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Insider October 14, 2021 — The secret to finding emerging audio markets

A chat with Acast’s CEO, plus social audio and podcasts mingle

Thursday. What a day. It’s been VERY gloomy in New York this week, despite it being decently warm, and today’s our first sunny moment in a while. I’m feeling good. Apparently, my Thursday Insiders are going to involve me leading in with weather updates. That’s just how we’re rolling! Today’s jam-packed yet again, starting with an interview with Acast’s CEO Ross Adams, and then we get into the mingling of social audio and podcasting. Let’s jump in.

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EXCLUSIVE: Acast CEO Ross Adams on the podcast trends and what makes a market stand out

I chatted with Acast CEO Ross Adams a couple weeks ago because Acast has routinely come up in my reporting, and I had questions. Acast, the Sweden-based hosting and monetization platform that also happens to have a listening app, went public this summer; has been inking deals to host and monetize various networks and shows; built its own subscriptions platform (in beta); and is reportedly playing nice with Spotify and its Open Access technology. We had plenty to dig into, but in the interest of time, I’m picking out a few choice quotes that I think hold nuggets of insight, which we do love. If you want to read the fuller chat, I’m including it here, on the Hot Pod website.

The most interesting thing for me was that Acast is paying attention to local radio for audio market cues. We’re seeing a push here in the US for live social audio, but the bigger indication, at least for Adams, that a market might want more podcasting content has nothing to do with their engagement with various audio features. Rather: “One of the first signs is when radio starts to really focus on releasing a lot of their shows on demand. That’s a first trigger, and then you start to see some independents rocket in out of nowhere.”

Another interesting one: Although Acast was announced as a partner for Spotify’s Open Access technology, which would allow podcasters on the service to distribute their paid podcasts there, Adams says the company is currently just “investigating” this and can’t provide any updates. I didn’t get much clarity on this, but it does make me wonder how committed the partners are to making Open Access happen.

As far as trends he’s seeing, he points to parenting podcasts in the UK as a thing the team “can’t get enough of” to satisfy advertiser requests. This speaks to the leg up platforms have when it comes to show development and scouting deals. If you know what advertisers and the market want, you can go out and seek that. A good thing for big platforms with lots of data, a bad thing for indies trying to wing it.

Okay, I’ll leave the rest to you to read, while I move on to more of the news. 

RedCircle starts charging for certain hosting tiers, looks to networks and professional publishers

RedCircle, a company best known for its free hosting service and ad marketplace, is changing up its business (slightly). In an announcement last week, the company said it would start charging for certain features, starting at $9/month. The free option still exists, and users can monetize through the marketplace and receive unlimited storage. (Podcasters must have at least 500 weekly downloads to monetize through the ad network.) They’ll need to pay if they want individualized account access, more detailed show analytics, and revenue analytics. 

CEO Mike Kadin offered me some insight on what he’s thinking and equates the paid tier introduction as operating like Slack or Asana, which have lots of free users who only upgrade when they become big businesses or require certain features.

“By having a paid plan, it also frees us up to pursue features that don’t directly sit in our revenue share value chain,” Kadin says. “For instance, with this release, at the enterprise tier, we now provide podcasters with the tools that help them provide dynamic insertion reporting on ads they sell themselves. We can’t spend the time to build that feature if we don’t charge for it, as it just doesn’t make economic sense for us. So adding these paid plans allows us to better service podcasters that may have their own revenue streams, as well as ours, which lets us provide a more holistic solution for larger and larger pods.”

I don’t think this signals any sort of major shift in free hosting services — I still think hosting services will have to continue to up their free hosting service value proposition because big tech will certainly be offering their server space up for free. Rather, this, to me, is just an intriguing move for RedCircle. It’s a popular service for independents, and now more organized networks might start shifting over.

On to the content deals…

Stitcher came to play

Stitcher’s had a busy week! First, it signed Last Podcast On The Left for a distribution and ad sales deal. Then yesterday, Stitcher announced plans to bring back The Bellas Podcast following a hiatus and Endeavor deal. And today, Stitcher says it’s going to work with New Rory & MAL, a show hosted by The Joe Budden Podcast duo. They were previously independent. (And Nick interviewed them over at Vulture.) This also follows Stitcher resurrecting For Colored Nerds, following the hosts’ time with Spotify at The Nod. Lots of deals! Lots of poaching. 

