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Insider: February 11, 2021 — Edison’s Top 50 of 2020, Binaural Audio, Accelerator for Kids Podcasts

Edison Research’s Top 50 of 2020 list, or more specifically, the fifty most listened podcasts last year based on the company’s measurement service. You can find the full list here.

Preface: given the company’s track record in the space, I’m more than comfortable placing my trust in viewing the list as a credible reference guide to the space, but the distinction should still be made that the list shouldn’t be read as a direct 1-to-1 representation of the space.

Here are the top five in descending order: The Joe Rogan Experience, The Daily, Crime Junkie, This American Life, and My Favorite Murder.

Some quick observations:

  • If I’m not mistaken, five Spotify-affiliated shows can be found on the top fifty: The Joe Rogan Experience at the very top spot (made exclusive late last year), The Bill Simmons Podcast at #24 (not exclusive), The Last Podcast on the Left at #33 (an exclusive), The Michelle Obama Podcast at #39 — that, of course, is a Higher Ground production, which has originally made exclusive on the platform before being circulated on the open ecosystem a few months later — and Gimlet’s Reply All at #46 (not exclusive).

  • The Joe Budden Podcast, formerly a Spotify exclusive, sits at #31.

  • Pod Save America at #8.

  • WTF with Marc Maron at #20, just under Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend at #19. (Here’s a relevant image.)

  • Clear prominent categories: public radio, right-wing podcasts, celebrities, influencers.

  • Depending on how you define “narrative,” I count about ten narrative shows in the top fifty. The rest are broadly talk or interview-based.

Man, I should sketch out firmer category buckets in my head. Again, see the list for yourself here.Entercom strikes new partnership with Locked On. The deal covers a few things: (1) distribution, in that the latter’s inventory of on-demand audio content will now be made available on Entercom’s RADIO.COM platform — which claims to have 40 million monthly users, though I’m not quite sure how they define “platform” in this instance – (2) content, in the sense that the two parties will collaborative produce a few new co-branded shows; and (3) sales, with Entercom as the primary ad sales partner in this arrangement.

There’s some history between the two entities; Locked On had previously made stuff for Entercom’s BetQL Audio Network. It also comes not long after news of Locked On being acquired by TEGNA, the local media company.

One thing that struck me as interesting: the fact that Entercom is handling the ad sales, and not Cadence13, which it acquired in the summer of 2019.

More in the associated press release.Accelerated Children. PRX, PBS KIDS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are launching “a podcast training and development program for producers creating educational content for kids,” called the Ready to Learn Podcast Accelerator.

Accepted teams to the program will receive sixteen weeks of virtual podcast training, $10,000 in funding to support production and operational expenses, and access to PRX’s distribution platform. One team will also be chosen to produce a podcast for PBS KIDS.

Be sure to ask about intellectual property ownership and all that. More details here.

Between this and TRAX, PRX continues to push hard into the kids podcasting space.iHeartMedia and 3D Audio. Ashley Carman over at The Verge wrote up iHeartMedia’s recent announcement that it’s allocating a bit of resources to binaural audio (claiming that it will launch a slate of shows in this format and building out some studios to support that effort), and places the story within a framework expressing that some podcast publishers — including QCODE and Paragon Collective — are looking to differentiate themselves from the pack by leaning into this new audio presentation type. Or in the case of iHeartMedia, it’s less a differentiating move than yet another bucket to try and claim narrative over.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of binaural audio, quick brief: it’s basically a recording format, enabled by a specific set of recording technology, meant give listeners an experience that approximates a spatial relationship with the audio source, so if someone speaking on a podcast is moving from left to right, listeners would hear the sound source as a shift from the left headphone to the right headphone, etc.)

Anyway, I see this as two separate stories. The first is whether iHeartMedia’s announcement is a cheap marketing ploy, and whether that marketing ploy will result in a level of listenership gained than they would’ve without this investment. The answer is yes, and we’ll see, obviously, but I doubt it, and in any case, when it comes to iHeartMedia, it’s generally hard to tell what’s up and what’s down with them.

The second story is whether binaural audio, or 3D audio, will be a meaningful frontier for podcast production over the long run. Replies to this tweet I put earlier this week — plus a few emails sent afterwards — suggests that it’s a frontier at least some producers really believe in or want to believe in. At this writing, I trend conservative on the issue, believing it to be less a leap in form factor than an incremental accoutrement, like 4K resolution on monitors. Which is to say, not in itself a determining variable in some sort of creative revolution, but a solid contributory nice-to-have… if you can swing it of course.The gap that Rush Limbaugh will leave behind. Paul Farhi over at the Washington Post has been on a brief run of stories about right-wing talk radio recently (see here and here), and on Tuesday, he followed all that up with a quick look at Rush Limbaugh, the sun at the center of that galaxy. Limbaugh was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2020, and whenever the time comes, a linear talk radio industry that’s long been in structural decline — vastly accelerated by the pandemic — will be short one of its remaining core pillars.

