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Insider: February 25, 2021 — Follow up on Spotify and Reply All, Shake-ups at Stitcher, Revolving Door

From this morning…The Reply All team published a two-minute update in its feed this morning issuing an apology — see here, if unfamiliar — and announcing that “The Test Kitchen” miniseries will not be continued. “We now understand we should never have aired this series as reported, and the fact that we did was a systemic editorial failure,” said co-host Alex Goldman, who voiced the update.

It was also announced that the show as a whole will temporarily pause production.

Again, Goldman: “We plan to get to the bottom of what went wrong here, both with the series and with our show, and once we fully understand it ourselves, we also want to tell you as best we can what happened. As we contend with everything, we’re placing the show on pause.”

You can listen to the whole thing here.Follow up on Spotify. Missed this interview with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek by The Verge’s Ashley Carman, which came out slightly before the newsletter dropped on Tuesday. Two things in particular stood out to me.

The first is Ek’s phrasing of why Spotify will continue preserving an advertising layer on podcasts even for users who pay for a premium subscription. Here’s that section:

Overall, the main trade-off as a company is we’re all focused on growth, and growth is a function of engagement, the retention part that I talked about. So we monitor those metrics meticulously, and we’re looking at it for every single piece of content that we have on the platform and every single consumer we have on the platform, and just on an hourly basis modeling that, looking at that.

The answer, however, may be unintuitive, but I still want to share it which is, in the end, I think this whole notion about what is ads and what’s subscription, and the fact that when you look back on the internet there was this division. I just don’t believe that’s going to be true in the future. Think about television. It used to be the same way. You had broadcasting that only had ads and then you had cable that was the only subscription, but the reality is it converged because it turned out that the better consumer experience was the combination of both, and I think you’re going to find that into the future of the internet, too, is that we can deliver a great user experience with both advertising and subscription, and I think the future for us is both and a la carte, as well.

For what it’s worth, the first paragraph strikes me as more important as the second. I’m skeptical about the phrasing that the combination of the two business models into a blended third will yield a “better consumer experience” — every time I hit an ad on Hulu, I still feel a pang of murderous rage — but perhaps the novelty of on-demand audio offers a good amount of leeway from a consumer expectations standpoint, and the prize for Spotify is to work that mixture until it hits a point of negative return.

The second thing is a corporate overlord thing. Here’s the chunk:

The Verge: Some musicians argue that streaming devalues their work while podcasters see the industry as not needing to be fixed or changed. How do you plan to keep the narrative positive and not like a corporate behemoth entering the space?

Ek: Community management is going to be one of the most critical things, but honestly this is part of the reason why we wanted to put this event out. Because what we realized is that we’re no longer this kind of small startup from Sweden. We’re in fact a very, very important platform for a lot of these audio creators. So rather than just telling everyone about everything that we’ve already released and then explaining them one by one, we wanted to create a narrative story that tells people about where we’re going and why we’re going there.

So I think this is exactly the type of reason why we wanted to have the event that we’re having today, and I think so much of this is going to be solved by constant communication and by also experimenting and being clear when we are experimenting. You saw that today, too. A lot of the features that we released are really tests and experiments, and the reason isn’t because we’re not committing to rolling it out if it’s successful, but it is because we want the feedback from the community so that we can iterate and improve and hopefully create something that better suits their needs and methods. So we’re really kind of changing our way of working in order to invite more of the creative ecosystem to give feedback and help us iterate and improve.

The key to assessing Spotify’s performance on its word here, in my opinion, is to isolate a metric to which it can be held on this notion. Like, say, a platform-wide dollars in payout per creator measure, or something like that.Meanwhile, across the Øresund… From TechCrunch: “Podimo, the Copenhagen-founded subscription service for short form audio stories and podcasts, has raised an additional €11.2 million in funding.”

I last wrote about this company in July 2019. Haven’t kept a close eye since, though. If there are any Danish or Scandinavian readers in the crowd, let me know what you think about this outfit.Shake-ups at new ownership Stitcher. Four months after Stitcher’s change-of-hands from EW Scripps to SiriusXM was made official, the podcast division is now undergoing some significant executive restructuring under new management.

