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Insider March 9, 2023 — SiriusXM gets a new podcast chief

Plus, the big video podcast push at Spotify

Since I am in no travel mode right now, I wasn’t able to head to LA for Spotify’s big Stream On event yesterday. Big thanks to my colleague Alex Heath for going in person while I streamed it from home like a newb. He had a great conversation with Spotify’s chief product officer, Gustav Söderström, which will be featured in next week’s episode of Decoder. We’ve got an early tease, though, and you can see what he had to say about podcasting below.

But first! SiriusXM has a new head of podcasting as it consolidates its many verticals.

EXCLUSIVE: Adam Sachs from Team Coco is SiriusXM’s new podcasting czar

After laying off 475 employees earlier this week, SiriusXM is reorganizing its podcasting business. Leading the programming for podcasting, as well as entertainment and comedy across SiriusXM’s businesses, is Adam Sachs, who came to the company last year as the president of Team Coco.

Sachs will report to chief content officer Scott Greenstein. “Adam is a leader who has developed more than one podcast company into a top content network with groundbreaking talent and scaled revenue streams,” Greenstein said in a statement to Hot Pod. “In this new position, he’ll play a critical role in continuing to grow our premium portfolio of comedy and entertainment programming on SiriusXM and our industry leading podcast network.”

The cross-company role has been newly created for Sachs, according to SiriusXM spokesperson Ron Gaskill. Megan Liberman, who led programming for entertainment, news, and talk, is leaving the company as a result of the reorganization. 

When SiriusXM bought Team Coco, it was something of a homecoming for Sachs. He was the CEO of Midroll Media from 2014 to 2016, during which time Midroll was acquired by Scripps, which also acquired Stitcher. The two companies were eventually combined and sold to SiriusXM in 2020. Sachs joined Team Coco in 2018 and has been key to the brand’s success (and hefty $93 million price tag).

Sachs and Greenstein seem to be aligned on how to build out SiriusXM’s podcasting business going forward. Yesterday, I reported that Greenstein had advocated at an all-hands meeting for making fewer shows and making them better. When I spoke with Sachs at Hot Pod Summit in LA last fall, he echoed a similar sentiment.

“If you asked me a year ago, I would have given you these arbitrary numbers, like ‘by the end of 2023, we’re gonna have 20 podcasts on the network, and then we’re gonna have 50 the year after that!’ And that doesn’t really make sense. More podcasts do not equal more success,” he said. “It is really hard to launch a new podcast and make something great that people are going to discover today because there’s so many podcasts out there. And so for us, it’s more about being choosier about what we make.”

He was speaking specifically about Team Coco’s priorities, but it is easy to see how that could expand to podcasting and entertainment overall. While Team Coco is still indivisible from O’Brien himself, the network has done a good job giving a platform to comedians like Nicole Byer and Laci Mosley. I hope, despite internal fears that the network will move even further in a celebrity-oriented direction, that Sachs can maintain that sensibility.

Guess what’s new at Spotify? More video podcasts

At yesterday’s Stream On event, head of global podcast studios Julie McNamara unveiled a slew of new video podcast deals with Gen Z-friendly creators like Markiplier and Julia Fox. She touted higher engagement with video podcasts and brought out Call Her Daddy host Alex Cooper to extoll the benefits of video. “Video podcasting is one of the fastest growing areas of podcasting, and we expect that growth to continue,” she said.

And what do you know, all this video content will be perfect for Spotify’s new homepage design, which has a TikTok-like endless scrollability for finding new songs and podcasts through autoplaying videos.

My first reaction: uuuuUuUuUuUuuuuugh. My second reaction: begrudging acceptance. Look, I get it! Chief product officer Gustav Söderström says the homepage’s new feed will boost discoverability, and video is absolutely better suited. It is more shareable on social media, a la uncuh jams. Also, the kids simply love watching videos on silent with closed captioning on (my eyes are too tired for that). Plus, YouTube has become a force in the podcasting space, and TikTok is next. Makes sense!

But also, isn’t all this stuff starting to look the same? Spotify ups the ante on video; YouTube starts optimizing for audio; TikTok will make TikTok podcasts. Okay! But these escalating corporate developments do have me worried about where exactly audio-focused creators fall in this new landscape.

My Verge colleague Alex Heath (who writes the excellent newsletter Command Line, check it out) spoke with Söderström after the event. Here is a preview of what he had to say about the renewed push on video podcasts:

ALEX: I think there will be a natural concern that Spotify is showing off all this new video podcasting stuff. Does that mean if I’m an audio podcaster, I’m not going to get the same level of distribution? 

GUSTAV: If you look at the announcement today, we showed a lot of video because it is something that is happening right now. So it’s something we’re excited about. But it’s still the case that the majority of podcasting is audio … I think there are distinct formats of podcasting which are supposed to be audio, and then there are some forms of podcasting that benefit greatly from having video because it’s a face-to-face discussion.

Okay so, good to know that they know audio is still the bread and butter of podcasting. I think the thing to keep an eye on is how the company’s new discovery tools will serve audio-only podcasts. I am not sure that the new homepage is it, but Söderström did also mention at the event that there would be a new autoplay function, which will line up another podcast once the episode you are listening to ends. 

They also got into how podcast ads will function on the new feed, particularly as it pertains to video podcasts. In short? They won’t.

GUSTAV: You’re absolutely right that video advertising dollars are bigger than audio advertising dollars, which is why we’re very excited about the growth of videos. But those ads are actually in the podcasts. They’re not in the feed.

ALEX: And they won’t come to the feed?

GUSTAV: We have no plans for that right now. What we’re optimizing for right now is to get you to see and listen to more of these podcasts.

You can listen to the interview in full when the episode drops on Tuesday, March 14th.

I’ll have more Stream On debrief tomorrow (Anchor, we hardly knew ye?).