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Insider: December 20, 2019

Closing notes for the year

New Audioboom CEO. The London-based company has confirmed Stuart Last as its new CEO, who has been doing the job on an interim basis for several months. He took over when predecessor Rob Proctor stood down rather abruptly in September. Last has been with the company since 2014, and has previously worked for the BBC and Voxnest.

Working together? Speaking of smart speakers, there’s a chance that devices and software from different companies will cooperate with each other in the future. A working group called the Connected Home over IP project has been formed and will be moderated by the internet of things standards consortium Zigbee Alliance.

Google, Amazon, and Apple are all involved, with the aim being to “simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers”. It could mean in the future that smart devices come with a choice of voice assistant, rather than being locked onto a particular one. A draft standard is due from the project late next year, and you can find out more about it from this Recode write up.

A New Ranker [by Nick Quah]. Nick here, butting in briefly. Wanted to flag what I think is a pretty big development that we’ll pick up on in the new year: Triton Digital is launching a “comprehensive podcast reports” for the United States. The new report system will provide rankings of “Top Networks” and “Top Podcasts” in the US, ranked by average weekly downloads as derived from the latest IAB Podcast Technical Measurement Guidelines. Think of it as the alternative to the Podtrac ranker that we — or at least I — have been waiting for.

Here’s the press release, and again, more soon.

NPR diversity data. The results of research into the diversity of NPR’s on-air sources have been published, and the headline takeaway is “Much Work Ahead”. The study covers the 2018 fiscal year and looks mainly at weekday newsmagazine shows. It found that 83 percent of the sources heard were white and 67 percent were male. The proportion of white voices has increased in the past five years; in the equivalent study for 2013, that figure was 80 percent. This is despite efforts to improve diversity, the write up says.

Nancy Barnes, Senior Vice President for News, commented on the findings, saying: “Whatever the reasons, this cannot continue. We have to make significant improvement if we’re going to live up to the mission we’ve set for ourselves to look and sound like America.” Barnes actually joined NPR in November 2018 from the Houston Chronicle, after the cut off period for this study.

NPR also shared some ideas about why there has been such slow progress, or indeed regression in some areas. The main one has to do with the dominance of political news in the last five years — in this time period, the percentage of stories broadcast that included politics “nearly doubled”, according to Keith Woods, VP for Newsroom Training and Diversity. They’re now covering a “much whiter and more male” administration. He did note, however, that before 2016 when there was much greater diversity in the White House, the figures weren’t noticeably better.

As NPR freely admits, these numbers are not good. However, the commitment to transparency whether the data shows positive change or not is good to see and I agree with Barnes about how good information on the status quo is vital to progress: “We can’t hope to improve without reliable data to point the way,” is how she puts it. She’s also keen to use real-time tracking so that newsrooms can see how they’re doing all the time, rather than just annually, and if she succeeds I’ll be interested to see if and how that shifts things.

While we’re on the subject of on-air diversity, I also wanted to shout out the independent productions being transparent about this stuff. Rose Eveleth of Flash Forward has a great template for this, where she publishes a year-end report breaking down the gender and racial diversity of her guests and voice actors. It’s a very interesting read and something I’d love to see more productions of all sizes engaging with.

Alexa, Subscribe Me. Luminary has become the first podcast service to sell subscriptions on smart speakers via an Alexa skill, Variety reports. A voice command on Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices will now subscribe you or start a free trial. It uses Amazon’s payment mechanism, but users will still have to make a separate Luminary account.

For more in depth analysis of Luminary’s launch year, I would refer you to Nick’s piece from Tuesday, but in relation to this development I would just point out that although smart speaker ownership is on the rise pretty much everywhere, podcast listening through these devices has yet to get out of single figures, according to most surveys. I can’t be certain what that means for a paywalled podcast app seeking paying subscribers, but I would guess that it’s unlikely to become a major form of acquisition.

Meanwhile, over at Vulture: The Curtain Falls on Harmontown.

Headed to TV. The Clearing, a true crime podcast that was produced by Pineapple Street Studios in association with Gimlet Media, has been picked up for TV development by Chernin Entertainment and Lynn Harris and Matti Leshem’s Weimaraner Republic Pictures. The show is about April Balascio and her decision to turn her father in to the police once she realised he was involved in at least one murder. More over at Deadline.