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Insider: August 19, 2021 — The Logic of Amazon Podcasts, Apple Podcast Subs’ Rocky Start, Weed and Pod Ads

ARIA NEWS

Framing Amazon Music as an *ad*vantage.
Lucas Shaw has an interesting read over at Bloomberg from this past Monday, wherein Steve Bloom, head of Amazon Music, talks about the company’s recent non-exclusive podcast deals as its way to control — and profit from — in-episode advertising.

Consider this: If Amazon only owns first-week publishing exclusivity to SmartLess, for example, it might look like Amazon overpaid for the deal, Bloomberg argues (since it’s a deal that may cost the company upwards of $26 million per year, as Shaw himself first reported); not so much once you consider that ad placement within the show is now exclusively Amazon’s to dictate. Boom himself is quoted as saying, “[t]o become a player in the audio advertising market for podcasting, we need to be an intellectual property owner.”

A source told Shaw that Smartless previously brought in 6 to 7 million advertising dollars annually, so, hypothetically, Amazon could now pull in a comparable amount (though potentially much more) or, instead, use the space to advertise its own products or services. The dollar value this could theoretically amount to wasn’t mathed out in the piece, but if Amazon thought it wise to spend tens of millions of dollars in exchange for what this ad monopoly could yield, one can comfortably assume that it’s, as they say, up there.

Speaking of Smartless... and the money it could ostensibly bring in, Discovery+ will apparently be releasing two 75-minute SmartLess docu-specials. That means video, folks.

Nick noted a few weeks ago that SmartLess was one of several podcasts announcing or resuming live, in-person shows as COVID cases started to trend down (with at least one canceling as cases started to trend back up), and the Discovery+ special is set to feature recordings of these performances, as well as “exclusive behind-the-scenes footage,” says The Hollywood Reporter. The special is as of yet untitled and is slated to be released in 2022. (Also, are Amazon and Discovery+ in cahoots? Lmk.)

And speaking of controlling ads… on Tuesday, NPR launched its previously teased in-house subscription service, which allows listeners to opt out of ads for NPR podcasts. The official writeup called these “sponsor-free feeds,” since what you’re actually opting out of aren’t technically “ads,” but, to use the news agency’s parlance, messages from sponsors.

This arrangement will cost listeners $2.99 per month, per show, which is the same amount it costs to access ad-free versions via Spotify, an offering NPR announced in May, or Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, which went live in June. That’s not too hefty for a single transaction, but it definitely adds up if, say, you like to listen ad free to Invisibilia, Planet Money, Life Kit, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, Up First, *and* Pop Culture Happy Hour. Damn, NPR really has so many shows.

That cumulative effect may make an additional, forthcoming offering from NPR more appealing — as well as more akin to longer-standing subscription services, where a monthly fee gets you access to a provider’s whole slate of offerings. NPR is said to be working on its own version of this, where listeners can pay a monthly fee to access sponsorship-free versions of all NPR shows, though these blanket subscriptions will reportedly be tucked away as perks for being a donating member of an NPR member station. While not mentioned in Tuesday’s announcement, the currently available single-show subscriptions will reportedly still direct funds back to member stations, at least according to Joel Sucherman, Vice President of New Platform Partnerships at NPR, when speaking with Nick back in April.

Only time will tell how this goes over and what consumer opinion will be, especially while an à la carte option is the only one available. At any rate, it’d take some dedication to make these show-by-show price tags amount to as much as a monthly Bloomberg subscription, something I will never get over. (It does look like they’re having a sale, though… )

Weed be better off in audio. Lastly, here’s an interesting podcast-related story about marijuana, from my neck of the woods in Massachusetts. I think that makes it a potcast story.

Here’s some basic context: Folks who advertise anything digitally are probably familiar with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates audiovisual materials; the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), as the name suggests, regulates cannabis within Massachusetts, and the two intersect when weed retailers want to market. Since weed is still only legalized in certain states and for certain age groups, the things that retailers are allowed to put out there are super specific, targeting only the permitted demographics.

As such, in order for the placement of cannabis ads to be approved, the CCC mandates that “at least 85% of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older as determined by reliable and current audience composition data” — otherwise, neither medical nor recreational ads are allowed, specifically “prohibiting television, radio, podcast, internet, mobile app, social media, billboard and print ads.”

Conveniently, though, podcasting often delivers the exact audience that’s allowed, meaning cannabis retailers are going after podcasts because, among other reasons, many documented audiences fall largely within the legal range they can advertise to — that is, people ages 21 to 34 who are considered “high-value cannabis and CBD consumers.” The caveat is that, even when retailers are permitted to advertise, they’re required to include several approved disclaimers, which, as Colin Young points out for MassLive, can “make the ads twice as long as others.” The CCC-approved statement alone, which apparently has to be included verbatim and in full, is over a hundred words. Whew. Be sure to get someone without stoner lungs to do that ad read.

NICK NEWS

Speaking of pod subs… Pair Aria’s news blurb about the formal launch of NPR’s podcast subscription product with Ashley Carman’s report over at The Verge, who reports that Apple Podcast Subscriptions is off to a rocky start. What else is new?

Bags, man.From The Daily Beast, last Thursday:

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow “is seriously considering leaving the network when her contract ends early next year… Maddow seems unlikely to jump to a rival television news network. Instead, she has been intrigued by opportunities in the streaming and podcasting space, which would allow her more freedom, time for her personal life, and for other projects, people familiar with her thinking said.”

Remember: Maddow had previously explored the podcast space with Bag Man, her audio documentary on Spiro Agnew that came out in the fall of 2018 to some acclaim. That project is currently being adapted for film by Ben Stiller

Union infighting.Still keeping an eye on the situation at the Writer’s Guild of America, East, in the wake of that Poynter piece I linked to last week. It seems that things are getting messier at the union — from the outside, it looks like there’s a rising tension among members in the film/TV writer camp about the growing digital media camp, with at least a portion of the former expressing dissatisfaction over the possibility of their priorities being reshuffled as more digital media shops become organized under WGAE. That said, it’s unclear to me, watching from beyond, just how representative this dissatisfied sentiment actually is among rank-and-file members, or if it’s just a loud minority. 

Two Spotify Announcements. 

Firstly: Yesterday, Spotify announced a multi-year partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that will see the latter collaborate with The Ringer to produce a new WWE-centric podcast network that will be exclusive to the Swedish audio streaming platform. From the looks of it, the network will currently be housed under one feed — formerly The Ringer’s Masked Man Show, with David Shoemaker, which will continue operating under the feed —  though, obviously, there’s always the possibility of shows spinning out into their own distribution points should they reach a certain size.

Secondly: Spotify is expanding its Music and Talk format globally, TechCrunch reports.