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Insider December 3, 2021 — Why do these podcast picks look the same?

Asking for a friend

Yesterday, Ashley kept it quick. Now, we’re going long. Buckle up! I get extra feisty when I’m pointing out patterns!

“Best of” podcast picks can be a black box — but there are still some trends

Everyone and their mom and Ashley have been talking about year-in-review lists this week, and I want to focus on two particular nuggets: 1) the spillover of metric-based rankings into curated choices; 2) the curated choices that make me wish more creators could benefit from them.

In case you somehow miss them, tons of lists come out this time of year, claiming to corral the very best work from the past 365 days. The lists have different structures: Spotify Wrapped, the service’s year-end collection of “top” content, is based on numbers, however obscure. Reggie Ugwu’s lineup of podcasts for The New York Times is based on opinion. (Last year, it had even more of a human touch, assembled by four different writers.) Apple’s year-end podcast list combines these two approaches, with a section ranking shows by their total listener counts, then a separate list of hand-picked favorites.

These are pretty different approaches, but shows that perform quantitatively well throughout the year often also show up as favorites. That surely reinforces name recognition and creates a monopoly of attention. Like, be honest: did you start listening to The Daily after your co-worker mentioned it? 

At the same time, this market dominance can make names that aren’t The Big Names stand out on these lists by contrast. Case in point: I was shocked to see Ian Coss’ podcast Forever Is a Long Time on Apple’s list of favorites. (He told me he felt the same way.) Yes, I did write about this indie, five-episode project a few weeks ago, but I imagine it would’ve stood out even if I wasn’t already familiar with it — that’s ostensibly what happened when other people spotted it because Coss says he’s had a surge in downloads this week, and he’s already gotten several inquiries about optioning the rights to the show.

The very next day, lightning struck twice: Ugwu, creator of the other notable list of podcast “favorites,” featured Forever Is a Long Time as a 2021 favorite for the Times, too. Turns out lightning also struck twice for the show The Midnight Miracle: it was featured on both Apple’s and the Times’ lists, after a relatively quiet existence in the podcast landscape (emphasis on relatively, since this is a Luminary show that features celebrities).

Given the impact these lists can have, I’ve had a wave of emotions about these (double-)double features. Coss’ show being picked made me feel hopeful for the little guys. But I’ve gotta say, I was disappointed to see the same two shows picked twice, as well done as they may be, considering that the competition for attention is so stiff. Curators seem to have found their preferences coalescing, however unintentionally, meaning we as media folks may be largely talking about the same shows, even before we put anything down in writing. 

It’s truly amazing that there are such things as podcast critics and curators in the mainstream! And I love and want more of them (us?). So let me ask you: have you listened to something weird or new today? Personally, I’m trying my darndest.

Y’all probably come here for news, too, so here we go. 

Pushkin takes subscriptions wide

In incredibly surprising-naming-convention news, Pushkin announced its own subscription product, Pushkin Plus. It’d previously gone the Apple Podcasts Subscriptions route, but this new development will make its paid features accessible on other streaming platforms, too. That includes early access to the show A Slight Change of Plans, which Apple just named “Best Show of the Year.”

Dozens of public media stations commit to DEI

The organization Public Media for All released its first report since forming in 2020, with a mission to untangle the whiteness and injustices within public media. The org has a list of 11 steps that it hopes workplaces will take — like adding diversity, equity, and inclusion work directly into company budgets and making all internships paid — and a spokesperson confirmed that over 40 organizations have now committed to completing 10 of those 11 steps within three years. Each org gets to choose which 10 of the action items they’ll complete, so we can’t draw any ultra-specific conclusions here, but those metrics stood out to me, especially considering that this organization didn’t set out to be an organization — it was supposed to convene just a single day of action.

So… much… listening in the UK

The first Infinite Dial report conducted in the UK just published, and what stands out here is that an average of 81 percent of people over the age of 16 reported listening to radio in the past week, compared to just 59 percent in the US. And that’s not skewed by any particular group: roughly 80 percent of people in each age category (16-34, 35-54, and 55-plus) all said yes. And yet, the UK isn’t that far off from the US when counting how many people listened to a podcast in a given week.* Do y’all just have more waking hours over there? Is it something with daylight savings? Or caffeine?

*The UK can claim 25 percent of people 16 and up, compared to the US’s 28 percent of people 12 and up, which isn’t a perfect comparison considering the age differences.


Veronika Taylor is the new senior vice president of Acast’s creator network, after serving as its  US content director, then managing director for the Americas. In other Acast news, Jeremy Weiner left Spotify to become group business director for Acast’s east coast division. At Libsyn, there’s a new member of the Board of Directors: Patrick Dolan, who’s been all about those ads, all the time. And congratulations are in order for Wonder Media Network co-founders Shira Atkins and Jenny Kaplan, who were named to Forbes North American 30 Under 30 list for media.

Happy weekend, y’all! Hope you’re enjoying whatever weather you’re having! I’m not.