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Insider: June 18, 2020

Spotify announces two more exclusive content deals Another Round rights Simplecast acquired by SiriusXM... and more!

Spotify announces two exclusive content deals this week. The first, announced yesterday, is with Kim Kardashian-West, the celebrity multi-hyphenate, to produce a show around her work on wrongful convictions.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal with project details:

The show, to be available exclusively on Spotify, will follow the work of television producer Lori Rothschild Ansaldi as she investigates the case of Kevin Keith, who was convicted of three murders in 1994. Mr. Keith has long denied that he was the shooter in the case, which has been appealed several times and which the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear in 2018.

If the details of this project comes as a surprise to you, well… you probably haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians. This particular subplot in the expanded Kardashian universe has been going on since…. 2017, 2018, maybe? Anyway, one thing that’s analytically interesting about this project is how it sits neatly in the overlap of two lucrative genres, both in podcasting and beyond: celebrity and true crime.

The second, announced this morning, is a multi-year partnership with Warner Bros and DC that’ll see a bunch of original narrative scripted podcasts — see: fiction pods — built around various properties in the deep Warner Bros/DC character vault, which will be distributed exclusively over the Spotify platform. Two details that stand out to me: according to the circulated press release, Blue Ribbon Content (BRC), Warner Bros. Television Group’s digital studio, will be overseeing the creative relationship, and it’s further worth noting that, according to Variety, these programs will be exclusively licensed to Spotify “for a period of time.”

The main focus of the press coverage so far has been on the DC side of things, which makes sense given the general lucrative-ness of the comic book industrial complex, but equally interesting, I think, is the possibility of shows built around non-superhero characters in the broader Warner Bros arsenal: Buffy (though I guess she’s a superhero), Adult Swim, Supernatural, that kind of thing. Somebody brought up Gilmore Girls as well; shout-out to the Gilmore Guys, get that bag.

Anyway, I don’t think I have to repeat the whole thing about this being yet another addition to Spotify’s growing portfolio of exclusive podcast programming assets, and that we’re likely to see more in the weeks to come, and that it’s all situated within a broader strategy that also includes ad tech and buying a couple of podcast studios, yadda yadda yadda, you know the drill.

Here’s my framework on this: maybe it’s the First Take gene in me, but I get the feeling that Spotify might be stacking too many chips on this “exclusive” – ”brand name established elsewhere” – ”starting new project from scratch” strategy; with the hyper-emphasis being on the pull potential of the brand name. The stock market seems to like these deals — Spotify’s stock is up 18% over the past two days — and that itself might already realize the immediate value for the company, but I think it’s pretty important to keep in mind that we haven’t actually seen this strategy perform well at a high level just yet. Which isn’t to say that it won’t, maybe, at least with some of these projects. But any analysis that sees any of these deals and interprets it as some sort of immediate win would be premature. The goal with these things is to draw attention, ultimately draw listeners, and ultimately-ultimately draw advertisers. It has the first thing; let’s find out about the latter two.

Anyway, I also wrote this news up for Vulture, where I gave a nod to the other comic book-podcast partnership of note: Marvel-Stitcher.SiriusXM acquires Simplecast. Pretty straightforward story here. From the press release:

SiriusXM announced today the acquisition of Simplecast, a leading podcast management platform that enables podcasters to publish, manage, and measure their content. The Simplecast solution, paired with the award-winning monetization platform of AdsWizz, the adtech subsidiary of SiriusXM, creates an end-to-end solution that enables creators to publish and generate revenue from their podcasts, all in one place.

No specifics on the dealsize, and for the bean-counters in the crowd, TechCrunch points out that the start-up had raised “a modest $7.87 million in funding from investors since launching in 2013, per PitchBook data.”

The podcast hosting platform layer has remained fairly competitive, and I suppose the way I’d think about it is to see it as particularly difficult for platforms that aren’t pushing for enterprise-level clientele with emphasis on a potential pathway towards some programmatic option, a la Megaphone and Art19. And perhaps if you’ve raised venture capital, it wouldn’t really be an option to remain a pure hosting platform, focusing only on an array of smaller podcasts, medium-sized podcasts, and some number of large podcast providers.

So this outcome for Simplecast is presumably one of the better ones for that company. Though, as of writing, I’m still pretty unclear about what SiriusXM wants from podcasting — how it can provide differentiable value, if podcasting actually factors into its satellite-radio dominated interests — even with Pandora in the bag. Howard Stern remains the biggest story, and presumably the biggest factor, for that company; Forbes noted in their write-up that SiriusXM confirmed this week that they’re still in talks with the shock jock.Keep an eye on this. The creators of Another Round, Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, are currently pressuring BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti over Twitter to grant them rights to the show’s back catalogue. Lots baked into this — tied to issues of racial equity within institutions, equity between talent and studio, among other things — and the situation seems to still be evolving, so we’ll pick this back up on Tuesday. For now, start here, here, and here.Public Radio Bloodbath. Three organizations announced deep cuts this week due to economic turmoil stemming from the coronavirus pandemic:

(1) APM/MPR announced on Tuesday that its laying off 28 staff members. Its also ending The Hilarious World of Depression podcast, and ceasing national production of Live From Here.

(2) That same day, Chicago Public Media/WBEZ announced that it was laying off 12 staff members, and ending production of Sound Opinions. Here’s the Current report on that matter.

(3) Yesterday, WBUR announced that it was laying off more than 10% of its staff, totaling up to 29 people, including several newsroom leaders. The organization is also ending production for Only A Game, its award-winning weekly sports magazine, and Kind World, which, it should be noted, is a podcast hosted by two women of color.

A related WBUR development: it was also announced that the New York Times is taking over the popular Modern Love podcast at the end of the month. I had originally interpreted this move as part of the shake-ups, but I’ve learned that this had been in the plans for a while, and was grouped in with these larger developments.

There are lots and lots and lots of threads packed into this story; I think I’d like to spin this out into a column for next Tuesday, or at least an expanded item. More soon.