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Insider: May 7, 2020

New York Times earnings Spotify dips toes back into video Google Podcast rolls out analytics tools... and more!

New York Times earnings. The Grey Lady reported its first quarter financials yesterday, and the big picture is pretty much what you’d expect: advertising revenue is expected to drop significantly, with the Times projecting a 50 to 55 percent decline in Q2 of 2020 compared to Q2 of 2019, largely due to effects of COVID-19. For now, though, the Times is seeing some positives with a record increase in new digital subscriptions last quarter — about 587,000 adds.

But we’re not here to talk about big picture earnings results, of course. (For more on that, hit up Nieman Lab.) What should we know about the audio division?

Here’s two relevant chunk from the earnings call transcript:

  • “We’ve talked in prior calls about the importance of audio in enabling The Times to reach new audiences and play new roles in people’s lives. The Daily’s audience has surged to almost 3 million downloads every day, despite change in the morning routine for many listeners.”

  • “Our ad business will also benefit from our increasing investment in audio. Podcast ad revenue grew 30% in the first quarter as The Daily became an even larger and more sought-after platform for our advertisers. We do expect some softening of demand for both data-driven display and audio during the recession, but less so than in our legacy products.”

In case you missed it: The Daily continues to draw strong listenership despite the near-disappearance of the morning commute — or, alternately, because of the context that led to that near-disappearance, let’s be real. Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait until the next quarterly earnings report to get a sense of that potential softening demand for Times audio advertising; I’m inclined to think of the Times’ audio division, and The Daily in particular, as some equivalent to a ~blue chip~ stock of pods. If they get hit hard, imagine what’s happening to everyone else.

One more thing: the call also briefly discussed the Times’ recent acquisition of Audm, the audio subscription app that delivers read-aloud audio versions of stories from publications like The Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and so.

No mention of strategy, but there was this chunk from the earnings report: “During the quarter, the Company acquired a subscription-based audio product… as a result of the acquisition, approximately 20,000 of the product’s subscriptions at the time of acquisition were included in the Company’s 5,001,000 paid digital-only subscriptions.”

In other words, Audm had 20,000 paid subscribers when it was bought by the Times. Interesting.Meanwhile, at Graham Holdings. The media conglomerate — which owns Slate, Pinna, and Megaphone — also reported first quarter earnings this week, and there isn’t really much detail to pull for those three businesses relevant to our interests.

Here are the chunk worth highlighting:

Other businesses also include Slate and Foreign Policy, which publish online and print magazines and websites; and three investment stage businesses, Megaphone, Pinna and CyberVista. Megaphone’s revenues increased significantly in the first quarter of 2020, as both advertising and platform sales experienced rapid growth during the period. Slate, Foreign Policy and Pinna also reported revenue increases in the first three months of 2020. Losses from each of these five businesses in the first three months of 2020 adversely affected operating results.

Emphasis mine, obviously. Again, we won’t really know how the pandemic affected Megaphone business until second quarter earnings — i.e. the first full quarter in the pandemic environment, as opposed to half-on half-off — but I wouldn’t be surprised if Megaphone ended up being the kind of business that holds steady in this context.

One more thing… I mentioned in last Thursday’s Insider that Entercom was expected to report earnings May 5. Turns out, it’s May 14. My bad.Spotify dips toes back in video. Yesterday, The Verge reported that the company has begun testing “video podcasts,” and they’re seeding the effort with material coming from two YouTube stars: Zane Hijazi and Heath Hussar, hosts of Zane and Heath: Unfiltered. This test — which in theory would allow podcasters publishing on Spotify to upload accompanying video footage to the app — will appear for about half of Zane and Heath: Unfiltered listeners using Spotify.

The immediate historical context to pull, of course, is the fact that Spotify had already tried building out a premium-ish video content gambit back in 2015… which, coincidentally, came around the time they also started playing around with podcast distribution. This contemporary attempt, however, feels quite a bit different, as it appears to be built for that specific layer of podcast that often comes with a video version capturing the recording session attached. The Ringer (now a Spotify company) does this, of course, but also, consider other popular podcast operations like Rooster Teeth and Kinda Funny Games.

This should, indeed, be read as some sort of volley aimed in YouTube’s direction, but it’s also a matter of covering the full set of bases. If you’re Spotify, and you’re seeing that there are vibrant podcast operations that are also producing complementary video material as a means of expanding their surface area, why not open yourself up to tapping into that value as well? Might not work, obviously, but Spotify is nothing if not experimental plus “opportunistic” — to echo a word CEO Daniel Ek frequently uses, as can be seen in this Bloomberg Technology clip  (distributed over YouTube, btw) — and this seems like possible money left on the table.

