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Insider November 5, 2021 — Sports betting companies gamble on podcasting

While iHeart says podcast revenue is up 184% year over year

TGIF, y’all. Here I am again, coming to your inboxes two days in a row. I’m hyped to report that I’ll be reliving my twee days tonight at a showing of The French Dispatch. Brings me back to 2009. :’) Today, we’re going to breeze on through the news — we’ll have a whole lot of sports talk, then some earnings reports, and a couple little bits. Off we go.

Sports gambling companies’ media takeover continues

It seems like I can’t get through a month or two without hearing about a new partnership between a media brand and a sportsbook company. That is especially true this week, so we’re going to now commence Sports Talk.

First up: iHeartMedia and DraftKings are now creating and distributing content together. The two companies signed a “multi-year” deal that’ll make DraftKings the “official odds supplier” for iHeart’s programming. This means DraftKings will also work with the company to create segments and shows under the network, particularly in association with iHeart’s Sports Network that it says accounts for 50 million downloads a month. This follows a bunch of media moves from DraftKings, including an investment in Meadowlark Media from former ESPN president John Skipper, its acquisition of radio and streaming network Vegas Sports Information Network (VSiN), a deal with Turner Sports and Bleacher Report, a deal with Vox Media’s SB Nation — I gotta get a disclosure in here somehow — and the hiring of former Verizon exec Brian Angiolet as its chief media officer. A lot of stuff!

It also follows a separate Information report this week that DraftKings, as well as FanDuel, are among the companies bidding on The Athletic. The Information posits that the interest has to do with reducing marketing spend — the two have reportedly spent $89.3 million on national television advertising this year alone, so owning a publisher makes that less necessary. A publisher with an arsenal of podcasts, too!

That outcome is one possibility, but Digiday warns this week of a growing bubble for media companies — don’t get too comfy with that payout possibility — as well as an ongoing customer acquisition race for the sportsbooks. Sexy. These partnerships are apparently paying off in the form of new customers and more bets. Digiday says this about DraftKings: “The first game in this year’s NFL season saw more than double the bets from last season’s first game placed on its platform.” 

Going back to the bubble, though, Digiday also warns that media companies who are cozying up to these sportsbooks with the promise of a fat check might soon discover that their new buddies are actually just competition. “After getting a taste of the media market and its role in their marketing strategies, sports bettors like DraftKings and Penn National Gaming are going all-in.” One such example is Penn National Gaming buying a 36 percent stake in Barstool Sports, another major podcast publisher and website, which leads us to our next unfortunate news.

Yesterday, Insider published a massive story about Barstool founder Dave Portnoy and his alleged tendency to pursue young women, as young as 19, to have “violent” sex with him that includes filming them without consent, choking them, and other problematic behaviors. Portnoy denies the allegations and says all his sexual encounters were consensual. But it’s near impossible to read the story and walk away with anything other than, damn, this dude is bad? And also seems like a major liability for Barstool! And well, that’s exactly what happened. Penn National hitched itself to the brand and saw its stock plummet yesterday — losing $2.69 billion in valuation — because of both this report and an earnings miss. 

Portnoy posted a video to his Twitter last night defending himself and calling the story a “hit piece,” which, as a former blogger and media-savvy person, he must know isn’t how this whole journalism thing works. He then started retweeting people who were saying awful things about the writer, and it seems like a targeted harassment campaign is now ongoing. Just another day on the internet with an army of trolls spurred on by an angry dude. Great. Frankly, I could find the podcast angle here, but suffice it to say that if you have all of which I described above going on, advertisers tend to walk away, hosts who maybe were able to reassure themselves that Barstool wasn’t that bad can’t ignore it anymore, and things start to spiral. I’m sure this isn’t the end of this story.

Alright, as promised, we have a couple more news bits, and then I’m releasing class early. 

Libsyn gets a new CEO, acquires a company

Libsyn made some news this week. First, it hired a new CEO: Bradley Tirpak. Who is Tirpak, you might be asking? Apparently, he’s been a “professional investor” for more than 25 years, served as a director at a dental service organization, and is currently a director of Barnwell Industries Inc., a publicly traded company engaged in real estate development and oil and gas exploration. Huh. Well, I’m going to guess he is very good at spreadsheets and making places profitable or at least revenue-generating, so alright! I guess someone’s gotta do it.

Then, the company also announced that it has acquired “certain assets of PODGO Media,” a company that matches podcasters who have fewer than 5,000 listeners with brands. PODGO, including founder David Ehrlich, will become part of AdvertiseCast, which does similar work for shows with more than 25,000 listeners. Everyone wants a piece of the small podcaster pie.

An earnings lightning round

There were earnings this week! Specifically, iHeart announced that its podcast revenue is up 184 percent year over year, or by $41.6 million. This quarter last year, iHeart reported it brought in $22.626 million in podcast revenue, and this quarter, it says it brought in $64.196 million.

Meanwhile, Cumulus didn’t get specific on its podcast numbers but says its podcasts are “profitable.” It also increased its net revenue year over year, going from $196.4 million this quarter last year to $237.7 million this year.

Audacy brings more content to its app

Just as we’re talking about Cumulus, which announced in September that it’d be bringing its radio stations and podcasts to Audacy’s app, in comes another partner. PRX says it, too, will distribute its podcasts on the app, along with all the many other places people find podcasts. There isn’t too much to read into here, I don’t think, but I’m always interested when a company goes all-in on a listening app. That race feels kind of over? But maybe that’s just my non-athletic spirit shutting down in the face of competition.

~MOVES~

A small return to moves is back. 

-Megan Davies is now Acast’s managing director, international. Acast says it has staff in 12 different countries, and Davies will be looking for new opportunities abroad where she and the team can find advertising partners. Davies was previously Acast’s international director of sales.

-Meadowlark Media, which we mentioned above, has hired Deirdre Fenton as executive director of unscripted. She previously worked at both ESPN and DAZN on documentaries and specifically worked on 30 for 30 and OJ: Made in America. Fenton’s main role, at least at first, is to focus on Meadowlark’s first-look deal with Apple, which is also news this week. 

Phew. We’re done. Enjoy the weekend, and yes, you’ll be hearing more from me, yet again, on Tuesday. See ya!