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Insider: February 26, 2021 — Q4 for iHeartMedia, Neon Hum’s Bootcamp Inductees, The Artist and The Athlete


iHeartMedia announces new operating structure, Q4 2020 earnings. SiriusXM isn’t the only one with the reshuffling this week.

First things first. The company will report its financial statements across three segments: the Digital Audio Group, which includes podcasting; the Multiplatform Group, which includes its broadcast radio and events; and Audio & Media Services, which is the miscellaneous bucket that includes the Katz Media Group, a media representation firm, and RCS, a software provider.

The chief reason for that reporting restructure, I think, can be found in this line of the release: “The company expects that the Digital Audio segment will continue to grow at a higher rate than our other segments and will therefore become a larger part of our business.” In other words, this segment is the growth business, and the other segment is the trickier stuff, including the structurally declining linear broadcast business and the still-hard-hit live events business, which at this point may well need a few more quarters (years?) post COVID to pick back up. (Ah, post COVID. What a fucking concept.) Splitting those two up presumably provides the ability to tell a more coherent narrative of a company in transition from the present into the future.

Anyway, as previously mentioned, the new Digital Audio Group includes the podcast business but also iHeartMedia’s various owned websites, newsletters, “digital services and programs,” plus the new stack of tech firms they recently acquired, like Jelli, Voxnest, and, now, Triton Digital. The spinning out of this group also comes with some executive reshuffles: Conal Byrne, previously the President of iHeartMedia’s Podcasting Division, will now lead the new group as CEO. The release also names Darren Davis as Chief Operating Officer, Carter Brokaw as President of Digital Revenue, and Jessica Jerrick as EVP of Digital Distribution and Platform Partnerships.

So, there’s that. Some numbers to flag:

  • The newly spun out Digital Audio Group is said to encompass “almost 20%” of the company’s revenues, and it’s reported to have grown by 53% year over year.
  • The Multiplatform Group is said to represent 75% of revenues, but that segment saw declines as expected.
  • Podcast revenue claims: 100% year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter, 91% increase in podcasting revenue across the full year.

And finally, let’s also place all this in some human context: The company cited around $250 million in “modernization” and “operation cost savings” initiatives, a meaningful portion of which involves layoffs (instituted throughout the year), reduced compensation, and the suspension of the 401(k) matching program.

Here’s the full release.Neon Hum Media announced its first class for its Editor’s Bootcamp Program. They are: Afi Yellow-Duke, Corinne Gilliard, Davey Kim, Jennifer Lai, Jimmy Gutierrez, Oliver-Ash Kleine, Stephanie Serrano, and Zakiya Gibbons. Full details here.ARI-A-SESSMENT

The Artist, The Athlete, and Intersections. The premise of The Artist and The Athlete, an audio interview series released by Sony earlier this month, immediately made me skeptical.

The show pairs a professional who makes music with one who competes in a sport, because, as host Lindsay Czarniak says, there are significant overlaps between the fields. I was willing to see if the case could be made, but the podcast’s trailer emphasized only cursory connections, suggesting a spirituality-related overlap between two guests, for example, because one prayed before an event and the other prayed after. Further, in ways that weren’t addressed in the promotional material — nor clarified in the interview I later had with Czarniak — this overlap didn’t sit right with me.

In her career as a sports reporter, hosting digests and reporting from the field, Czarniak was routinely excited to find herself intersecting with the music industry, at one point even hosting a podcast with a similar conceit to The Artist and The Athlete, in which she would ask musicians about their love of sports. (Occasionally, the roles were reversed, and the overall premise of the show was a bit more flexible, which I’d say gave it more solid footing.)

The guests for this first project, notably, were almost exclusively country performers. Though Czarniak’s Twitter bio affirms her love of that genre, her journalistic observations, she says, were of music in general. “I have always been so into the craft,” she says, noting “something so relatable between that and what I’d experienced covering athletes.”

