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Insider: September 10, 2020

Apple's Oprah book club pod Information Vacuum Local-National NPR Podcast bundle... and more!

Oprah Winfrey launches book club pod exclusively available on Apple. And it’s new content too, wouldn’t you know?

Not long after the newsletter dropped on Tuesday, the Hollywood Reporter ran an exclusive that framed the news as an expansion of the previously existing relationship between Winfrey and Apple, in which the former signed a multi-year content deal with the latter that so far has primarily taken the shape of an Oprah’s Book Club program for the Apple TV+ service. This podcast seems to be a natural extension (or add-on) of that; billed as a collaboration between Oprah and Apple Books, the actual substance of the audio show currently stands as an eight-part series about Isabel Wilkerson’s latest book, Caste.

This development doesn’t really change the prevailing theory about Apple’s original podcasting efforts, at least for now. We’ve talked a lot about how Apple seems to be using the exclusive podcast lane as a means to commission projects that mostly support its larger content businesses on other services: Apple TV+, Apple Music, and so on.

Which is to say that I’d continue to counsel against interpreting this story as part of a rough “podcast platform wars” narrative between Apple and Spotify, even as it is a situation in which Apple continues to see its incumbent dominance over the podcast ecosystem being progressively chipped away by Spotify. We’re all but certain to see more original and exclusive podcast deals like this being signed by Apple, but until there’s a broader shift in strategy — one that doesn’t see podcasting as simply a marketing space — we’re left with basically the same dynamic: Apple staying still, Spotify eating lunch.

Here’s how I see it: what Spotify has been doing over the past two years or so is a campaign to assume the default for all fundamental aspects of the modern podcast ecosystem. It’s working to become the go-to space for podcast consumers by signing big exclusives, building new discovery mechanisms, and generally consolidating the audio consumption experience across categories. It’s trying to appeal to podcast creators and publishers by providing better analytics, buying shows up-front, easing certain aspects of content creation and monetization (via tools like Anchor), and making the argument that Spotify is where the audiences are and will be. And it’s trying to draw the attention and trust of advertisers, which might see value in its control over podcast analytics (long a sticking point), ad technology, inventory management, and maybe brand safety (we’ll see).

Apple commissioning an exclusive podcast that’s mostly meant to market its other service doesn’t really match up to what Spotify is doing at any level in terms of any of these constituencies. You could make the argument that maybe an exclusive Oprah podcast would keep listeners on the Apple Podcast app, but that still doesn’t really change the lack of progression when it comes to its fundamental utility for other podcast publishers and advertisers. (That said, I will continue to argue that both Spotify and Apple Podcasts provide fundamentally sub-par listening experiences as apps, so that area is still kind of a stalemate.)

The philosophical concern with Spotify is that it’s exploitatively mining the open podcast ecosystem to fuel the development and growth of its own closed (or semi-closed) audio ecosystem, and the philosophical frustration with Apple Podcasts is that it’s not doing enough to function as a good source of check and balance. At the end of the day, there isn’t really a strong enough party — small third-party podcast apps like Overcast and Pocket Casts notwithstanding — actually trying to improve, preserve, and advocate for the open podcast ecosystem, and I can’t really see a possible actor of this sort in the near or long run.

One quick thing. Keep in mind, Apple isn’t Oprah’s only podcasting partner. The Oprah Winfrey Network is repped by Stitcher, now owned by SiriusXM, and Oprah presented for Stitcher at the IAB Upfronts this week.

Information Vacuum. Check this out:


So, this was pretty much what I was talking about when I wrote up the whole thing about The Joe Rogan Experience missing some episodes as it’s transitioning its archive over to Spotify: certain conspiratorial corners are claiming platform censorship — a cornerstone issue for them and Rogan alike —  and their claims continue to be bolstered by an absence of public comment on the matter by Spotify. I argued that such a context vacuum is a rich environment for the conspiratorially-inclined, and now here we are, with the most prominent conspiracy-inclined figure in American retweeting something about this situation.