Audio-video podcasters probably won’t stop uploading videos to YouTube, though, even if they do start uploading to Spotify and begin to see some engagement there; in my mind, the value is such that YouTube remains a separate bucket of audience to mine from, versus or in addition to Spotify.

Anyway, just thinking out loud here. Speaking of that Bloomberg Technology clip, the segment touches on a couple of interesting Spotify podcast-related things, but two things in particular stood out to me: there’s a mention that we might start hearing about actual shows from the Higher Ground over the next few weeks, and there’s also a mention of kids-oriented fiction podcasts as being one particular genre the company is interested in.

On that note, from Ad Week: “Harry Potter and the Lockdown at Home: Spotify Brings the Wizarding World to Listeners.”Google Podcasts rolls out new analytics tools. From the official blog post announcing the development:

Today we’re introducing Google Podcasts Manager, a new tool to help podcasters gain insight into the evolving habits of podcast listeners so they can better understand their audiences and reach them across Google products.

With Podcasts Manager, you can make sure your show is available to millions of Google Podcasts listeners through a simple verification process. Within the tool you can access metrics to understand how engagement with your show evolves over time and see activity for recent episodes. This includes retention analytics which help you better understand where people tune in — and when they drop off — along with listening duration, minutes played and more. And you can export the data and plug it into your own analysis tools if you prefer.

Table stakes stuff, honestly, though it’s nice to finally have them… in so far as the Google Podcast platform has been a meaningful driver of listeners, which may or may not be the case for your respective show.

(The post claims “millions” of Google Podcast listeners, which… maybe, possibly, perhaps globally, but I don’t have a feel for it. FWIW, I only ever listen off Google Podcast when I manually Google a show for research purposes, but even then, only for about five minutes at a time before shifting over to a mainstay. That said, my personal anecdotal context is almost always ungeneralizable.)

In any case, Ashley Carman over at The Verge has a more substantial write-up about this development, and just a reminder that this tool comes about a month after Google Podcasts rolled out an iOS version of the app.

Google Podcasts, inching forward bit by bit.Peabody nominations announced yesterday. Here are the audio-specific noms: Lantigua Williams & Co’s “70 Million”; WNYC Studios and Osm Audios “Dolly Parton’s America”; iHeartMedia, Fatherly, and Transmitter Media’s “Finding Fred”; Cadence13’s “Gangster Capitalism: The College Admissions Scandal”; WXPN’s “Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul”; BBC Sounds’ “Have You Heard George’s Podcast?”; Pineapple Street’s “Headlong: Running From Cops” (with Stitcher) and “The Catch and Kill Podcast with Ronan Farrow’;  APM Reports’ “In The Dark: The Path Home”; Reveal’s “Silencing Silence”; StoryCorps “Stonewall OutLoud”;  Montana Public Radio and Auricle Productions’ “The Refuge.”

Plus, one more in the Children and Youth category: Gen-Z Media and BYUradio’s “Treasure Island 2020.”

You can find the full list here.Revolving Door. This came across my desk this week: Amy O’Leary, formerly the VP of Content at Headspace, is now the Chief Content Officer at Knowable, the audio-first online education startup that I wrote about last October.

To refresh your memory: Knowable is structured as a platform that sells users long-form courses on a number of topics — examples include “Navigate the Cannabis Industry” and “Manage a Team” that are delivered via “podcast-style” lesson-by-lesson content. The startup raised slightly under $4 million in funding last fall, and you can broadly think about the company as an attempt to do unto the US what China seems to have done in terms of paid audio platforms.

Speaking of Headspace…Cadence13 strikes podcast partnership with Headspace. Yet another example of how all audio things eventually come into context of each other. According to the circulated press release, the partnership involves the creation of a “slate of new and original podcasts” from the meditation, the first of which is a daily short-form meditation podcast called Radio Headspace.

Bit of an ouroboros, sure, and it might be a little strange, given the fact that Headspace is broadly understood to be a generally successful execution of the paid audio platform model. (Again, something I’ve been harping on about for a while, and I continue to be annoyed at any utterance of the question, “Will people pay for podcasts?”)

Anyway, Headspace’s participation in a partnership like this makes sense to me. It’s a piece of brand marketing, obviously, and it comes at a time when there’s a minor heating up of conflict between them and rival meditation app, Calm. Whether Radio Headspace and its ilk will actually be a successful piece of marketing is a whole other question, though.