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Insider November 10, 2022 — Alex Blumberg has left Spotify

Plus, YouTube’s music subscriptions are growing fast

As Twitter continues to crash down under the weight of Elon’s ego, I have been wondering about what the consequence will be for the podcast community. Like all media types, people in the audio industry mostly use Twitter to gossip, promote shows, and share takes (good and bad!). I have not been shy about my distaste for Twitter, but it does serve an important role. If things continue to spiral, will people leave? Will they stay for the discourse? Feel free to shoot me an email on what you are thinking.

Anyway, enough about Elon. Today, Alex Blumberg takes his leave, YouTube proves its might in the music space, and I have a new outlet for my Friday Night Lights obsession. 

Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg has left Spotify

Alex Blumberg, who co-founded Gimlet and sold the studio to Spotify in 2019, left the company last month. The news was first reported by New York Times reporter Ben Mullin, and Spotify spokesperson Grey Munford confirmed Blumberg’s departure to Hot Pod. It’s yet another big change for Gimlet, which has experienced executive shakeups, layoffs, and show cancellations that have left the studio in flux.

After years of working in public radio at shows like This American Life and Planet Money, Blumberg launched Gimlet with Matt Lieber in 2014. Gimlet was one of the first major standalone podcast networks, with hits like StartUp, which Blumberg hosted, and Reply All, a groundbreaking show about society and the internet. Gimlet was one of Spotify’s first major podcast acquisitions and formed the initial foundation of its programming. 

Blumberg stepped back from day-to-day editorial leadership in 2020 when Lydia Polgreen came aboard as managing director. But the studio struggled to create new hits, and tentpole Reply All imploded last year after co-host PJ Vogt and producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni were accused of fostering an exclusionary environment. The show struggled to regain its footing and ended earlier this year.

Polgreen has since left and has been replaced by NPR vet Nicole Beemsterboer. Blumberg’s most visible role at Gimlet of late was as host of climate change podcast How to Save a Planet. The show was well-received but was canceled along with two other Gimlet shows last month. 

Under Beemsterboer’s leadership, Gimlet still needs to figure out its place in Spotify’s growing podcast ecosystem. The streamer is increasingly reliant on personality-driven shows like Archetypes with Meghan Markle and The Joe Rogan Experience, as well as splashy Hollywood collaborations like Batman Unburied

While there will likely continue to be a journalistic bent at Gimlet itself (Beemsterboer previously led the investigations unit at NPR), the studio is exploring other directions, too. Gimlet recently produced Case 63, an English-language remake of Spanish-language smash Caso 63. The show, which stars Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac, is currently ranked at number three on Spotify’s podcast chart. That’s a far cry from the public radio-adjacent programming that Blumberg used to build the studio, but increasingly, it’s where Gimlet is finding success. 

YouTube’s music service is growing faster than we thought

I don’t actually know anyone who subscribes to YouTube Music or Premium, but they are out there — 80 million of them, in fact. That represents an increase of 30 million just in the past year, reports my Verge colleague Emma Roth. The services are also growing faster than they did the year prior, when they only added 20 million subscribers. YouTube did not disclose the breakdown of subscribers between YouTube Music (which costs $9.99 per month) and YouTube Premium (which costs $11.99 per month and includes access to ad-free videos as well as YouTube’s music library), but it’s impressive nonetheless.

The figure comes out at a time when YouTube is increasingly being seen as a competitor to Spotify in the audio space. The streamer recently launched a dedicated podcast page and has emerged as the most used platform for podcast consumption. Plus, its Premium offering gives access to ad-free podcast listening and viewing. 

YouTube’s subs are still nowhere near Spotify’s. Last month, Spotify reported 195 paying subscribers and expects to cross the 200 million mark before the end of the year. But YouTube could be a strong contender for the number two spot — earlier this year, Amazon Music reported 55 million subscribers, and we haven’t gotten a number for Apple Music since 2019 when the company reported 60 million subscribers.

We don’t need any more TV rewind podcasts… except for this new one about Friday Night Lights

I guess there really is a nostalgic TV podcast for everyone! PodcastOne has launched It’s Not Only Football: Friday Night Lights and Beyond, hosted by FNL alums Scott Porter and Zach Gilford and superfan Mae Whitman (who at no point appeared on the show). I especially appreciate the inclusion of Whitman, as it acknowledges that a good chunk of FNL’s fanbase is made up of weird girls who don’t think about football in any other context (hi, hello!). Will it be the next Office Ladies? Not likely, but I am here for it.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more details from Hot Pod Summit, including highlights from our conversations on podcast subscriptions and parasocial relationships.