At this writing (Thursday morning), those episodes with certain controversial far-right and right-wing figures like Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes remain absent from the platform, and unless I missed something, Spotify hasn’t yet issued a public mention of why that is. That vacuum should be filled ASAP, especially if this isn’t an actual situation of censorship, but more to the point, this is perhaps the first indication of the greater complexity that Spotify has signed onto when it locked Rogan into that massive exclusive deal.

Like it or not, Spotify is part of the platform-political muck now.

On a brighter note for Spotify… Don’t sleep on Spotify’s efforts in other countries, particularly in non-English language markets. In late August, the Swedish platform announced a slate of six new Swedish podcasts that will roll out over the fall, and this week, it announced a new Spanish-language podcast based out of Argentina. This comes as the company is locking down distribution and co-marketing deals with telecom companies in non-American markets, like this partnership with Telkomsel in Indonesia.

Information Vacuum. Check this out:


So, this was pretty much what I was talking about when I wrote up the whole thing about The Joe Rogan Experience missing some episodes as it’s transitioning its archive over to Spotify: certain conspiratorial corners are claiming platform censorship — a cornerstone issue for them and Rogan alike —  and their claims continue to be bolstered by an absence of public comment on the matter by Spotify. I argued that such a context vacuum is a rich environment for the conspiratorially-inclined, and now here we are, with the most prominent conspiracy-inclined figure in American retweeting something about this situation.

At this writing (Thursday morning), those episodes with certain controversial far-right and right-wing figures like Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes remain absent from the platform, and unless I missed something, Spotify hasn’t yet issued a public mention of why that is. That vacuum should be filled ASAP, especially if this isn’t an actual situation of censorship, but more to the point, this is perhaps the first indication of the greater complexity that Spotify has signed onto when it locked Rogan into that massive exclusive deal.

Like it or not, Spotify is part of the platform-political muck now.

On a brighter note for Spotify… Don’t sleep on Spotify’s efforts in other countries, particularly in non-English language markets. In late August, the Swedish platform announced a slate of six new Swedish podcasts that will roll out over the fall, and this week, it announced a new Spanish-language podcast based out of Argentina. This comes as the company is locking down distribution and co-marketing deals with telecom companies in non-American markets, like this partnership with Telkomsel in Indonesia.

Information Vacuum. Check this out:


So, this was pretty much what I was talking about when I wrote up the whole thing about The Joe Rogan Experience missing some episodes as it’s transitioning its archive over to Spotify: certain conspiratorial corners are claiming platform censorship — a cornerstone issue for them and Rogan alike —  and their claims continue to be bolstered by an absence of public comment on the matter by Spotify. I argued that such a context vacuum is a rich environment for the conspiratorially-inclined, and now here we are, with the most prominent conspiracy-inclined figure in American retweeting something about this situation.

At this writing (Thursday morning), those episodes with certain controversial far-right and right-wing figures like Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes remain absent from the platform, and unless I missed something, Spotify hasn’t yet issued a public mention of why that is. That vacuum should be filled ASAP, especially if this isn’t an actual situation of censorship, but more to the point, this is perhaps the first indication of the greater complexity that Spotify has signed onto when it locked Rogan into that massive exclusive deal.

Like it or not, Spotify is part of the platform-political muck now.

On a brighter note for Spotify… Don’t sleep on Spotify’s efforts in other countries, particularly in non-English language markets. In late August, the Swedish platform announced a slate of six new Swedish podcasts that will roll out over the fall, and this week, it announced a new Spanish-language podcast based out of Argentina. This comes as the company is locking down distribution and co-marketing deals with telecom companies in non-American markets, like this partnership with Telkomsel in Indonesia.

The Local-National Podcast Bundle. Pegged to the IAB Upfronts this week, NPR announced that it is finally starting to try bundling local content with its wider-reaching podcast output. The public radio mothership is partnering with a pilot group of twelve public radio stations across ten regions to inject local segments into episodes of Consider This, its afternoon daily news podcast.

