ve heard that people who distrust American institutions can be reached by Joe Rogan or the hosts of Chapo Trap House. The coronavirus has shown that The Paul Finebaum Show is at least somewhere on the list.

Finebaum can see how his show has changed every time he looks at his phone lines. Four callers want to talk about COVID-19. Two want to talk about who will play quarterback at Florida. It’s the two doors that every sports radio host faces: escapism or reality?

Again, everybody’s going through a version of the same thing.