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Insider: December 12, 2019

- Private equity firm Shamrock Capital invests in Ad Results Media - Art19 acquires South Korean podcast ad firm BirchSounds, forms Art19 Korea - Entercom hires Midroll alum as new SVP of Sales, East Coast... and more!

Private equity firm Shamrock Capital invests in Ad Results Media. The announcement came out yesterday. As you would expect, the terms of the deal were not disclosed, though the Crunchbase listing notes that it’s a private equity round — which is a late stage funding event that often applies to established companies with dependable revenues as opposed to an early-stage Series A round in a pre-revenue startup, or something like that.

As far as I can tell, Shamrock is a LA-based firm that principally focuses on the communications, media, and technology industries. Its website claims that the firm has over $1.6 billion of assets under management, and its holdings are spread across a fairly wide number of companies. Among the ones you might know: Fanduel (which it had previously made a Series E investment, back in 2015), Netgear, and… the Harlem Globetrotters?

Anyway, here’s why this is an important development to know: Ad Results Media is one of the biggest players in the podcast advertising market. In early 2018, Adweek claimed that the company’s market share was around 35%, but that’s a while ago, and obviously, much has changed since then. Among those changes: competitor Veritone One acquiring Performance Bridge, another competitor, last summer, which potentially raised that combined entity’s market share up to 25%… and, well, the further introduction of major distributor platforms in the podcast space, i.e. Spotify and Pandora, which fundamentally changes the competitive outlook for companies like Ad Results and Veritone One.

What happens when you get private equity funding in the face of increasing competition? We shall see.

Keep an eye on this one: Art19 has acquired BirchSound, said to be the “largest domestic podcast ad-seller” in South Korea, a move that will result in the creation of Art19 Korea. BirchSound’s CEO and Founder, Hansoo Kim, will become the CEO of the newly formed Art19 Korea. The company has apparently also struck exclusive deals with several Korean broadcasters, including SBS, KBS, CBS, and Chosun.

Here’s the press release. It’s an interesting move… though there are no hard mentions in the release of any metrics regarding BirchSound’s performance, whether it’s revenues or partnership numbers, so on. There have been trailing claims in the past that South Korea has a big/significant podcast market — see, in particular, this Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report, though note the definition of podcast: “an episodic series of digital audio files, which you can download, subscribe, or listen to” — but following the whole “Podcasting in China” thread we explored back in May, I’m somewhat weary of making one-to-one groupings, given the potential major differences between how the different industries are constructed, how the consumer-publisher relationship is defined, and how the money works.

This move by Art19 may well be an international extension of their existing podcast operations. But it might also be an expansion into a new kind of business altogether.

Revolving Door. This morning, Entercom announced that it has hired a new SVP of Digital Sales for the East Coast: Andy Slater, who joins from Stitcher’s Midroll Media, where he served as Regional VP of Sales, East Coast. A necessary bit of housekeeping as the radio company works its way into digital/on-demand audio, following the acquisitions of Cadence13 and Pineapple Street earlier this summer.

The Cut on Tuesdays to end next week. At the end of this week’s installment of The Cut on Tuesdays — which is a joint production between The Cut and Gimlet Media — host Molly Fischer announced that the next installment would be the show’s last, with Fischer explaining that she intends to head back to The Cut/NY Mag to write full-time.

Nazanin Rafsanjani, Gimlet’s Creative Director, provided a fuller explanation over Twitter: “The full story: Molly wants to write full time,” she wrote. “We don’t think she’s replaceable. We don’t think this would be the show you love without her. So, even tho the show is financially successful AND we love it, we’re saying goodbye. Hard decision but we think it’s the right one.”

The episode also nods towards new audio projects from both Gimlet Media and New York Magazine to come — though whether any of those projects will be another collaboration between those two companies remains to be seen.

Given the fact New York Media is now part of Vox Media, already a prolific podcast publisher, I imagine there’s a whole new frontier of choices for the New York Mag pubs to work through, should they want to stand up another audio project under The Cut’s imprimatur.