The participating stations are: WBUR and WGBH in Boston, WNYC in New York, WHYY in Philadelphia, WAMU in Washington DC, WBEZ in Chicago, MPR in the Twin Cities, KERA in Dallas, KPCC and KCRW in Los Angeles, KQED in San Francisco, and OPB in Portland.

The initiative relies on dynamic insertion technology, typically used to inject geo-targeted ads, and AdsWizz will serve as the tech vendor in this arrangement. I’ll do a deeper dive on this for next Tuesday’s newsletter — this shit has been my hobby horse for a long time — but for now, you can read all about it in the official blog post.

Also: I’d be remiss if I didn’t flag my own column from last summer that argued for an integration like this.

Speaking of NPR…NPR workers call for great diversity, equity, and inclusion at the organization. The workforce, which is represented by SAG-AFTRA, published the statement online yesterday, which starts by reading:

In the 50 years since its founding, NPR has failed to fully reflect the public it serves.

NPR employees strive to “create a more informed public” and meet the “highest standards of public service in journalism and cultural expression,” according to our mission statement. But over its long history, the persistent and overwhelming whiteness of NPR’s staff and management has prevented our organization from achieving that mission.

The statement went on to include a list of demands, including: greater executive accountability, a concrete plan to create diversity among the reporter and editor ranks, dedicating at least 50% of all finalist pools for open positions to candidates from underrepresented racial and ethnic group, and a commitment to analyzing NPR’s use of temporary employees, among other things.

Big season for the labor movement in the audio world. You can read the full statement here.Charlamagne Tha God is launching a podcast network with iHeartMedia. It’s going to be called the Black Effect, and the radio company is billing it as being focused on Black audiences and Black talent. This announcement came not long after a brief back-and-forth between Charlamagne and Joe Budden, somewhat over the idea of media ownership, following Budden’s public rebuke of Spotify a few weeks ago.

Charlamagne is a long-time iHeartMedia radio talent, perhaps most prominent for his position as the center of the popular morning radio show The Breakfast Club. It’s also worth noting that’s been podcasting for a while on The Brilliant Idiots, with Andrew Schulz, which is distributed through the independent Loud Speakers Network.

For what it’s worth, I moderated the virtual IAB panel for this and asked about the ownership structure. Apparently, it’s a fifty-fifty split between Charlamagne and iHeartMedia.

Here’s the Variety piece on the matter, which contains the full press release details.

On a similar note… Stitcher is pulling a similar move, launching a network called “More Sauce” that’s meant to “empower Black voices.” Here’s the press release.

Speaking of iHeart: The company also announced that it has signed a podcast deal with Bill Clinton, which I should note is far from the first Clinton to make a podcast. Not to be flip, but I kinda struggle with conceptualizing the audience for this show.

Another IAB-pegged iHeartMedia announcement to note: a three-year podcast deal with ViacomCBS, which will probably see a lot of television IPs fling back and forth. Seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more TV companies trying to figure out what to do in this space. Shout-out to Turner/WarnerMedia, which kinda got here first. Also, to HBO, which is really killing on the TV companion pod beat.

Speaking of Democrats… Julian Castro is also making a podcast, this time with Lemonada Media (which I wrote about in June). He joins the recent wave of new Dem politician pods, which sees Clinton and Pete Buttigieg making ones with iHeartMedia, Andrew Yang with Cadence13, Bakari Sellers with The Ringer, and of course, Michelle Obama with Spotify.

What the fuck is going here, you ask? Good question. I’m trying to find out.

One last piece of IAB-related announcements that stood out to me: Topic Studios is bringing Politically Re-active with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu back, this time off a partnership with WarnerMedia Studios. I was a fan of the original run, which ran up from the lead-up to the 2016 elections to late 2017.