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Insider October 6, 2022 — Major shake-ups at Gimlet and Parcast

NPR vet Nicole Beemsterboer will helm the embattled studio, while Liliana Kim from APM will lead Parcast

It’s been a chaotic day at Spotify. Eleven shows have been canceled — three at Gimlet and eight at Parcast. The scale of the layoffs is not yet clear, but I imagine more information will come out over the next day or so. Meanwhile, the company informed employees that it has finally found a replacement for Lydia Polgreen at Gimlet.

With new leadership underway, Gimlet and Parcast see cuts

Spotify is canceling 11 of its original podcasts from in-house studios Gimlet and Parcast. Among the shows ending are How to Save a Planet, Crime Show, and Medical Murders, according to Spotify spokesperson Grey Munford.

Other shows that will end over the next month or so include Every Little Thing from Gimlet and Female Criminals, Crimes of Passion, Dictator, Mythology, Haunted Places, and Urban Legends from Parcast. Parcast’s Horoscope Today will wrap up in the second quarter of 2023. Less than 5 percent of Spotify’s staff on original podcasts will be laid off or reassigned to new shows, according to Munford. The Ringer and Spotify Studios will not be affected.

The news comes in the wake of significant staffing changes at Spotify. Gimlet managing director Lydia Polgreen left the studio this summer, and Parcast founder Max Cutler was promoted to head of creator content and partnerships in the spring. Both Parcast and Gimlet fall under the purview of Julie McNamara, who joined as head of talk studios last year.

Amid the chaos of the cuts, Spotify sent a memo to staffers announcing new heads of the two studios. Nicole Beemsterboer, who joined Spotify in March as head of news and knowledge for Gimlet after 15 years at NPR, will replace Polgreen as managing director. Liliana Kim will lead Parcast after three years as the general manager of APM Studios.

With Spotify leaning on glitzy programming like Batman: Unburied and Meghan Markle’s podcast, Archetypes, it’s easy to forget that Gimlet and Parcast were key in forming the foundation of Spotify’s podcast business.

True-crime-focused Parcast has managed to perform well for Spotify. Six of its shows rank in Spotify’s top 100, including Serial Killers, Cold Cases, and Conspiracy Theories. The cut shows appear to be among its lower-performing programming.

Gimlet has fallen on tougher times. The studio’s biggest show, Reply All, imploded last year after former Gimlet staffers accused co-host PJ Vogt and producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni of fostering a toxic environment, resulting in their departure. The show ended with a whimper earlier this year. Meanwhile, Gimlet only has one show ranking in Spotify’s top 100 — The Journal, a collaboration with The Wall Street Journal.

Even so, How To Save a Planet’s cancellation comes as a particular surprise. The climate change show has been well received and is hosted by Gimlet’s now-biggest star, co-founder and former Planet Money co-host Alex Blumberg. Blumberg has not made a public statement since the cancellation was announced.

Kendra Pierre-Louis, a senior reporter for How to Save a Planet, tweeted Thursday evening that she was let go as part of the cuts: “Might gorge on that pumpkin waffle with candy corn syrup every day this month.” Honestly, a great response to such a shitty situation.

Pineapple Street Studios is unionizing

Good timing. The Audacy-owned studio announced on Tuesday that it is unionizing with the Writers Guild of America, East, hot on the heels of news that Audacy is looking for a buyer for its other podcast studio, Cadence13. (Disclosure: the Vox Media Union is also organized under the WGAE). 

“Audacy touts podcasting and digital as the future of the business, its largest growth sector, and the key to its continued success – all while making business decisions that harm the employees who make this future possible,” a letter from the union states. “These decisions have included pandemic-related pay cuts without restitution; a lack of protections around a potential economic downturn; and an inability to offer appropriate cost-of-living increases. All this despite increased production during the pandemic. We are not seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Audacy declined to comment on the news. The radio giant has been particularly hard hit by the economy and is trading at a perilously low 38 cents per share. It is currently in danger of being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, which could explain why it would be willing to part with a studio as successful as Cadence13.

In addition to better pay, the shop is seeking pay equity, improved health insurance, and accountability when it comes to diversity and inclusion. It is worth noting, too, that if Pineapple were eventually up for sale, its staffers would have more safeguards under a union contract. That could include protections against layoffs or, at least, decent severance if layoffs are inevitable. 

That’s all for today. See you tomorrow!