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Insider November 11, 2021 — Patreon’s CEO on the battle to host podcasts

Plus, Glenn Greenwald's VC-backed podcast

We made it to Thursday, bless. Today’s news comes with an unexpected social audio twist. I keep trying to get away, but it keeps pulling me back in. I’m going to get right to it.

EXCLUSIVE: Patreon CEO Jack Conte on Patreon’s podcast play and video plans

Over at The Verge, I wrote about CEO Jack Conte’s announcement that he’s joining the legion of executives before him to host a podcast. We’re so proud. The show, called The Creator Economy, will feature conversations between Conte and people building products for creators. For you Insiders, though, I also took the opportunity to ask Conte about Patreon’s future vision for podcasting and how the platform might evolve.

The podcast launch wasn’t the only news Conte was sitting on. During the interview, he also mentioned the company is planning a video product that will allow it to sidestep YouTube, which is surprising to hear in the year of 2021 but speaks to the growing discontent with YouTube’s dominance and Patreon’s desire for self-reliance.

I’m still figuring out the best way to run interviews like these (if you have thoughts, I’m open), so this time around, I’m going to tee up his quotes with context and bold the critical points. I’ll offer some analysis after the block. Again — an experiment! Let me know if you’d rather me present this info in another way.

On what Patreon’s building:

“There are a lot of companies building distribution architecture; it doesn’t necessarily give creators the control, but it’s pipes for people to reach each other … Patreon’s focus has not been the distribution side for the last seven years. We already host podcasts, and now we’re starting to host video, as well. We’re building a video product. But we’re not trying to get 2 billion people on Patreon to build the pipes for the internet; we’re trying to help creators build membership businesses. We’re building the horizontal architecture for any creator, no matter their medium, or no matter the upload format, to be able to build a business around their work … We’re really focused on making great content experiences and then, soon after that, community experiences for people to share their work, and then build communities around that work. That’s kind of the focus over the next couple years for the company.”

On whether Patreon wants to compete with Apple, Spotify, and other tech companies to host the most podcasts:

There are no teams right now at Patreon that are goaled on trying to get creators to stop using open platforms and start using Patreon hosting instead, like I imagine there are at other companies.”

On if Patreon is thinking about monetizing podcasts or other formats through an advertising marketplace:

No, and the reason it’s not is because I think adding constituents to the ecosystem creates complexity of unforeseeable proportions, and I think we’ve all seen what happens between brands and creators and consumers on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, where there are conflicting needs, and somebody gets deprioritized, and, too often, it’s creators. That is not fair. That is not right for creative people.” 

I then asked Conte about Spotify’s Open Access technology that allows podcast membership platforms to integrate with Spotify natively. Memberful, a Patreon-owned platform, is participating, but Patreon is not. Conte says he couldn’t remember offhand why the company chose not to participate, but a spokesperson followed up with a comment:

“When the Spotify opportunity was first presented this past spring, we made the decision to remain focused on the execution of our previously established 2021 priorities versus allocating resources to a new initiative. Our sister company, Memberful, is participating, and based on their feedback, our creators, and the Patreon 2022 product roadmap, it is a door that we may want to reopen in the future.

Vague, but it seems like either the Spotify partnership is worthwhile for Memberful, or this spokesperson is being very diplomatic. The thing to highlight with Patreon and this discussion is the platform’s emphasis on community. I’ve heard from multiple podcasters that their Patreon comments and separate Discord channels offer immense value to their subscribers. Apple and Spotify, both of which offer subscription products, lack that feature set. 

Also, Conte’s admission that the company is building a native video hosting solution could be important for podcasters. YouTube is starting to invest more in podcasting with its hire of Kai Chuk, while Spotify is allowing certain Anchor creators to upload videos. Patreon’s move comes with business incentives, but coupled with the other video podcasting moves above, podcasters might find the idea of recording visual footage more appealing, if only because they can now put it on multiple, popular platforms.

Onto another news thing before we enter all the social audio things.

