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Insider June 2, 2022 — Don’t sleep on the SSL

Megaphone experiences a major outage because of an expired security certificate, plus new gadgets and ad stats

Hey, Hot Poders! Glad to be back. My leave was longer than expected, and even those few extra days had me behind in podcast world. (Like the Marc Maron deal! Good for him). As usual, feel free to send tips and other nuggets my way.

Today, Megaphone’s eight-hour (!) podcast outage, new podcast recording tech, and the creep rise of white noise podcasts.

Megaphone podcast outage caused by lapsed security certificate

Spotify’s Megaphone was down for eight hours late Monday and early Tuesday, making all podcasts hosted on the platform unavailable at that time. Megaphone, which Spotify acquired for $235 million in December 2020, is the hosting platform for top publishers like Crooked Media and Slate (and, disclosure, Vox Media) and distributes podcasts across platforms beyond Spotify. The reason for the outage was shockingly simple: Spotify forgot to renew the platform’s SSL certificate.

An SSL certificate, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer, is a data encryption tool for websites that allows a server to communicate with a client (your computer or phone, for example), sending data that others can’t easily modify or spy on. SSLs need to be periodically renewed and were recently capped at 13 months. However, according to data obtained by Podnews, Megaphone had secured a two-year SSL certificate in May 2020, seven months before it was acquired by Spotify. That certificate expired Monday night. Spotify acknowledged the SSL issue but did not comment as to why the lapse occurred and why it took so long to restore.

For a platform as big as Megaphone, eight hours is nothing to sniff at. It also extended well beyond Spotify itself, as Megaphone podcasts can be distributed across platforms like Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Podcast Twitter was not happy with the situation, as hosts warned fans of the outage and listeners implored Spotify to fix the problem. Podcasts were back online just before 6AM ET on Tuesday, and the issue was fully resolved by 9:45AM ET.

Hot Pod spoke with Luke Braun, a podcaster who hosts Locked On Vikings and Locked On NFL, who said that the outage could cost the shows thousands of downloads across platforms because the uploads were delayed. While Megaphone was down, the only platform to which he could post Tuesday’s episodes was YouTube since the video version of the podcast is uploaded separately. YouTube, he said, accounts for about 20 percent of his audience. 

Braun has used Megaphone to publish his podcasts since 2018 and is overall satisfied with the service. But he also wasn’t entirely shocked that the outage occurred over such a dumb mistake. “It seems like a brain fart,” he said.

Focusrite launches audio interfaces for podcasters

Focusrite, a UK-based company best known for making audio tools for musicians, has two new interfaces with podcasters in mind. The Verge’s senior audio director, Andrew Marino, who is much (much) more knowledgeable about podcast tech than I am, writes that Vocaster One and Two are designed with features specifically tailored to podcast recording. 

While the company’s standard Scarlett interfaces are meant to be stacked or mounted, the Vocasters are designed to lay flat on a desk with control knobs pointing up. The company says this better facilitates podcast workflow, as levels often have to be adjusted during recording (which is not as common in music recording). The simpler Vocaster One is a USB-C one-input interface, while the Vocaster Two is equipped with two-input / two headphone output and can take in audio via Bluetooth. The new interfaces are pricier than the Scarlett line. (Vocaster One and Two are $199.99 and $299.99, respectively, while the Scarlett Solo and the Scarlett 2i2 are $119.99 and $179.99.) 

Who needs a white noise machine when you have podcasts?

White noise podcasts are climbing the charts and making big bucks, according to a fascinating piece by Hot Pod foremother Ashley Carman. Shows that are hours of pure, calming sounds have struck a chord with listeners who just need to zone out, with some sneaking onto the top podcast charts. One showrunner Carman spoke with said his team earns more than $18,000 a month through ads on Anchor. Another said that he has earned $10,000 through subscriptions — not bad for a show with the catchy title 12 Hour Sound Machines (no loops or fades).

There is one ASMR show sitting on Spotify’s top 100 today, Relaxing White Noise, which has eight-hour episodes of sounds like “lake ambience” and “fan sounds.” It’s not exactly Pulitzer-winning stuff, but it clearly has an audience. With highly produced white noise pods available for free, perhaps the $60 sound machine will go the way of the iPod. 

What are the most valuable podcast genres?

Libsyn, which acquired ad marketplace AdvertiseCast last year, reports that podcast advertising rates have mostly held steady for the past month, even as inflation has rattled the stock market. The average 60-second spot CPM, which is the dollar rate per thousand listens, was $23.77 in May, down only slightly since April. 

But, not all genres pay equally. Business pods’ well-heeled audiences fetch a higher price tag for advertisers with CPMs of $28. Tech and children’s podcasts also fetch premium rates with $26 CPMs. Rates are also higher for shows with audiences between 1,000 and 9,999 listeners than for those with 100,000 ($27.65 versus $20.66 CPM). While that might sound counterintuitive, smaller niche podcasts may offer advertisers a better value per stream if they have a clearer idea of who is listening, as opposed to a broader show with a more varied audience.

Have a glorious Thursday. Or, if that’s not possible, a perfectly fine one.