Firstly, Erik Diehn, the CEO of Stitcher, is “winding down” his role at the company, according to an internal email sent out on Tuesday. Diehn has been with the company for almost six years, joining from New York Public Radio back when it was still known as Midroll Media and taking over leadership after Adam Sachs’ departure in 2016. He will remain an adviser to SiriusXM, at least through the coming months.

When reached for comment, he wrote back: “I’ve decided it’s time to move on. With talent and employees in good hands and the integration proceeding well, it felt like a good time to make a change. Thanks to all of our partners, shows, employees, listeners, both corporate parents and our startup companies’ respective founders — Jeff, Scott, Noah, Peter — for letting me have such an awesome job taking part in the growth of podcasting.”

Meanwhile, the email also outlined a few other changes in the reporting structure, effective March 1:

  • Dan Osit, the company’s chief operating officer, and Amy Fitzgibbons, Stitcher’s head of marketing, will soon report directly into Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM’s Chief Content Officer.

  • Peter Clowney, head of Stitcher’s owned and operated content brands (including Earwolf and Witness Docs), will now report to Megan Liberman, SiriusXM SVP of News, Talk, and Entertainment Programming.

  • Sarah van Mosel, Stitcher’s Chief Revenue Officer, and her team will report to John Trimble, SiriusXM’s Chief Revenue Officer.

This marks a pretty considerable shift from the way Stitcher worked under EW Scripps, where it was mostly treated as its own standalone unit. From the sounds of this, the company appears to be fully absorbed by SiriusXM — or, as one reader put it in my inbox yesterday, “chopped up and spread around.”

How Stitcher talent feels about this is TBD, but I’ve been hearing things.Revolving Door.

  • The New York Times announced a slew of new hires for its Opinion Audio team this week: Nayeema Raza, Daphne Chen, Kaari Pitkin, Cristal Duhaime, and Derek Arthur. Coincidentally, its newly revamped roundtable show, The Argument, now anchored by former Vox senior politics reporter Jane Coaston, relaunches this week as well. And you know what? It is, unfortunately, very much my shit.

  • Entercom names Brian Swarth as Head of Marketing for its podcast division, which includes Cadence13 and Pineapple Street. Swarthe joins from SHOWTIME Networks — the all caps was noted in the press release, it’s not my emphasis — where he served as SVP of Digital Media and Marketing. Interestingly enough, he’ll report to Chris Corcoran, Cadence13’s Chief Content Officer.

Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.Meanwhile, on the right wing…

  • Shot… From the New York Times: “Where Will Rush Limbaugh’s 15 Million Listeners Go Now?”

  • Chaser… From Axios: “Ben Shapiro, the Daily Wire conservative commentator known best for his popular podcast ‘The Ben Shapiro Show,’ is launching a new show called ‘Debunked.’” A video show, by the way.

Speaking of the Times… They have a package up on pods this morning. I haven’t sat down with it yet, but I’ll write it up tomorrow if I find anything of interest. This seems to be the anchor piece.Not exactly sure what I’m looking at here, but I’m curious. From Indiewire:

When Amazon made a unilateral decision in early February to stop accepting documentaries and short films via Prime Video Direct (a policy that also covers “slide shows, vlogs, podcasts, tutorials, filmed conferences, monologues, toy play, music videos, and voiceover gameplay”), the announcement also served as a quiet purge. Amazon also has been dropping long-running documentary titles from the service, with stakeholders receiving no warning or context for the decisions.

Hmm.Speaking of which… Audible, Amazon’s audiobooks (now on-demand audio in general I guess) giant which isn’t Amazon Music, announced a new scripted comedy slate yesterday.

The exclusive comes from Variety: “Audible Slates Broadway Video’s Scripted Comedy Podcasts Starring Keke Palmer, Pete Davidson, Bowen Yang.” The projects come out of its multi-year deal with Lorne Michaels outfit Broadway Video, struck in 2019.