Google’s News For You short-form audio product shuts down

Google got into the short-form, personalized news audio game in 2019 with the launch of Your News Update, a playlist of short audio clips that were algorithmically generated. (Nick previously wrote it up, and you can get that context here.) But the party is over, and we have to pour one out for Your News Update. First reported by 9to5Google, Google removed the option to play it from the Assistant app, and the tab has also disappeared from Google Podcasts. A spokesperson tells 9to5 Google is “streamlining our audio news products to improve users’ experience.” 

The broad idea of Your News Update was that instead of picking publishers from whom you’d want to hear news updates, Google would pick them itself based on the data it maintains about you. Over at Nieman Labs, Josh Benton proclaims the “dream of customized audio news isn’t working out (at least not yet).” He mentions NPR One and PRX Remix as other examples of attempts to conquer the space. (For what it’s worth: NPR One still exists, as does PRX Remix, albeit without algorithmically generated personalization on the latter.)

Google initially partnered with multiple publishers, including WNYC, iHeartRadio, PRX, Reuters, and more, to build up its content arsenal. The status of the people employed under those deals is unclear. I’m going to hope these audio companies integrated the folks dedicated to this project into existing teams, but I’m not sure what happened at the other brands. I’ll look into this and let you all know if I learn anything else.

Okay, now we’re entering the social audio zone.

Glenn Greenwald launches a VC-backed podcast

In case y’all missed it before: there’s a new VC-funded Clubhouse competitor on the block called Callin. The app, billed as a “social podcasting platform,” combines Anchor, Discord, and Clubhouse into one, allowing users to not only host live rooms and chat with people but also record those rooms and edit their text transcripts to improve the on-demand experience. The audio all lives on the Callin app, with no native RSS support. (You can get a sense of how it works here.) 

Now, Callin is pulling from the tried-and-tested Substack playbook. The company announced a new lineup of exclusive shows from the who’s who of controversial newsletters: Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Antonio García Martínez, as well as Briahna Joy Gray and Andray Domise. The full list is here. The general vibe of the list is people who maintain very specific, often contrarian, worldviews and audiences.  

Whatever your politics, I do think this was probably a smart move. Clubhouse has, up until now, partnered with some reputable brands and independent creators, but paying people who already have large, rabid audiences to come on board just makes sense. It’s a strategy, if nothing else, and one that could result in a host of new users. No one has yet said how much they’re being paid, and I’m sure we’d all shed a tear if we knew, so let’s see how this goes. It will be interesting to watch Greenwald in particular, who’s known to tweet inaccurate and highly exaggerated things, only to then spur a mob of online haters to direct their ire at someone who takes issue with his claims. At least on Twitter, it’s easy to fact-check. On a live audio app, we’ll see. (Also, immediately after I played Callin’s intro video on YouTube, I was served one from SkyNews Australia saying the “Russian collusion theory now seems to be ‘the hoax of the century.’” It seems these alliances are already paying off and affecting my algorithm.)

Speaking of Clubhouse…

Clubhouse signs deal with MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review and Clubhouse are teaming up to launch a series of talks on the app. The first is next week, sponsored by Intel, and features a conversation with the CEO of Intel. So, branded content? This reminds me of Clubhouse’s TED deal, which also brought a reputable podcasting outlet to the platform, an area Clubhouse is probably keen to lock down because Twitter Spaces dominates the media and because the app just rolled out native recording, allowing these rooms to live on elsewhere.

Now, a teeny tiny check-in on an app I covered previously…

Beams, a short-form audio app, raises an extra $3 million, bringing seed funding round to $6 million

In VC land, $6 million isn’t much, but given that I covered the short-form audio trend back in July and specifically mentioned Beams, I feel I have to keep you in the loop. The app allows people to start voice threads with a headline topic that people can keep responding to, like, “What’s the best pizza place in New York?” People can then add a voice clip to that question. Beams, like Callin, and Clubhouse, and all the other apps, really believe audio — specifically clips of it — are going to be critical moving forward — who will be the first to build the TikTok of audio? I also want to quickly note here that another app I covered, Pludo, has seemingly set itself up with Clubhouse creators. I’ve seen a bunch of them posting about the app lately, which again just goes to show that if you want to launch a new audio app, do it with people who already love the form, have fans, and are willing to adopt your rando tech for however long you’ll keep paying them.

Thanks for reading, as always. Aria will be here tomorrow, and then I’ll be back Tuesday. Adios!