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Insider: July 16, 2021 — Automattic buys Pocket Casts, BBC Audio Lab, Smart Speakers Up when Down Under

NICK NEWS. Hey all, butting in for a hot second with something that was announced a few hours ago: Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, has acquired Pocket Casts, the third-party podcast app that was mostly operated by a consortium of public radio organizations. That consortium had reportedly put the app up sale back in January. A pretty straight-forward situation, might expand for Tuesday.

Okay, back to Aria.

BBC debuts podcaster-training program. The BBC announced on Wednesday that it would be accepting applicants for a new program, called Audio Lab, in which nascent and underrepresented audio makers will have the opportunity to conceptualize and develop BBC-produced podcasts; they’ll also be paid for the days spent on it. There’s a lengthy press release about the initiative, but the landing page sums up the mission by saying, “if you think podcasts don’t reflect your truth – this is your chance to change that.”

Six applicants will be selected and contacted sometime around September, and each will be paired with a BBC producer to work on the project they pitched in their application. There’s a lot more to the program that I encourage folks to read up on, including a series of masterclasses that serve to offer guidance before people even apply; terms of varying specificity (for royalties, IP, etc.) are also already in writing — highly recommend checking out the terms and conditions for all that. Applicationsopened this past Wednesday and will close August 29. Prepare to come with an idea for a show (the genre of which “can range from monologue or spoken word or a conversation between two or more people, to fact based or documentary style audio, soundscape, or a hybrid of styles”) that could hypothetically be produced within three to six months.

Though it’s the first such program from the BBC, it might feel familiar to some folks in how it mirrors some existing U.S.-based programs. For one, it’s reminiscent of the new Edit Mode incubator, even though that explicitly seeks to train editors, because both it and the BBC’s Audio Lab offer the opportunity to walk away with a tangible product, and both also require existing experience producing audio (in the case of Audio Lab, one year, though the terms stipulate that you also can’t have more than five). In that way, it could perhaps be thought of as a combination of AIR’s New Voices scholarship and Transom’s Story Workshop(though that costs major dollars, rather than pays ‘em out), except, with Audio Lab, you could hypothetically walk away with your own syndicated show. But again, read up. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Edison releases first study on smart speakers in Australia. Edison Research, in partnership with Commercial Radio Australia and TalkVia, released its Smart Audio Report Australia 2021, which was conducted from mid April to early May of this year.

There are lots of ways to shuffle data, some of which make the numbers look really big (e.g., using tallies instead of percentages). That said, the findings that you’re probably most capable of hanging your hat on are the ones represented by shares of the Australian population. Here’s one: that, in a relatively short amount of time, the overall number of smart speaker owners has increased from the original 17% of Australians ages 12 and up that was measured in 2020 — in about a year, it’s grown to about a quarter of that same population.

Here’s another: A quarter of those people have at least three devices at home. Oof. That sounds like a lot of “oops, my Living Room Alexa heard me when I was trying to talk to my Kitchen Alexa and now they’re both engaged and yelling at me just a hair out of sync and I feel like I’m in a horror movie.” I actually don’t know if that happens when you have multiple speakers; I’m not the rich. What’s interesting is that, actually, Amazon holds a pretty small share of the smart-speaker market in Australia (3%), at least compared to Google (24%). So, if you want, you can play that same situation out in your head, but replace “Alexa” with “Google Home Mini.” Doesn’t quite sound as good, but it’d perhaps be a more accurate impersonation of the Aussie Elite.

Here are some other findings:

  • Of Australian smart-speaker owners, 88% use them weekly, 67% daily
  • Australian ownership levels are “quickly” approaching those in the U.S. — three years ago, Australia’s 5% trailed the U.S.’s 18%; now it’s 26% to our 33%

And one particularly interesting one, especially if your line of work involves customer or listener engagement: Owning a voice assistant/smart speaker could mean either increased or decreased interaction with other technology. From the report — “49% say they are using their voice-operated assistant on their smartphone more since getting a smart speaker, and 40% say they spend less time with other technology since getting their smart speaker.”

No explicit mentions of podcasts in the report, but as audio engagement increases in general, one can only assume that podcasts — along with music, news, skills, audiobooks, etc. — are seeing a bump as a result.

More rentable media space cropping up. While acknowledging that this article about rental recording space in Vancouver was sponsored by the company running that same space, and that the concept of rentable recording studios is nothing new, it reminded me that around the same time as seeing the article, I was also alerted to a forthcoming coworking/studio-rental startup, since that company, InDEA BOX, was putting out a call for a COO (interested folks can contact Arielle Nissenblatt about it; email is a.nissenblatt@gmail.com). And since three’s a trend, here’s another thing I recently heard on my favorite real-estate podcast (you have one of those, right?): that the co-founder of Swimply, the company that lets people rent out their pools, is considering expanding to renting out home recording studios, too.

The Podcast Garage in Boston has, in my impression, made renting a recording studio for podcasting feel pretty commonplace, and this database lists a bunch of international studio spaces that you could book for something like a remote interview (in lieu of or in addition to hiring a tape syncer who’s local to that area) but it appears that, recently, multiple entities are pursuing and pitch the idea as a new thing. As a sellable thing. A Concept, if you will. While expanding the geographic reach of current place-based audio communities wouldn’t be a bad thing (perhaps in the style of not only The Podcast Garage but the DC Listening Lounge or Denver’s House of Pod), I’m curious to know if there will be any elements within the previously mentioned business models that will set them apart or above, if that’s what they’re claiming to be bringing to the table. For one, the company that’s currently hiring, InDEA BOX, appears to be selling the idea of networking opportunities, since it’s described as more of a traditional co-working space, though exclusively for “media and entertainment” professionals. But, again, as far as novelty goes, House of Pod, at the very least, is already on that. So we’ll see.

And, real quick — Audible signs another deal. This one is with Jaywalker Pictures, the film-and-TV production company launched by Laura Dern and Jayme Lemons. The two will produce alongside Jason Weinberg and Steven Nossokoff of Untitled Entertainment to make podcasts for Audible, the announcement reads, and the Amazon arm gained a multi-project development deal and first-look guarantee for forthcoming podcasts.

Add that to the deals penned with Elizabeth Banks, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, etc., and pair it with the larger trend of existing screen stars staking their claim in audio: This other Hollywood Reporter piece noted that, of the top 200 podcasts that were launched in 2020, 11% (or 22 in total) were hosted by Hollywood stars, such as Rob Lowe and Jason Bateman and other guys who look like them, imo.

The Audible-Dern-Lemons announcement itself hints, intentionally or not, at the backdrop on which it’s set, listing out seven other shows that forthcoming Jaywalker products will join, five of which are hosted by and/or created by current celebrities. Perhaps the greatest irony here, in the context of screen stars dominating what was previously a relatively separate industry, is contained in the very name of the business that Audible — an audio company — just partnered with: Jaywalker Pictures. I guess this is the world now.