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Insider: December 6, 2019

Podcasts (and radio show) can now win Pulitzers; My Fav Murder duo strikes $10M+ deal with Stitcher; Acast in Ireland.

Prized Podcasts. The Pulitzer Prize board has announced that in 2020 it will be making an award in a new “Audio Reporting” category. It’s the first new category that the prestigious US journalism awards has added since 2007. According to the quote from Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy, recent developments in the audio industry led to this development. “The renaissance of audio journalism in recent years has given rise to an extraordinary array of non-fiction storytelling. To recognize the best of that work, the Pulitzer Board is launching an experimental category to honor it,” she said.

Nick’s got a piece up at Vulture about this news, where he points out that this move puts the Pullitzer in the same territory as other awards with an audio element, such as the duPont-Columbia Award and the Peabody Award.

It’s interesting to note, too, that both radio programmes and podcasts are eligible for the new category, although Canedy’s statement seems to refer to a “renaissance” that can be linked to the growing popularity of podcasting as a medium in recent years. Some have pushed back against the idea that it’s only recently that audio became Pulitzer-worthy — Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal tweeted that “we’ve been here the whole damn time,” and I would guess that’s a sentiment shared by others working in radio too.

In explanation, I would just point back to yesterday’s Insider and the point about podcasting’s current status as “the media format du jour.” I don’t think it’s possible to underestimate the effect that buzziness can still have on the media landscape. That phrase yesterday was being applied to Facebook’s possible entry into audio, but I think it works just as well here. The Pulitzer Prize might be a venerable and respected American institution, but I don’t think it’s immune to the lure of what’s hot anymore than a Silicon Valley corporation is.

MFM/Scripps. Nick here, with a quick news update that came up this morning. The Wall Street Journal reported that Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the duo behind My Favorite Murder, have signed a deal worth “at least $10 million” with EW Scripps that expands Kilgariff-Hardstark’s already existing partnership with Stitcher — which, in case you need a refresher, is the podcast company owned by EW Scripps — which thus far has largely took the form of an imprint-style network called Exactly Right that launched in the fall of 2018.

According to the Journal, the new deal will see Stitcher “aid in production and finance show development across the Exactly Right Network, including paying to hire personnel for positions in marketing, business development, production and advertising representation.” It is a two-year agreement where the two entities will collaborate to develop more shows, which, in my mind, suggests the arrangement to be something closer to the way a movie studio strikes a multi-picture deal with a producer, as opposed to something like Howard Stern being signed as the centerpiece of SiriusXM. The Exactly Right network is said to be expected to bring in ~$10 million this year. UTA’s Oren Rosenbaum reps Kilgariff and Hardstark.

The deal is described by the Journal to be “one of the largest of its kind,” which is about the right hedge. Another blockbuster deal of comparable composition would be the one that sees the Obamas producing podcasts exclusively for Spotify; we don’t know the specific size of that deal, but it’s probably a good bet to guess that it’s really big, given the depth of Spotify’s pockets.

Anyway, in case you need the history lesson — Stitcher is a podcast company within the EW Scripps family, and the company is the result of two different acquisitions: the $50M+ Midroll acquisition in 2015, and the $4.5 million Stitcher acquisition in 2016. The combined entity officially rebranded as Stitcher last year.

Okay, back to you, Caroline.

Acast in Ireland. Acast has launched in Ireland, opening its first office in Dublin and announcing Micheál Scully as Key Account Director for the territory (he comes via Google and DoneDeal, Ireland’s biggest classifieds site). He will be working with Acast’s podcast Manager for Ireland, Jennifer Dollard. The company already works with Irish shows, including big hitters The Blindboy Podcast and The 2 Johnnies, but will now be managing ad sales directly from Dublin as well as seeking to grow its portfolio in the country.

This feels like an obvious step for Acast, especially given its well-developed operation in the nearby UK. As I wrote about back in the summer when I profiled homegrown Irish podcast network HeadStuff, the little research that exists about podcast listenership in Ireland suggests that it’s pretty high (a 2018 Reuters Institute report put the proportion of people who had accessed a podcast in the last month at 38 percent, compared with the UK’s 18 percent).

HeadStuff founder Alan Bennett told me that although the listeners were there, the advertising spend had yet to catch up, and it looks like Acast are betting that will be happening very soon. I would also suspect that the arrival of an international podcast sales company might help to convince some more brands to try out audio advertising.

While Acast’s press release leans heavily on their desire to “grow the Irish podcast industry for everyone involved”, there will be the inevitable concerns that come with growth about what greater commercialisation means for the thriving independent podcast scene in Dublin and the rest of Ireland. As it happens, HeadStuff officially opened their brand new central Dublin podcast studios and office last night. I suspect that the pace of podcasting there is about to speed up considerably.

The Twice-Daily Show. The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London has announced some changes to its audio setup, including the expansion of its “Audio Briefings” channel from Whatsapp-only distribution to a full-fledged podcast. The revamped show, now called The Briefing, takes the form of two-minute news updates delivered morning and evening. The team that makes it also works on the paper’s Front Page email newsletters, which the press release says go to 275,000 people a day. It seems like this is a product made very much with smart speakers in mind, too.

There have also been some backend changes at the Telegraph. A new partnership with ART19 covers distribution and ad injection, and a sales partnership with Dax (the digital audio advertising platform run by radio company Global) includes monetisation in the UK. Up until now, the Telegraph had sold its podcast sponsorships in house.

When I spoke to Pete Naughton, who was then heading up the audio operation there, last year, he said the paper was looking to move to a third party host — this ART19 deal looks like the result of that process. It also sets the Telegraph apart from most other legacy media organisations in the UK, which have largely chosen to use Acast or Audioboom for both hosting and sales (the former has clients including the BBC, the Guardian and the Financial Times). Looking across the pond for a technology solution is a novel development for this kind of newspaper, and one that might help to develop a bit of much-needed competition in the UK market.