Here’s Farhi:

According to Nielsen Research, news-talk is still the most popular of the many formats on the radio. During an average 15-minute segment in 2019, 9.5 percent of the radio audience was listening to a news-talk station, a slight decline over the previous three years. But the share falls precipitously among younger listeners: Only 6.7 percent of those ages 25 to 54 and 4.3 percent of those ages 18 to 34 listen to talk stations.

The economic, demographic and technological forces now converging on conventional radio helped push the two biggest station owners, iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media, to file for bankruptcy-court protection in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The two companies had borrowed heavily to gobble up radio stations. They now own more than 1,200 between them.

He goes on to raise what is the compelling next question: what will fill up the space left behind by Limbaugh? Among the potential answers brought up by experts interviewed: the libertarian Joe Rogan.

One thing to note, though: Farhi’s piece doesn’t touch on the investments iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media have been making in the on-demand audio space. The linear talk radio industry might be in structural decline, but those radio conglomerates have been pouring a crap-ton of money into trying to break out of linear with still TBD results. And as a reminder: Cumulus is home to The Ben Shapiro Show (ranked twelfth on the Edison list) and The Dan Bongino Show (ranked forty), while a few iHeartMedia properties can be found scattered across that list.

All of which is to say, right-wing talk radio might be in decline, but right-wing talk audio seems to be just fine.Meanwhile… Don’t forget the upstarts trying to recreate talk radio in the on-demand arena, including Quake Media, which popped up in the news recently.

From Media Matters: “Fox News’ Laura Ingraham lavished praise on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination advocacy during a lengthy interview last week on her podcast. She also listened raptly as he accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of conspiring with the pharmaceutical industry to hide both purported dangers posed by coronavirus vaccines and the supposed link between childhood vaccinations and a host of medical conditions including autism.”

Quake Media, as a reminder, is a paid podcast service that I’ve written about a few times before. Because of its closed nature, one could unambiguously argue that it is fully responsible for the content distributed over its platform.In da club. From the New York Times: “Facebook Is Said to Be Building a Product to Compete With Clubhouse.”

So, short of any big breaking news, I think I’m going to dedicate my column next week to Clubhouse and its various competitors. To that end, I’ve been doing a bunch of listening — what else should I check out? — and I’m thinking about organizing one of these sessions myself for tomorrow. (Yeah yeah, I know I’m supposed to be on break.) If I get my shit together, I’ll drop details in tomorrow’s Insider.

Speaking of the Times…#FreeBritney Pod. I haven’t caught Framing Britney Spears, the documentary from FX and the New York Times, just yet, but boy have I read about it on Twitter. Anyway, Deadline reports that two contributors, Babs Gray and Tess Barker, to that doc are now working on a podcast series that will be “a deeper dive into Spears’ career, legal struggle, and the birth of the movement to release her.”

They’re working with Witness Docs, the documentary unit under Stitcher (now owned by SiriusXM), to produce the project, expected to drop later this year.Hmm.From Radio Ink: “FCC To Auction Off 140 Radio Stations.” Should I try to get one? There’s some that start at $750.With a Z, apparently.From TechCrunch:

Podz is the latest startup trying to solve the problem of podcast discovery, with backing from investors like M13, Katie Couric and Paris Hilton…

… In the Podz mobile app, users browse what the startup calls an “the first audio newsfeed,” consisting of 60-second podcast clips. These clips are designed to highlight the best moment from each podcast, making it easier to sample a much wider array of titles than the ones you currently subscribe to.

So, a product built entirely around the concept of a sizzle reel? Yeah… I don’t know about this one, folks. Seems like another variation of trying to solve a problem by changing the subject. On a separate note: Paris Hilton is totally all up on this podcast thing, huh?Quick call for input. I’m thinking about doing at least one column next month that revisits and expands this piece I wrote back in late 2018, about the economics of limited-run series. Is there more of a financial case for making a short-run podcast series today than back in 2018? What has your experience been with the economics of making a one-off series? Have you actually made money? Let me know.Reader Anonymous.We’ll do one of these next week.Revolving Door.

  • Maureen McMurray has left New Hampshire Public Radio. Her most recent role at NHPR had been Director, Content Innovation and Audience Development, but she’s probably better known for her efforts driving the station’s punch-above-their-weight podcast efforts — helping launch Outside In, Civics 101, Stranglehold, and of course, Bear Brook — over the years. I’m looking forward to whatever she does next.
  • Mohamed El Abed is leaving Soundtelling, the Swedish audio content company he co-founded four years ago, to spend more time with his family and freelance for a bit.
  • Darby Maloney has joined Pineapple Street, where she’ll be the senior editor of film and TV podcasts, working closely with Bari Finkel, executive editor of film and TV podcasts. Maloney joins from KPCC, where she was the editor of Take Two.

Got a new job? Tell me, would love to Let The People Know.