Skip to contents
Hot Pod Insider
Premium

Insider May 5, 2022 – Cumulus doesn’t take the deal

Plus, Wondery inks deals with eight more shows

After a bout of garbage weather, it is a glorious spring day in NYC. I’m gonna work outside so I can serve “healthy glow” rather than “raw chicken” vibes. Also, hopefully, the sunshine will make me forget that women’s rights in this country are eroding at an alarming rate.

Anywho, on with the news! Cumulus rejects a takeover bid, Wondery cuts a slew of deals with mid-tier shows, and more moves at The New York Times’ audio department.

Cumulus rejects $1.2 billion buyout

The radio giant announced yesterday morning that it is rejecting an unsolicited takeover bid. In a letter to shareholders, CEO Mary Berner said that the offer was too low for further consideration. “The Board unanimously concluded that the indication of interest significantly undervalues the Company and is not in the best interests of its shareholders,” she wrote.

The offer by a group of investors led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw was for $15 to $17 per share to take the company private, clocking in at about $1.2 billion, including debt. That may seem like a plum offer for a company with a market cap under $300 million. But B. Riley analyst Daniel Day told Hot Pod that investors are betting the company has room to grow, particularly with podcasting and other digital audio revenue. “If this bid can get into the $20s [per share], that’s where I think you would start to see some shareholders be a little more excited about the offer,” he said.

Although Cumulus is best known as a broadcaster (it owns more than 400 stations around the country), its podcast network and ad rep services are becoming an increasingly big part of its future. It’s had particular success with conservative podcasts, including a lucrative ad partnership with Ben Shapiro (and before you ask — I am not related to him as far as I know, though my brother is also Ben Shapiro, and I promise they could not be more different). Cumulus has also had success converting right-wing radio host Dan Bongino into a podcasting hit, ranking in Edison Research’s top 20 shows in 2021. In its first-quarter earnings, the company reported 22 percent year-over-year growth in podcast revenue, and digital marketing services rose 35 percent, both outpacing the company’s overall growth of 15 percent.

Day projects that podcasting will bring in $50 million in revenue for Cumulus this year (for context, the company raked in more than $900 million in 2021). While that is paltry compared to the more than $250 million competitor iHeartMedia made from podcasts last year, it’s significant enough that consumers can expect Cumulus to bulk up on originals and ad partnerships with existing shows.

Even if leaders at the company are confident that Cumulus is on the right path, the board threw them a bone: the company announced a $50 million stock buyback program for shareholders, which Day said was accelerated because of Warshaw’s offer.

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon cuts new distribution deals with eight shows

Amazon’s podcast studio Wondery has cut a string of new exclusive distribution and ad sales deals ahead of next week’s Podcast Upfronts. After inking similar agreements with top podcasts like My Favorite Murder, How I Built This, and Morbid, Wondery is targeting mid-tier shows in white-hot genres like true crime, wellness, and sports. 

The new slate includes:

  • Four shows under the mindfulness-focused Ten Percent Happier umbrella, including the flagship podcast, Childproof, More Than A Feeling, and Twenty Percent Happier. All of them will be released a week early on the Wondery app and then be available on other podcast services, except for Twenty Percent Happier, which is exclusive to Amazon’s subscription podcast service, Wondery Plus. This deal commenced in March.
  • Three true-crime shows, including Crime in Sports, Small Town Murder, and Something Was Wrong. All three shows are exclusive to Wondery for one week before becoming widely available. Crime in Sports and Small Town Murder started their exclusivity window in April, while Something Was Wrong began this week.
  • Soccer podcast Men in Blazers. The deal does not include a one-week exclusivity window, but it does grant Wondery licensing and livestreaming rights, in addition to ad sales. The deal is in effect as of this week.

Deals for shows like this are going to be a recurring theme for the foreseeable future. SiriusXM’s leaders said last week that with most of the top-tier shows locked down in multi-year licensing and ad contracts, shows with solid (if not Rogan-sized) followings in booming genres will become the next targets. Be prepared for similar announcements by the companies participating in next week’s Podcast Upfronts.

Layoffs at Gimlet

Three people have been laid off at Spotify’s Gimlet Media, the Gimlet Union said in a statement on Tuesday. The union’s note said that all of those laid off were from a canceled show that used to be among the company’s top performers. According to the union, producers on canceled shows had been reassigned within the company in the past.

Both Spotify spokesperson Rosa Oh and the union, via Writers Guild of America, East spokesperson Jason Gordon, declined to elaborate on the situation. (Disclosure: the Gimlet Union is organized with the Writer’s Guild of America, East; Verge editorial staffers are also organized under WGAE.)

If you have any more information on the cancellation / layoffs, feel free to shoot me an email at ariel.shapiro@theverge.com.

The Daily gets a new executive producer

More moves at The New York Times’ audio department — the company announced Wednesday that it has hired This American Life vet Ben Calhoun to join the leadership team of its flagship podcast. For the past 20 years, Calhoun has moved between WBEZ and TAL, most recently working as an editor and hiring manager at the latter. 

As executive producer, Calhoun will run editorial operations for the podcast’s 50 employees and work with The Daily editor Lisa Chow to determine the editorial direction for the show.

Calhoun’s appointment marks NYT audio’s second big move in the past week, having announced last Thursday that political reporter Astead Herndon will host the publication’s upcoming midterm election podcast.

Correcting the record

Not my favorite thing to do, but I need to issue a correction for Tuesday’s issue. The piece on Michael Mignano stated that Megaphone was under his jurisdiction at Spotify. Megaphone actually falls under the company’s advertising business. Live and learn, people!

That’s it for me! See you tomorrow with iHeart earnings and more podcast goodness.