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Insider January 26, 2023 — Downloads are going up

Also: NPR cuts a fellowship program, and TikTok revives another song as a hit.

Hello, everyone. I’m here today while Ariel is out. No, I’m not listening to Normal Gossip yet, but I do have someone in my life who will recount the episodes to me beat by beat. Last year’s episode about the sweater and the vacation sounds bonkers. (Slate actually did an interview with the show’s producer, Alex Sujong Laughlin, about how they make the episodes so hooky; she describes the sweater as “sort of like a totem for the episode,” which I found interesting.)

Today, more fallout from budget cuts, TikTok is still making hits, and lots of interesting podcast stats.

NPR cancels its fall fellowships, while Spotify keeps its internships up

NPR made another cut to a vital early career program this week, canceling this fall’s Kroc Fellowships, which would have accepted three recent graduates to a paid year-long program of “hands-on training in audio and digital journalism.” The program has run for 17 years, and NPR says many of its former fellows continue to work at the network and member stations.

“We understand the importance of this program and the opportunity it provides for the next generation of journalists,” NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara tells Hot Pod. “We hope to reinstate the program in the future.”

The program was canceled “in order to address current financial challenges,” Lara said. This comes after NPR canceled its summer internship program in December as a way to address the $10 million in budget shortfalls the organization is currently facing. The Kroc Fellowship program is “funded directly out of NPR’s annual operating budget and it is not directly funded through distributions from the endowment” made by Joan B. Kroc, for whom the program is named, Lara said.

While three roles is not necessarily a huge cut in the scheme of things, NPR’s decision to cut internships and fellowships for 2023 will absolutely be damaging to the pipeline of talent looking to break into the audio industry. NPR boasts on its internship page that, as of June 2020, about 1 out of 6 of its employees came through its internship program, including some top talent.

In a weird twist, Spotify seems to be taking the opposite approach as it slashes costs: the company closed all full-time job openings as part of its layoffs on Monday, with the exception of 26 summer internships, which remain open, as noted by Podnews. The internships range from data analysis to engineering and product design.

– with reporting from Ariel Shapiro

TikTok is still making hits

I’d been wondering if TikTok’s hitmaking powers had fallen — it’s been a while since the platform blew an artist up as meaningfully as Lil Nas X or returned an album in as splashy a fashion as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours — but maybe those powers are just getting more dispersed. Stereogum spotted that Mac DeMarco’s 2019 song “Heart To Heart” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, years after its original release. The reason? TikTok, of course.

A short melancholy clip from the song has been used in TikTok videos some 100,000 times, with the top five videos alone accounting for more than 50 million views. The clips usually feature two characters: one person feeling isolated, the other providing a meaningful moment of recognition. It’s all very sweet. Here’s one about cats for all you cat people. (And me, I’m sorry.)

TikTok has, of course, helped to propel plenty of other songs: tracks like Harry Styles’ “As It Was” and Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” have been huge in recent months. But those artists were already mega hitmakers — there’s no way they weren’t going to chart, and TikTok felt more like a reflection of music culture than its own chamber of taste and hitmaking. DeMarco is by no means an unknown artist, but he’s very much playing in a different league than Styles. I don’t know that I can make sweeping predictions about where TikTok’s tastemaking abilities go next, but I wouldn’t be surprised if mainstream artists continue to crowd out some of the space that helps smaller artists to chart.

One thing I’m finding really interesting in comparison: Netflix seems to be able to make songs go viral now. Last year, it was Kate Bush via Stranger Things. This year, it’s Lady Gaga. Her 2011 song “Bloody Mary” hit the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this month after appearing in Wednesday.

Podcast downloads were up 20 percent in 2022

Here’s some promising news: podcast downloads increased by 20 percent from 2021 to 2022, with listeners downloading an average of 5.6 episodes per week. That’s according to the new year-end podcast report from Triton Digital, which says an average of 3.8 hours of material is being downloaded per listener.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff in the report, and I’d absolutely recommend giving it a read — you can scroll through it in just a few minutes. But here are a handful of highlights I found interesting:

-94 percent of podcast listening is happening on mobile. On the flip side, smart speaker listening has fallen by half since 2020. (To be fair, we were all stuck inside, so I imagine the numbers spiked.)

-Apple Podcasts accounts for nearly 53 percent of all downloads, remaining the undisputed download powerhouse.

But downloads ≠ listeners, and Triton’s measurements show 3x more listeners on Spotify than on Apple. Those two services combined account for half of all podcast listeners, per the report. (The “downloads vs. listeners” debate around how ads are sold is certain to rage on.)

-News, comedy, and true crime are the biggest three genres for podcasts. But one downside of news shows: their back catalogs get way less traction than other categories. Fully half of downloads for “health and fitness” pods come from their back catalog. That’s efficient!

-The top five sales networks, by download, are Stitcher, NPR, Audacy, Wondery, and Cumulus.

That’s all for today. Ariel will be back tomorrow.

Correction: In the email, I originally wrote “downloads ≠ listens” and “more than 3x listening” about Spotify vs. Apple. It should be “listeners.”