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Insider: January 16, 2020

- Layoffs hit iHeartMedia following restructure - Lawsuit over Audible's "Caption" feature settled - Facebook groups and podcast communities... and more!

Layoffs hit iHeartMedia, following restructure. From Rolling Stone, which has the best reporting on this by far:

The largest radio conglomerate in the country, iHeartMedia, initiated a round of mass layoffs this week, cutting enough people that one former on-air host described Tuesday as “one of the worst days in on-air radio history.” The layoffs were concentrated in small and medium markets, where staffs had already been reduced, striking another major blow to local radio…

… For other iHeartMedia employees, the first sign of trouble came early Tuesday morning, when the company sent employees an email announcing a “new organizational structure.” The memo, obtained by Rolling Stone, seemed plucked partly from a corporate culture parody like Office Space. It opened with chest-puffing (“we are the #1 audio company in America”) and then slathered on numbing layers of business jargon (new institutions include “the Integrated Revenue Strategies Group” and “Excellence Centers”).

The piece, by Elias Leight, does a really good job focusing on the significance of this development on local media, and how the threat of scaling down local radio is that of possible homogenization of viewpoints and experiences distributed across the country. Not to put the point too finely, but these are the things that can — and will — happen with consolidation.

Anyway, another note of context: all this is happening as iHeartMedia is loudly trying to barge its way to the front of the podcast story in its bid to shake off its bankruptcy narrative and look presentable for somebody. And who is that somebody? Well, the news of these layoffs comes a few weeks after reports that Liberty Media — the parent company of SiriusXM, which in turn owns Pandora — is looking to increase its stake in iHeartMedia. (A prospect, by the way, that might be challenged by the feds.) Here’s the Wall Street Journal on that development. This is peak corporate asset management shit, y’all. Speaking of which…

Weapons Grade Bullshit. This situation popped up yesterday:

After some amount of pile-on, it appears that HuffPost is remedying the situation. In a reply to the tweet, Lydia Polgreen, the site’s editor-in-chief, wrote: “We were unaware this kind of outreach was happening; we have addressed the issue with our third-party licensing agent, and apologize for the miscommunication.”

And in case you’re wondering, here’s Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton on this type of situation: “Mentioning an accolade you’ve won clearly falls under fair use.”

Facebook isn’t just for older folk and Russian bots, it’s for podcast communities too! The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz — the great influencer whisperer and the David Attenborough of our times — has a fascinating piece on the prominence of Facebook Groups as a site for podcast audiences to gather and form communities, in the absence of audience-oriented tools that are native to the podcast listening experience themselves. Speaking of influencers…

Talent Flow. If you poke around in certain media executive circles, you’ll hear the argument that influencers — typically social media-originated but not necessarily, though always quite young — are making somewhat successful leaps over to podcasting. Which, if true, probably says a lot more about the strength of their specific (voluminous) followings than about any innate relationship between the influencer-podcast world.

With that in mind, I found the following bit of news interesting. From the Hollywood Reporter: “TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio have signed with UTA in all areas. The sisters’ parents, Marc and Heidi D’Amelio, have also signed with the agency, which will work with the family on digital content, live touring, podcasts, books, TV, and licensing and endorsements.”

Again, an instance of the influencer class expanding their territories, including even audio, but alternately, this is also a story of talent agencies squishing audio into their overall understanding of reach platforms.

Lawsuit over Audible’s “Caption” feature apparently settled. Back in September, Caroline wrote about a legal scuffle that saw a group of book publishers file a suit against the audiobook giant over its “Captions” program, which uses automated transcription to produce read-along text that appears on a smartphone screen while an audiobook was playing. Though Audible framed the technology as an educational feature, the publishers argued it constituted an “unauthorized and brazen infringement of the rights of authors and publishers.”

Anyway, the scuffle appears to have been resolved. Here’s Publishers Weekly on the matter: “In a January 13 letter, Audible attorney Emily Reisbaum ‘writing on behalf of all parties,’ informed Judge Valerie Caproni that the sides ‘have resolved their disputes,’ and asked the judge to give them until January 21 to allow the parties to submit signed settlement documents to the Court for approval.

And just so we’re all on the same page, here’s what Caroline wrote about why this story may be directly significant to our interests:

Part of the reason this whole situation seems really relevant to our interests is because I suspect that we’re not very far off a similar moment in podcasting, given the encroaching prevalence of automated transcription within podcasting apps and platforms. Apple and Google are already doing it (to varying extents), and one would guess that Spotify won’t be far behind. This under-the-hood feature is, for now, being sold to podcasters and listeners alike as a tool to enhance podcast search and episode discovery.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, no man is an island.