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Insider: October 4, 2019

- Can UK daily news podcasts thrive? - General Motors becomes the latest car manufacturer to partner with Amazon and integrate Alexa into its more recent vehicles - Libsyn CFO resigns... and more!

Can UK daily news podcasts thrive? When I was profiling the new daily opinion podcast from the Evening Standard in London, The Leader, for Tuesday’s newsletter, it got me thinking about the role of the daily news or current affairs show in the UK. Over the past 18 months, a handful of legacy media brands here have launched daily news podcasts — the Guardian has Today in Focus, the Economist has The Intelligence, the FT, Sky News, Monocle 24 and the Telegraph have news briefings,  and so on — but it doesn’t yet feel to me like the format has really matured here yet.

Several of these shows sound to me like they’re really smart speaker news bulletins, rather than podcast-first efforts with more production and resource behind them, for instance (a perception backed up by the fact that smart speaker shifts are now a regular kind of newsdesk shift available to freelance producers in London).

Although I do hear sponsorships on most of these daily podcasts, the most resource intensive of them — Today in Focus and The Intelligence — also have an important role as a driver of subscriptions and memberships for the parent publication. Obviously a Daily-style team of a dozen and more full time people just isn’t viable yet in the UK with the advertising market as it is, and it’s important to have these podcasts pull their weight in other ways.

I’m aware that I’m now getting into a rather subjective area, so bear that in mind as you read this. I have a habit of interrogating friends, family and people I’ve just met about what podcasts they listen to, both as a way of finding new shows that I might like, and keeping tabs on how people who don’t think about this stuff for a living choose to consume their audio. It’s a random and not at all selected sample, but I don’t ever have people tell me that they listen to a daily news podcast made in the UK — I regularly encounter fans of The Daily, Post Reports, Up First and so on, but the daily news content I hear about from Britain tends to be from the BBC.

And that’s the unresolved problem with daily news podcasts in the UK, I think. The BBC World Service puts out their Global News Podcast every day, there’s also Beyond Today from BBC Radio 4 doing daily current affairs interviews and narrative reporting, as well as numerous news bulletins made and packaged all across the BBC’s different radio stations and digital platforms. The BBC news habit is deeply ingrained in audio consumers here.

I’m one of them: I always turn the radio on if I happen to be in the car or the kitchen around the top of the hour to hear the BBC’s headlines, which then makes me less likely to seek out a daily news podcast on top. The corporation’s reputation for accuracy and charter-mandated high editorial standards is really hard for other providers to match or exceed when working solely with commercial resources.

Of course, there are regulatory interests in making sure that the BBC doesn’t disrupt the media market. It’s very difficult for Ofcom to test what the landscape would look like without the licence fee, but I do wonder if there will have to be some reckoning when it comes to daily news podcasts in the future. It’s a hard thing to adjudicate, though. How do you judge what a market would look like if it was set up on completely different, hypothetical lines? We can only guess.

Assistant on wheels. General Motors becomes the latest car manufacturer to partner with Amazon and integrate Alexa into its more recent vehicles. It’ll be available from next year for any 2018 or newer Cadillac, GMC, and Chevrolet. I’m fascinated to see whether the rise of voice assistants in cars starts to shift habits — drivers are usually considered to be a pretty passive listener base, since it’s really hard to browse or skip safely while on the road. Yet once you can fast forward through an ad or pick a new pod without taking your hands off the wheel, that’s no longer the case. The Verge has the full story.

Libsyn CFO resigns. John Busshaus has stepped down from the podcast hosting company, having held the position there since May 2018. The official filing notes that “this transition did not arise from any issues involving Liberated Syndication’s financial results, business practices, internal controls or financial reporting procedures” but does also include details of a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the Southern District of New York to do with some activity from 2012 and 2013 of Libsyn’s previous parent company, FAB Universal Corp, and its “multi-media kiosk business” in China. A settlement has been accepted by Busshaus and CEO Chris Spencer “without admitting or denying the allegations or findings contained in the complaint”.

Let it go. Remember how the Disney Music Group are getting into podcasting now, with a focus on the musical processes behind the mega-corporation’s films? Well, other elements of the creative process look like they’re starting to get the same treatment, with the announcement of Inside Frozen 2, a six part limited series about the making of the animated sequel. Hosted by ABC chief meteorologist Ginger Zee (which is a nice touch, given the weather-based premise of the franchise), it drops on 20 November, two days before the film is released. I continue to believe that podcasting is taking the place of DVD extras; I consider this further evidence that I am right.

Soggy bottom. From the UK’s first IAB Upfronts, comes news of a sort of podcast spin off from the Great British Bake Off (except not really because she’s not on the show any more). Anyway, former host Sue Perkins will next week launch her new interview show An Hour Or So With…, and one of the first guests is former Bake Off judge Mary Berry. Other upcoming names include Paul Feig and Asim Chaudhry, and it’s happening with Audioboom.

Number crunching. If you like survey data, and I know some of you do, there’s a tasty pdf here from the ABC in Australia about podcast consumption there.

Get together. I also really enjoyed this piece from Nieman Lab about how Radio Ambulante has built a loyal following through IRL listening clubs.