[Necessary disclaimer: I’m a contributor to Vulture, another New York Mag site, but you probably already know that.]

Follow-up to Audio Journalism and the Pulitzers. Gonna stretch this thread out for one more idea. So, one of the more interesting ideas coming out of the responses to the Pulitzers’ decision to add an Audio Reporting category comes from Business Insider’s Mariel Soto Reyes, who observed: “The acknowledgment from [a] Pulitzer could incentivize a greater number of publishers and journalists to shift resources toward journalism tailor-made for the medium.”

Which is, of course, true, and that incentive can also be read as a further mitigation of a major friction point that still prevents news organizations from really committing to audio journalism efforts, particularly in-depth kind: the fact that it’s still pretty hard to financially justify pouring a ton of resources into, say, an eight-part investigative series — often the format that’s most impactful in driving specific outcomes — versus a recurring production in the style of, say, The Daily or Post Reports. From an organizational standpoint, a money-losing project is still materially worth if it’s awards competitive. (We see versions of this with the film and television business. See also: the concept of a “loss leader.”)

But there are also possible additional consequences of this new incentive environment. Over at Quartz, the site’s investigations editor John Keefe published a post that pointed out the fact that a quarter of Pulitzer winners and finalists from the past four years were all published December — the month of the prize’s submission deadline. (It’s Dec 31, btw.) Keefe points this out as explanation for why we see so much investigative projects drop in December; some of this is presumably the result of publishers wanting to get in by the deadline, but some of this is also possibly due to the reality that projects published this close to the deadline tends to get more attention by the prize administrators.

I can see how the clustering of investigative project drops in December could be a potentially suboptimal outcome. Ideally, the rebuttal would go, you’d want publishers to drop big investigative swings evenly throughout the year, or in such a timing that would be most impactful to the specific topical area the project is focused on. But I dunno. Personally, I don’t feel too strong about that one way or another. Still interesting to think about, though.

On a related note: The winners for the 2020 duPont-Columbia awards — historically considered by some as the Pulitzers for broadcast media equivalents, womp womp — were announced yesterday, and all three audio winners were, well, podcasts. (Whoddathunkitt?) They were APM’s In The Dark S2, MSNBC’s Bag Man, and Michigan Radio/NPR’s Believed. Full list can be found here.

Oookay, Google. From The Verge:

Google Assistant is getting a few new skills to make the virtual assistant more useful, adding the option to share photos directly through voice commands, search for podcasts based on a specific topic, and integrate with more note-keeping apps like, AnyList, and Bring.

Podcast search is the simplest addition. Just ask Assistant to “find a podcast about holiday cooking” or “show me podcasts about New Year’s resolutions,” and Google will suggest episodes for you to listen.

On the one hand, handy!

On the other hand, not really looking forward to the umpteenth iteration of SEO gaming. Figure we’ll see similar features — and questions of search priorities and choice — with the other voice assistant platforms.

You can presumably file this away as part of a cohort with the earlier “Your News Update” Google Assistant development.

Meanwhile, Netflix is reportedly developing a scripted TV series about Spotify. Scripted series as in… not a documentary. As in… dramatized? The production will be based on a Swedish book called Spotify Untold, by Jonas Leijonhufvud and Sven Carlsson. Bizarro world, but okay. Here’s the Variety write-up.

An orange? What?

Not directly-related, but… I’m still thinking about Willa Paskin’s opening entry in Slate’s annual TV Club series. Which is, of course, about television, but there’s a lot in there that’s resonating with me on this side of the media neighborhood.

A sample:

The idea that TV can be great, can be art, that it is worthy of serious thought and heady conversation, has gone from being a provocation to such a snooze that I’m not going to yammer on about it, lest you drop to sleep this very sentence. But the details of how this was accomplished deserve some more inspection. In making a claim for TV’s quality, we narrowed the medium down.