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Insider: August 12, 2021 — Revolving Doors, Live Event Cancellations, Facebook Dating adds audio


Some revolving door notes…

Dan Harris has left ABC News to focus on his mindfulness media company, Ten Percent Happier, full-time. There’s a fair bit of backstory to the creation of the company, which you can read up in the Hollywood Reporter write-up on the matter, but for our purposes, it’s prudent to know that Ten Percent Happier has had a prominent podcast presence going back to early 2016, and that, according to job listings posted earlier this summer, the company has been looking to expand its audio team in preparation to scale up its slate of programming.

Meanwhile, NPR’s Senior Director of Programming Steve Nelson has left the public radio mothership to take up the Head of Talk position at Religion of Sports, the sports media company founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan, and, ugh, Tom Brady. (And contrary to what I reflexively assumed when I first heard of the venture a while back, it’s not about religious sports people! There goes the niche, I suppose.) Anyway, it’s safe to slot this particular company into the broader trend of athletes (current and former) looking to shore up media arms as part of their business diversification (and influence-fostering) efforts, and as far as audio releases go, Religion of Sports is gearing up to release False Idol, a podcast documentary about Oscar Pistorious, sometime this month. Here’s the Deadline write-up on Nelson’ move.

Over in the Twin Cities, American Public Media has named a new President and CEO: Jean Taylor, who has been on the board of American Public Media Group since 2013. Taylor is the group’s first female CEO, and she replaces Jon McTaggart, who stepped down last summer amidst a reckoning at the organization over racial and gender inequity. According to Twin Cities Business magazine, Taylor had been chair of the board for Star Tribune Media, which has been owned by the billionaire Glen Taylor, her father, since 2014. She’s stepping down from that position as part of this development.

Live events watch. As you’re probably aware by now, I’ve been tracking the live podcast tapings and events business since the start of ~hot vax summer~ through its transition into… something more uncertain, given the looming threat of the Delta variant and further mutations. The trend so far has largely been bold and optimistic: tourswere announced, conferences are back in swing, people are flocking, the live events business more broadly has been booming.

But there has, to my understanding, been some uneasiness of late. I’ve spoken to a couple of people who hit up Podcast Movement last week, and some expressed just feeling weird about the whole mass gathering thing. Meanwhile, this past week saw the McElroy Family announce a six-city tour, only to cancel a day later over COVID concerns after receiving feedback from their following.

Here’s the full text of that update, originally posted here and on Twitter:

Hi all. We wanted to let you know that we hear your concerns regarding the tour and we understand them. We started planning these shows many months ago, when things were trending in the right direction. Throughout this process, things have been constantly changing, both in terms of COVID, and the particulars of planning and booking live shows. We worked hard to put as many precautions in place as were in our control, and announced the shows in the naïve hope that things would improve before we were actually on the road. We were hopeful that we would have information about additional safety specifics before tickets went on sale, but after listening to concerns, it is clear that regardless of precautions, this isn’t the right time, and so we have decided to preemptively cancel. 

That’s a very hard decision to make, and kudos for making a choice that felt right to them and for their people. I’m not sure if we’ll see more of such cancellations in the immediate weeks ahead — from what I’ve been hearing, there’s a lot of “waiting and seeing” going on — but I imagine they will come, not just within podcasting but far elsewhere. After all, Stevie Nicks has already cancelled the rest of her 2021 dates

Meadowlark expands into the UK, with a commission from the BBC. The company, founded by former ESPN talent Dan Le Batard and ESPN head honcho John Skipper, also plans to move into video in the near future. The Hollywood Reporter, again, with the write-up.

This is me speaking personally: I think Meadowlark is perhaps the most interesting media company right now, just from a story perspective.


Vox Media Podcast Network adds Waveform to roster. Vox Media announced on Tuesday that Waveform: The MKBHD Podcast will be the newest addition to its podcast network. This is the third in a line of similar deals recently, the first with Gastropod and the second with Longform, in which VMPN takes over responsibilities to facilitate sales and marketing, as well as the actual distribution of the show, but does not formally acquire the production. Within the announcements of these arrangements, Gastropod was said to “remain independently owned” and the Longform team to continue producing their content themselves, so one assumes there’s similar fine print within the Waveform deal.

For the uninitiated (*raises hand*), “MKBHD” is the stage name for the popular tech reviewer Marques Brownlee, who co-hosts Waveform with Andrew Manganelli. According to the press release, Brownlee has hosted a YouTube channel since 2009 and amassed millions of Twitter followers—and almost three times as many YouTube subscribers—in the process. Manganelli brings his own tech expertise to the table, as well as existing rapport with Brownlee: The former was reportedly the first non-MKBHD member of the MKBHD team, joining in 2017.

Waveform is currently a production of Studio71 (notably, the home of The Bald and the Beautiful with Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamo) and its weekly episodes can also be found in video form on the Waveform YouTube channel. (Side note: There’s even a separate YouTube channel just for selected clips from the podcast?) The forthcoming September 3 episode of Waveform will be the first under this new partnership.

Nick’s note: A completely unsurprising move, and one that makes a lot of sense, too, given MKBHD’s subject matter.

Facebook’s dating service adds audio dates. Facebook has a dating tool — who knew? And that tool, the intuitively named Facebook Dating, will apparently now offer the ability to initiate an “audio conversation,” which a year or two ago would have sounded silly to not just describe as a phone call. Here’s The Verge’s write-up on the matter.

This could be read as part of an ongoing battle among social media platforms to keep user experiences native to the app (see: Facebook’s in-house podcast player, all the Clubhouse competitors, etc.), which Facebook itself took another stab at just this week, via Instagram, when it introduced the ability to filter by “audio” on the search tab and hypothetically make the act of searching for Reels, Instagram’s TikTok competitor, more frictionless. It could also be read as part of a trend of media companies repackaging common actions — which, here, are simply real-time chats with words that you make with your mouth — and selling them as something new, which I suppose puts this in the arena of Clubhouse. So if Clubhouse is talk radio for lonely pandemic times, a Facebook “audio chat” is Clubhouse for dating, but less on the scale of being in a club and more on the scale of being at a club.

P.S. I think this was the funniest part of the news, pulled from The Verge’s write-up: “Facebook Dating isn’t the company’s only dating app — in April, Facebook’s NPE Team, which builds experimental apps, released an app called Sparked that sets you up on four-minute video speed dates.” The phrase “Facebook Dating isn’t the company’s only dating app” is the lede for me.

Speaking of dating…

Meta: DYK I work on another newsletter? Also, hey, r u single? As we head into yet another iteration of this pandemi moore, I thought we could all benefit from a safe way to feel some spontaneity. On September 1, I’m launching a singles newsletter — a dating delivery service, if you will — called Cute People Weekly. Every week you’ll get an email with a cool single person and a way to contact them, and it’s only $3/month.

I want to introduce you to some neat folks, and we all want to reclaim the randomness of real-life encounters; don’t kid yourself. So go on! Sign up! Just be sure to head to the Members tab and sign up as a paid subscriber, or else no cuties will reach you.