Then there’s also the context of Seth Rogen’s new show, Storytime with Seth Rogen, launching through Earwolf, a Stitcher entity (and a show I’ve personally been enjoying), as well as the potential of more exclusives and possible IP sales through a first-look deal with AudioUp.

We have earnings coming up this month, and I bet these moves will be shouted out. I guess the open question is whether shows, like The Bellas, that ended for unclear reasons, can succeed with the resources of Stitcher. Is it better to try to relaunch a show rather than start fresh with a new one? Presumably, the answer there is yes, and really, in addition to licensing these programs, Stitcher/Sirius is receiving existing RSS feeds where it can also promote its other programming. That might be the real value.

Clubhouse meets podcasting

I always presumed the most successful, or at least compelling, social audio users would eventually make their way to podcasting, and it seems iHeart is making that happen. The team is partnering with Leah Lamarr, a comedian and former Clubhouse app icon, to launch a true crime show. Called Real-Time Crime, Lamarr and her co-host Teddi Mellencamp will investigate various crimes weekly. Yes, another true crime show, I’m sorry.

They’ll, of course, also host Clubhouse-adjacent programming to complement the show and presumably push people to it. I do wonder if there was ever discussion of hosting the show completely on Clubhouse, particularly now that native recording is making its way to the app, but my guess is that it gets too complicated to coordinate multiple guest and host schedules. Plus, a true crime show isn’t necessarily ideal for a live format. Anyway, the takeaway here is iHeart going to Clubhouse to discover the talent. (And seriously, iHeart, please sign Patti Stanger next!)

Twitter seeks Spaces creators, will pay $2.5K per month

If you haven’t figured it out by now, creator funding programs are the latest Thing. Every tech company is launching one because if you want people to make good stuff for your new content format, well, throw money at the problem.

This week, Twitter said it would pay people $2,500 per month to make live audio content for Spaces. I covered Clubhouse’s program and the fallout from it weeks ago. Clubhouse paid its creators $5,000 per month and also suggested it would pair participants with brand sponsors. Y’all know that didn’t happen if you’ve been reading Hot Pod, and it seems Twitter isn’t even going there with sponsors. Instead, it’s offering this cash — less than Clubhouse did — and is promising lots of promotion and ad credits creators can use to push their show’s message online, specifically on Twitter.

This again raises the question of what happens when the program ends. With no brand sponsors and no stipend, making lots of free, high-quality content for Twitter or Clubhouse or any other platform starts to look less appealing. Check back in three months, and we’ll see how Twitter’s program went.

A new Apple Original podcast is coming

Apple has a new original podcast on the horizon, and this one doesn’t appear to have a TV+ deal lined up, at least not publicly yet. Campside and Apple will launch Hooked, a show about — and I’m just going to quote from the press release here — “the story of Tony Hathaway, whose addiction to legally prescribed OxyContin  — and later heroin — led him from being the only Boeing engineer without a college degree, earning six-figures and flying around the world, to becoming one of the most prolific bank robbers in US history, hunted by the FBI while hitting 30 Seattle-area banks in one year.”

Sounds like a good movie! Or podcast! Or both! It premieres October 20th, will be distributed over RSS, and won’t have any ads. This reminds me of the Siegfried and Roy podcast deal, which, although it lives under the TV+ team, hasn’t had a show formally announced. Previously, it seemed Apple used companion shows to hype its streaming content at the time of launch, but now, it almost seems like the podcasts will come first with TV following later. Whether the visual component is contingent upon the podcasts’ success is unclear. Also, will Apple put podcasts in the TV+ app, a la HBO Max, before it puts them in Apple Music? Truly, that would be something.

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Alright, we’re done! Tomorrow’s Friday, and I’m seeing Dune, so I’m ready to get going. See you all on Tuesday for more.