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Insider December 2, 2022 — Fun times with ethics

Sen. Ted Cruz landed a juicy podcast deal with iHeartMedia that could end up being a legal boondoggle.

It’s Friday. I’ve got meatballs to make 🤌. Let’s get into it.

Ted Cruz’s podcast is a hit, but his deal with iHeart could be in violation of ethics laws

Campaign Legal Center, a government watchdog group, has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Ted Cruz over his podcast deal with audio giant iHeartMedia. Although Cruz does not get paid by iHeart to host the show, the company’s bankrolling of production and marketing may cause a problem for Cruz, as iHeart is also a registered lobbyist. The complaint argues that such funding qualifies as a gift and is in violation of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

It is not unusual for a sitting politician to host a podcast — Congressman Dan Crenshaw and Sen. Angus King both have podcasts (as does DC shadow senator Michael Brown, whose show has some truly incredible title art). But Verdict with Ted Cruz is far and away the most successful, ranking at no. 27 in the news category on Apple Podcasts and no. 32 in the news section of Spotify’s podcast chart. The show has been running since the beginning of the Biden administration but only recently partnered with iHeart to expand to three shows a week. 

“Although Senator Cruz is not the only member of Congress to host a podcast, he is the only member who is apparently violating federal law because there is substantial evidence that an illegal source finances the podcast,” the complaint reads. “Moreover, iHeart lobbies on media industry bills before Senator Cruz’s committee while the podcast boasts that iHeart will ‘fund production [and] dump a whole bunch of money into marketing’ Senator Cruz’s show.”

Cruz sits on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. According to CLC, the committee is considering two bills for which iHeart lobbied. Additionally, iHeart’s PAC contributed $2,000 to Cruz’s campaign in 2018. 

The complaint urged the committee chair and vice chair, Senators Chris Coons and James Lankford, respectively, to investigate the matter. Cruz’s office insists that the senator did nothing out of the ordinary in his deal with iHeart. iHeart did not provide comment.

“Senator Cruz receives no financial benefit from Verdict,” reads a statement from Cruz’s office sent to Hot Pod. “There is no difference between Sen. Cruz appearing on a network television show, a cable news show, or a podcast airing on iHeartMedia.”

More from Wrapped: a look at how Spotify’s podcast business has grown

Spotify has seen a 50 percent increase in podcast consumption, according to new data the company released today. So far, Spotify has added more than a million shows to the platform in 2022, from 3.6 million in 2021 to 4.7 million as of the end of September (though that number is likely to be higher when the company reports its end-of-year earnings). The US remains the company’s biggest market for podcast creation, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and India. 

Spotify also owns Anchor, the biggest podcast creation and distribution tool in the market. But the publisher is losing some ground. According to new data from Livewire, Anchor has a 21.6 percent market share, down from a high of 25.8 percent in April. But Megaphone, a podcast host also owned by Spotify that is normally used for larger publishers (like Vox Media), is growing its market share. In November, 3.5 percent of new podcast episodes were published through Megaphone, up from 2.5 percent in April.

Podcasts are becoming less of a dude thing

According to The Women’s 2022 Podcast Report from SiriusXM and Edison Research, the US podcast audience is becoming more gender-balanced. Five years ago, the podcast listening audience (age 18+) was only 44 percent female. Now, it is 48 percent. Hooray for almost equality!

More than one-third of women in the US have listened to a podcast in the past month, which is a 67 percent increase since 2017. How do you get that number to go up? Make more podcasts by and for women listeners. A majority of respondents said that they would listen to more podcasts if they featured stories about women and / or from female hosts.  

Edison and SiriusXM will present more findings from the report at a webinar on December 14th.

I’m out. Have a great weekend!