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Insider May 6, 2022 – Batman beats Rogan

Plus, iHeart leans on podcasts as recession looms large

Holy recession, Batman! Let’s get into it.

Spotify news dump: featured podcasts are in, stations are out, and Batman defeats Rogan

Spotify is now allowing podcasters to apply to have their shows featured on its service. Eligible podcasts (those that are free, comply with the company’s content rules, and are available on Spotify in the US) will be reviewed and, if selected, placed in high profile spots on the app like “Podcast Browse” and “Podcast New Releases.” You can apply here.

The announcement says that “each applicant will be considered” for a potential editorial feature. However, Spotify doesn’t say how submitted podcasts are vetted and what applicants’ chances are of being selected. Spotify spokesperson Anthony Langone would not comment on whether someone from the company will listen to selected podcasts before they are featured. While the program has real potential to improve podcast discovery on the platform, whether and how those content guidelines against misinformation are enforced when it comes to selected podcasts will be key to the company avoiding further snafus.

One new podcast, however, has had no trouble breaking through. Batman Unburied, a collaboration between Spotify and DC, premiered its first two episodes on May 3rd in multiple languages and has shot to the top of the company’s charts. The show is number one in the US, pushing Joe Rogan down to number two, maybe for the first time since he came to the streamer. With Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer penning the script and stars like Winston Duke and Gina Rodriguez attached, the show is getting more attention than any Hollywood-produced podcast to date. Hollywood has been trying to make podcasts work for years now, and the success of Batman Unburied could mark a turning point.

While Spotify gets deeper into podcasts, it is reportedly ditching its Pandora-esque music service, Spotify Stations. App users were notified that Stations will shut down on May 16th, reports 9to5Google. The company claimed that the app, which was introduced in the US in 2019, never moved beyond beta. Users will be able to transfer their stations to the main Spotify app. In case you wanted to check out the app before it’s done, you are out of luck: it does not appear to be available anymore on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

iHeart leans on podcasts as recession fears mount

Radio giant iHeartMedia reported massive growth in its podcasting business in its first-quarter earnings, with revenue of $69 million, up from $38 million during the same quarter last year. Podcasts have also grown as a share of the overall business, accounting for 8 percent of its total income, up from only 2 percent in 2020. Between its investments in podcasts, software, and other digital media services, the company now only gets two-thirds of its income from traditional broadcast (in 2020, it was more like four-fifths). 

That pivot to digital, said iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, “gives us a much different profile than in past downturns that you’ve seen in the economy, with just the straight radio business.”

While a recession may cause advertisers to tighten their belts, podcasts are still a hot (and relatively cheap) area and will fare alright even if the overall ad market shrinks, according to B. Riley analyst Daniel Day. “The newer things like the digital side, in a recessionary environment, should theoretically decline less than the legacy print, radio, and TV advertising,” he said.

COO and CFO Rich Bressler also credits the company’s podcast growth to the fact it has focused on being a publisher rather than focusing on ad rep deals like SiriusXM and Cumulus. Unlike ad rep deals, in which the distributor only gets a cut of the proceeds, “podcast publishers capture the full financial benefit of the advertising revenue,” Bressler said. 

Its massive roster of shows is also homegrown, converting popular radio shows like The Breakfast Club into podcasts and building on the Stuff Media brand it bought in 2018. The Stuff deal, which cost iHeart a now-bargain $55 million, was its last big content acquisition. According to data from Podtrac, they clock more than 33 million downloads and streams a month. And they are going to need those listens if the market keeps going the way it is.

SoundCloud buys AI that claims to predict hit songs

SoundCloud is also working on its discovery experience, acquiring AI firm Musiio earlier this week. The company claims that Musiio’s tech can “listen” to hours of music faster than any human and select the songs that share patterns and characteristics with chart-toppers. Finding the diamonds in the rough, traditionally a job for A&R execs in underground clubs, is becoming increasingly complicated as DIY music distribution platforms like SoundCloud lower the barrier to entry for amateur artists who flood platforms with new music. 

SoundCloud’s move into AI is not unique. TuneCore recently partnered with LA-based music startup Fwaygo, which uses AI to pair listeners with artists, while competitor DistroKid has a bot that reviews tracks for qualities like “danceability” and “speechiness.” SoundCloud spokesperson Cullen Heaney declined to say how much the company paid for Musiio, but the startup was reportedly valued at $10 million last year. Heaney said that Musiio’s tech will start to be integrated into the platform in the next few months.

Have a great weekend! And see you next week with our coverage of the Podcast Upfronts.