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Insider: June 25, 2020

- Scripps shopping around Stitcher? - WarnerMedia-iHeartMedia deal - Canadian fundraise... and more!

EW Scripps said to be exploring a sale of Stitcher, according to The Information. Not gonna strip-mine a piece of journalism from a highly-priced paywalled publication, but I’d like to just highlight one detail in the report: “Scripps is expected to approach both Spotify and Sirius, among other companies, to gauge their interest in buying Stitcher.”

I should say that word on a move like has been bouncing around the community for a while, though there’s only so much value to be gleaned from saying that. In any case, a Stitcher spokesperson told The Information that the company does not comment on rumors.

For what it’s worth, the notion of Scripps shopping Stitcher around right now makes sense to me. The Cincinnati-based conglomerate bought Midroll, the core for what is now Stitcher, for about $50 million back in the halcyon days of 2015 and bought the Stitcher app for $4.5 million a year later, before rebranding the whole thing under the Stitcher name in 2018. Which is to say, they made those acquisitions before Spotify’s major podcast spends hyper-capitalized the narrative around the medium, and so if you were in a situation to sell significantly higher on an asset that you might not want to manage over the long run, you should probably get out there and try to get that sale. And indeed, there is an argument to be made that perhaps Stitcher doesn’t actually naturally fit into Scripps’ broader operating ecosystem, which are particularly heavy on television, broadcast radio, and news.

In my mind, there are three things to think through.

Here’s the first thing: how do we think about Stitcher’s value? I tend to think of the company as the biggest and most robust version of an older model of a podcast company. It’s an end-to-end entity, a product of the mid-2010s stretch: it has an app, it has an ad sales operation, it has original content, it has a network of talent partners. Notably, it has one of the most battle-tested executive teams in the business. It also has a valuable partnership with the creators of My Favorite Murder, with which they signed a $10 million+ deal last December.

But of course, the problem with the end-to-end model in the podcast business, circa 2020, is the fact that you now have pressure from both on high and down below. On the one hand, you have big-ass companies like Spotify that could outspend you on content deals and outflank you on technology and distribution. And on the other hand, you have a growing galaxy of specialized smaller businesses that can outrun you on a number of specific functions. As we’ve come to see time and time again, one of the fundamental outcomes of a digital space that’s hyper-charged by capital is a situation where the big gets bigger, or pushes to become bigger in order to survive, and niche gets nichers, or pushes to become nichier in order to survive. Everything in the middle tends to suffer, and so I think a big question with Stitcher’s potential future value could be: should the acquisitional push be oriented around getting Stitcher to be bigger, or does it involve breaking the company up into specific niche targets?

Which brings us to the second question: who are the theoretically possible buyers? The Information’s report explicitly name-checked Spotify and SiriusXM — for what it’s worth, the latter makes more sense to me than the former, given that Spotify already has what Stitcher can potentially offer on many counts and that, as I’ve mentioned in other newsletters, I still don’t have much faith that SiriusXM has a clear plan or internal leadership team that really knows how to think about podcasts.

That said, what Stitcher potentially offers in its current form is a possible starter kit for any big ol’ media/entertainment company/conglomerate to pick up and start building a position in the business, and so I wouldn’t necessarily limit the theoretical pool of suitors to corporations that have already made strategic podcast acquisitions. Indeed, I might even start thinking about big ol’ media players that have tried and failed to build their own internal podcast operations, and are now looking to jumpstart those efforts.

Third and last question, which is just a detail note: what’s going to happen to Triton Digital?From the Hollywood Reporter: “WarnerMedia, iHeartMedia to produce companion podcasts for HBO Max shows.” This development comes, of course, not long after Warner Bros, a division of WarnerMedia, announced an exclusive podcast partnership with Spotify to produce shows based on its IP inventory, particularly around its DC properties.

From an angle, it might look like WarnerMedia dipping a few different toes in a few different podcasting ponds. But from another angle, it just looks like different divisions of a larger conglomerate making their own individual approaches to an on-demand audio effort.

Speaking of HBO…From The Root: “Issa Rae’s Raedio, HBO and Tenderfoot TV to donate $30k to the Black and Missing foundation.”The donation is pegged to the release of the Looking for Latoya podcast, which is a one episode special based on the show-within-the-show of the same name that featured in the fourth season of Insecure.From Variety: “Topic Studios hires Christy Gressman to head Podcast Team, announces shows in development.” Gressman was formerly a partner of Night Vale Presents, the network-label-collective that came out of Welcome to Night Vale. According to the Variety pece, Gressman will report to Maria Zuckerman, EVP of Topic Studios, and basically have a hand in virtually every aspect of podcast development at the organization moving forward.

Topic Studios, of course, is the entertainment division of the somewhat volatile entity known as First Look Media, the Pierre Omidyar-founded media company that also houses The Intercept. As a publisher of podcasts, it’s perhaps best known for developing and financing Dan Taberski’s works under the Headlong banner: Missing Richard Simmons, Surviving Y2K, and Running From Cops.

The announcement of Gressman’s hire also comes with word of an upcoming slate, which includes a new show from Brendan Francis Newnam, an investigative series about the assassination of Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and a series about the “the wild rise and dramatic fall of American TelNet, a telecommunications company that pioneered live phone sex.”Meanwhile, in Canada. Here’s a curious thing: Canadaland, Jesse Brown’s journalistic outfit, is receiving a $1 million funding round from The Tiny Foundation, a new nonprofit organization formed by Andrew Wilkinson and Holly Rohani Wilkinson. The former Wilkinson is the co-founder of Tiny, the Canadian holdings company that owns, among other things, Castro and Supercast. The funds will in part go towards funding Niagara Falls, the follow-up to Canadaland’s prior investigative series, Thunder Bay, which was led by Ryan McMahon.In the inbox: “PRX and Google have just announced a new year of the Google Podcasts creator program podcast accelerator and training program for podcasters around the world.” Applications will open July 1. Here’s the official post.Wondery launches its own podcast app. Sure. Here’s the Variety write-up.