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Insider: March 18, 2021 — Feeding Spinoffs, Watch Dogs, City Cast launches this month

Keep an eye on this.From The Verge:

Musicians aren’t thrilled with Spotify — they say the streaming platform undervalues their work and they deserve to be paid more per stream. So today, Spotify’s trying to address those concerns with a new website called Loud & Clear, which offers more insight into how much the platform pays artists and how that money is distributed.

What happens over there on the music side…Over at Vox Media, spinoffs and continued growth. Digiday has a tight piece up on how Vox Media has been using its more popular podcasts (in this specific case, their daily news pod Today, Explained) as a testing ground and incubator for spinoff audio properties (in this case, the weekly science show Unexplainable).

We’re seeing more of this style of approach to new show launches these days, typified on the one hand by a thinking that’s oriented around expanding a core brand or franchise — for Vox Media, it’s the whole Explained thing; for the New York Times, it’s The Daily; and so on — and on the other hand, by really leaning hard on the value of an existing dominant feed. The fundamental thinking being: why start a whole new audience development cycle around a new project when you can leverage off a publishing touchpoint that already has a strong footprint among listeners and generally lower the cost of entry for that new project?

Here, Vox Media is using the dominant Today, Explained feed to validate an idea and guide attention when that idea is validated enough to flip into a standalone project. An alternate approach, I think, can be found at The Ringer, which seems to leaning pretty deep into the notion of using one feed for several shows within the same subject area. The Daily recently published a four-part series on school reopenings through the lens of one Texas city, which in another context, could’ve been spun out as a separate feed to begin with.

As the podcast ecosystem (and podcast charts) get ever more saturated and crowded, launching whole new shows through other existing, active feeds will probably end up being more effective than appealing Apple Podcast for front page real estate. Of course, the risk here is possibly crowding a dominant podcast feed with stuff its subscribers — ahem, sorry, “followers” — don’t necessarily want. But that’s the essential risk-reward balance endemic to any marketing enterprise; it’s certainly worth more of a shot, more widely.

Meanwhile, before we move on, don’t miss Digiday’s other finding in the piece on the big picture around the Vox Media Podcast Network: revenue apparently grew 50% across the audio division — which, the piece notes, “includes over 200 podcasts, many of which are devoted to regional sports teams” — in 2020 compared to 2019. That data point came from Liz Kelly Nelson, which the piece also notes was recently promoted to VP of Audio at the company.

And just in case: I am once again reminding you that I’m a contributor to Vulture, which is a brand under New York Magazine, which these days is owned by Vox Media, because media consolidation, baby.Watch Dogs. Here’s something interesting.. From Variety:

The Media Roundtable, a group of organizations that aims to promote civility and stronger dialogue in media, is launching a chart of what it considers to be the podcasts that display the most and least bias. The debut of the chart, prepared by the research organization Ad Fontes Media, is part of a bid to get advertisers to support content of a better quality in an era when the proliferation of niche outlets makes such stuff more difficult to track.

I’m not familiar with Ad Fontes Media, which describes itself as a “media watchdog organization” that seeks to “make news consumers smarter and news media better,” in large part through creating and publicizing a chart system that designates the reliability and bias of various media outlets. That system, called the “Media Bias Chart,” is the cornerstone product in Ad Fontes Media’s output, and according to the website, the content ratings are formulated by “a small team of human analysts who have political views across the spectrum.”

Again, I’m not familiar with this organization, but I am familiar with another organization that’s listed as part of the Media Roundtable Oxford Road, the media agency that does a fair bit of work in the podcast industry. The agency apparently published a blog post announcing the initiative back in December, which totally flew by me. Here’s a portion of what CEO Dan Granger wrote about the effort at the time:

Media Roundtable’s purpose is to empower media and advertisers to advance even-handed reporting and opinion without malice. Our strategy is simple: shift the incentive structure that currently feeds our modern “Outrage Industrial Complex” and reward content that benefits its audience and treats its subjects with dignity, even if through disagreement, but always with respect.

I get why a group of media organizations and agencies would go out and try to do something like this, given podcasting’s increasing — perhaps ever-present? — associations with polarizing figures like Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, (insert other hypelord name here), and so on, combined with the medium’s general identity of being a hard-to-measure, hard-to-track, and hard-to-moderate space. (For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to think the latter feeling largely has to do with the relative newness of the medium; broadcast radio, for example, is also pretty hard-to-track if you really think about it, and the question of its moderation has largely been rendered moot by the sheer consolidation that exists in that space.)

Anyway, I find this interesting, but at the end of the day, the effectiveness of this initiative — or any initiative like this — is dependent on whether they’re able to successfully produce results (however defined), which in turns depends on whether they’re able to carve out a strong presence, a sense of credibility, and a clear reputation, which recursively enough, depends on whether they’re able to produce results (however defined). Because if not, what’s the point?

That said, there’s also the larger question of whether media bias assessments is something that can and should be trusted in the first place, both in terms of the actual practitioners and the very concept of media bias watchdog themselves. There’s some rich discussion on this already (see here and here), but generally, the thinking is: who watches the watchers, but who watches those who watch the watchers? What makes this organization more credible, more morally authoritative, and more trustworthy that the media companies themselves? It’s turtles on turtles, all the way back around.City Cast launches this month. City Cast, of course, is the new locally-oriented podcast-plus-newsletter company founded by David Plotz and backed by Graham Holdings, which I’ve been covering somewhatclosely over the past few months.

As a reminder, the company is starting off in two cities: Chicago and Denver. The Chicago products launched yesterday (led by Jacoby Cochran), and the Denver products (led by Bree Davies) are scheduled to roll out on March 25.

I’m excited about this, and being a Mountain West resident, I’ll be tuning into the Denver podcast when it comes out.Revolving Door.

  • Audible has named Leigh Zarelli as its new Chief Product Officer. Zarelli joins from Marriott International, where she served as SVP of Global Digital. According to the press release, she will “drive Audible’s global product roadmap and vision, overseeing Audible’s flagship product, Premium Plus, as well as its latest streaming offering, Audible Plus.”

  • Speaking of Audible, I’m told that Lindsay Michael is joining Amazon Music, where she’ll hold the title of “Podcast Manager, Canada.” Michael was a longtime veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where she mostly served as the co-host of the CBC’s Podcast Playlist program.

  • Spotted on good ol’ LinkedIn: Corinne Gillard is joining Spotify as Executive Producer of Original Content, starting next week. Gillard was most recently a SeniorProducer and Development Lead at Harpo Productions — a.k.a. Oprah Winfrey’s media empire — and was once the Director of Development at Crooked Media between 2017 and 2019.

  • Over at Three Uncanny Four, co-founder Laura Mayer has a new title: Head of Creative and Editorial. A rep with Sony Music confirmed the title change, and it comes not long after co-founder Adam Davidson’s rather abrupt-seeming departure from the company.

Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.Miscellaneous Notes

  • Right Wing Watch: Cumulus Media announced yesterday that Dan Bongino will host a new radio show that will fill the spot left open by Rush Limbaugh’s death. As a reminder, Bongino is part of the next-generation conservative media figures that have largely popped up through a mixture of Facebook, YouTube, and podcast engagements. The line blurs.
  • The Action Network, the sports betting media company, has announced a content partnership with The Volume, Colin Cowherd’s sports podcast network that was formed with iHeartMedia earlier this year.
  • From the New York Times: “U.K. Podcast Companies Want What the U.S. Has, Looking Past the BBC.” Nothing you wouldn’t already know from reading Caroline Crampton’s coverage here in Hot Pod over the years.