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Insider: January 22, 2021 – Follow-ups to Audiobooks and Apple Podcasts+, Misinformation Watch, A Quick Request

Quick Request. So, I’ve always liked it whenever shows crowdsource voicemails and takes, and I figured that as the first (maybe only?) season of Servant of Pod is entering its final stretch, we’re working to test out something of that nature for a SOP episode that’s slate to drop a few weeks from now:

With no timing peg whatsoever, I’m hoping to build an episode reflecting on the legacy of Serial and how, broadly speaking, the phenomenon of that first season has and continues to influence the shape of podcasting as we know it today. Obviously, it won’t be a comprehensive spot — SOP eps generally run about thirty minutes, after all — but my intent here is simply to start laying down some pieces to start systematically thinking through what was undoubtedly a pivotal moment for this ecosystem.

Anyway, to that end, I’m hoping to crowd-source a segment for that upcoming episode, and I’m looking for short voice memos from the Hot Pod readership on how you think if and how that first season shaped podcasting as we know it, if and how it shaped your own work, if and how it’s…. for lack of better terminology overrated or underrated in hindsight, and what you generally remember about that stretch in late 2014-early 2015 when it was possible to walk around New York and overhear complete strangers talk about the pod more than once on the same day, which is precisely what happened to me.

So, if you’re interested, send me a voice memo; nothing super fancy. Or just write to me and I can help get you set up. I’ll be putting this call out on the Tuesday newsletter as well. Thanks.Selected Notes…

  • Patreon is reportedly considering an IPO as soon as this year, according to The Information.
  • Spotify has expanded its Streaming Ad Insertion program to the UK and Germany.
  • APM’s Brains On! is launching its Spanish-language version on Monday, January 25. The adaptation comes out of the partnership forged between APM and reVolverpodcasts, originally announced last summer.
  • From the Financial Times: “The BBC is examining how to cut a fifth of output as the broadcaster explores ways to better focus funds and cope with what the UK public spending watchdog has called ‘a significant financial challenge.’”

A few follow-up to Tuesday’s newsletter… First, quick thing about the Pushkin direct-to-consumer audiobook story that I excised from the Tuesday column for space. So, it’s experiments and executions like these that really reinforce, to me, the extent to which the conventions applied to the audio files that are distributed over podcast feeds are actually so… arbitrary, for lack of a better term. Podcast feeds are equally capable of delivering twenty minutes episodes and six hour experiments, and the reality of that is only sometimes meaningfully exploited. Much of this, of course, comes down to both certain assumptions made on how people want to consume their podcast experiences and also the realities/expectations of how money — particularly advertising money — is thought to be typically made in podcasting. But that possibility and tension remains very much there, and if anything, this Pushkin audiobooks situation underscores that for me.

Also, another thing I wanted to explore in Tuesday’s column but had to ditch: questions about the extent to which the current composition and dynamics online ebook self-publishing could be instructive for how the direct-to-consumer audiobook via paywalled RSS feed gambit might play out. I don’t want to deny the potentially revolutionary nature of what Pushkin’s experiment suggests; at the same time, I’m curious if there are potential pitfalls and problems that the experience of direct-to-consumer ebooks can forecast.

Second, two quick follow-ups to the Apple Podcasts+ column: some folks wrote in to bring up Patreon-driven operations as perhaps a counter-example to my general skepticism over a paid podcast service. For what it’s worth, I categorically bracket out “direct support”/Patreon-support operations as a third business model outside of advertising and paid subscription. In my mind, it’s premised on a different structure of value relationship between the creator and the consumer.

Also: my apologies for completely forgetting about Ted Lasso when I wrote the whole stretch about Apple TV+ not having a hit. I don’t know if Ted Lasso is actually a hit, but it’s a hit in my heart, and I completely forget that that was an Apple TV+ show, and I am ashamed of this omission. I understand if you wish me ill.Misinformation Watch. The final blurb in my preview column last week was all about content moderation and how podcasting is due for some broader acknowledgment that the ecosystem is almost certainly a noteworthy vector for conspiracy theories — so much so that the major platforms, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or Spotify, should be paying closer attention to what they’re facilitating over their infrastructure.

Last weekend, the Associated Press published what was perhaps the deepest-dive by a mainstream publication into the problem to date. Titled “Extremists exploit a loophole in social moderation: Podcasts,” the piece focused its attention on the example of a handful of conspiracy theory podcasts affiliated with QAnon, radical pro-Trump movements, and white supremacists, using them to illustrate the free but partially obscured flow of this type of content. The piece also highlighted vast inconsistencies in the application of content moderation policies across different platforms. Sometimes those inconsistencies exist between platforms operated by the same owner. One noted example: Steve Bannon’s War Room has been banned from YouTube after the former Trump adviser called for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci and former FBI director Christopher Wray, but is still available on Google Podcasts.

Business Insider would soon follow with their own write-up on this matter, and Pro Publica would later publish a longer piece that dives deeper into the trickiness of de-platforming on Tuesday. Do take the time to go over all of these, if you can. This issue is, of course, a particularly sticky wicket, not least because of the double-edged nature of any meaningful step towards content moderation, but that shouldn’t be reason for little action.

Meanwhile, it looks like Cumulus Media’s conservative hosts have continued to hit that election fraud misinformation drum, in doing so defying the previously-reported memo from the company’s executives directing its talent and staffers to quit contesting the election results and feeding the rancor that’s fueling the possibility of more political violence in the coming days. Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog group, compiled a list of instances over the past week in which conservative Cumulus hosts — including Dan Bongino and Mark Levin — continued to engage with election fraud rhetoric despite the executive memo.

Worth noting: Cumulus’ internal memo (first reported by Inside Music Media followed by the Washington Post) apparently carried the threat of termination. It’s also worth noting that the Media Matters further noted that Bongino and Levin claim to have not received that memo. (A vaguely familiar stance.) Conservative star Ben Shapiro, also a Cumulus personality, is said to not have seen the memo as well, though, as the Post points out, he’s somewhat atypical among his peers for telling his listeners that President Trump’s claims of election rigging was wrong. More broadly, though, is an intriguing tension to track: a recurring subject for conservative media personalities is an absolutist commitment to free speech.

At first it seemed like we had a genuine situation in which the corporate distributor of such personalities are running up against that free speech tenet. But by Wednesday, it came to be revealed that any effort to tone down the polarizing rhetoric turned out to be limited, as the Washington Post notes in a follow-up report. While suspensions were doled out, it seemed applied to some and not others. Here’s the relevant section in the report.

Inside the talk-radio ecosystem, Cumulus’s new policy will weigh most heavily on local hosts, not national figures like Levin and Shapiro, said Brian Rosenwald, a University of Pennsylvania historian and the author of “Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States.” Popular personalities like Levin, whose program is carried on 150 stations and Sirius XM satellite radio, have long had leverage “to set their own terms,” he said.

A thoroughly unsurprising development. Also: I didn’t know Rush Limbaugh was syndicated by a company owned by iHeartMedia. Hm.

Finally, a related read: From OneZero’s Alex Kantrowitz: “The Moderation War Is Coming to Spotify, Substack, and Clubhouse.” We’ll see.Revolving Door.

  • Luis Trelles and Andrew Mambo joined NPR’s Enterprise Storytelling Unit this week. Trelles was previously the senior editor at Latino USA, and will now similarly serve as senior editor on the NPR unit. Mambo joins from ESPN, where he worked on the 30 for 30 Podcasts team, and will now operate on the Invisibilia team, which is set to relaunch the podcast later this spring with new hosts Yowei Shaw and Kia Miakka Natisse.

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