When she originally conceived and pitched what would become The Artist and The Athlete, Czarniak wanted to highlight struggles that she felt particularly characterized the industries of big-time music and sports, such as sacrifice and pressure. But couldn’t this be said of lots of fields of work? I worried that, once the show got going, the concept would run out of steam, and Czarniak would have to force connections herself. This wasn’t helped by the fact that, in the trailer, Danica Patrick and Alanis Morissette cheekily say that, before a race and a show, respectively, they both pee.

To up the odds that more (substantial) connections would arise, the production team opted to book guests who already admired their counterparts, which is actually how Patrick ended up with Morissette, even though “there was someone in country music that I wanted to pair her with,” says Czarniak. (“Her end-all-be-all person would be Alanis Morrissette,” she recalls a representative for Patrick saying. “And it happened.”) A musician who is “a die-hard Panthers fan” gets paired with a linebacker from the team, for example. And considering Pearl Jam’s front man is “probably the biggest Chicago Cubs fan of all time,” it was clear what to do. (“Eddie [Vedder] came in, and he was a child in the most wonderful sense of the word,” Czarziak says, “talking baseball, lighting up.”)

What started as a production crutch became a tool Czarniak could wield. Fandom brought out vulnerability and giddiness, which had the effect of bringing one’s guard down and facilitating connection between the two guests. Still, though, this meant the connections were less about the two fields’ similarities than Czarniak originally intended, if at all.

However, she says, connections that run deeper than feeling starstruck do arise. And what surprised me, considering how manufactured the concept of The Artist and The Athlete is, is that these connections apparently arise organically in conversation between the two guests, not in response to questions Czarniak explicitly asks.

“I find myself quietly backing out,” she says. “Journalistically, this has been quite a departure from what I’m used to.”

Czarniak recalls that, before taping began for The Artist and The Athlete, she brought the idea of the show to a mentor, who said, “it’s either gonna be great, or it’s gonna fail miserably.” The tenuousness of the concept wasn’t something only I had felt, it seems, and it was a relief for the show’s team to watch one guest in particular be so interested in his athletic counterpart that he took over asking the questions. The structure that Czarniak and her producer have assembled indeed appears to be revealing connections, even supporting a thesis.

The initial concern I had, though, beyond the tenuousness of the interviews, was about relating these two fields in the first place; the premise rubbed me the wrong way, and the feeling hasn’t left. This is because the relationship of these professions already exists, and has existed, in a completely different context, one I got to thinking about particularly because of Czarniak’s earlier and more specific focus on country music, which is largely perceived as white, if not hostile to Black individuals.

As Joseph N. Cooper illustrated in The Boston Globe Magazine in 2019, the association of sports and artistry has a fraught history, specifically for Black men in the U.S. “There is a deeply seated pathology that [B]lack males are genetically predisposed to be talented athletes,” he writes, “and less gifted in areas outside of sport and entertainment.” Cooper posits that if the reader were to try to name 10 Black men “in occupations outside of sports or other entertainment fields,” they might come up short, in contrast to how easily they’d likely recall 10 Black athletes.

I asked Czarniak if she’d thought about this — if, in using The Artist and The Athlete to associate these two professions, the production team had acknowledged the compounded impacts this association has had on Black communities.

“That phenomenon of Black men being recognized in sports and entertainment — I can see that there is a narrative that’s written about,” Czarniak responded. She agreed that Cooper’s hypothetical would probably play out in the way he hypothesized, though she emphasized Cooper’s other point to also be true: That recall doesn’t represent reality.

“Based on that perception,” she says, “that is what I’m trying to do: Make it not a perception. Let these people talk.”

I’m not convinced that this is how to solve the problem. In the case of The Artist and The Athlete, the vehicle for expression is still one in which each of these people is either an artist or an athlete. The platform, at the end of the day, is as narrow as its context.Revolving Door. Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.