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Insider: September 12, 2019

- Vox Media's Recode will debut Reset, as part of its expanded partnership with Stitcher, on October 15 - The Athletic and Wondery are making a daily sports news baby - More on the strategic aspect of the NPR Morning Edition on Smart Speaker product  

Vox Media’s New Audio Franchise. This one’s been coming for some time, but we finally have details. Vox Media’s upcoming technology news podcast, built around the Recode brand, will officially launch on October 15. Called Reset, the show will be hosted by Arielle Duhaime-Ross, currently VICE News Tonight’s environment and climate correspondent. Duhaime-Ross was also a science reporter for The Verge, prior to joining VICE.

(Background note for the trivia curious: HBO announced that it was cancelling VICE News Tonight back in June, but the show will find a new life on Viceland, VICE’s cable channel.)

The podcast was initially announced back in February, with the news hook being that it was as an expansion of Vox Media’s partnership with Stitcher, which originally yielded the development of the former’s daily news podcast Today, Explained. Axios called the partnership expansion a “multi-million dollar deal.”

Reset will publish three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. The weekday episodes are meant to be newsier while the Sunday installments are said to be more “magazine-style.” Liz Nelson, Vox.com’s Editorial Director of Podcasts, is currently leading the development process, and a search for a full-time executive producer is underway.

I’m doing a bigger column on this production for next Tuesday’s issue. Some interesting questions in here.

Also, another fact for your back pocket: Duhaime-Ross is originally from Canada, much like Sean Rameswaram, the host of Vox’s Today, Explained. #CanadianInvasion

The Race for the Sports Habit. So we know that The Athletic, the buzzy venture-backed subscription sports news site, hopes to have about 120 audio shows in active operation by the end of the year. (Interestingly enough, 120 shows would put The Athletic about thirty shy of Vox Media’s sports podcast number; SB Nation, its sports brand, has about 150 podcasts in operation.)

Yesterday, we received details on one of the many audio projects The Athletic is planning to roll out: a daily news podcast, one produced in collaboration with Wondery.

It’s called The Lead, and here’s how the press release describes the project: “This new series aims to stand out from the noise of sports media by bringing sports up close, with deep storytelling about players, hometowns, and the teams listeners love.”

The Lead will be hosted by Kavitha Davidson, a New York-based writer for the site, and Anders Kelto, an audio production veteran with stints at NPR and PRI’s The World. Kelto will also serve as executive producer.

Between this and ESPN’s upcoming daily sports news podcast, looks like we got a healthy sub-genre cookin’. The Lead launches on September 16.

One other thing… Wondery also had one other announcement yesterday: the Los Angeles publisher has struck up a partnership with All Things Comedy, the independent digital media studio founded by Bill Burr and Al Madrigal. It’s a little difficult to explain All Things Comedy — here’s the About page, if you need official material — but it is, among other things, also a podcast network, and it’s currently home to Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast.

Viva la Scranton. Speaking of comedy podcasts: Stitcher announced yesterday that the Earwolf brand will soon be releasing Office Ladies, dubbed the “ultimate podcast for nostalgic fans of NBC’s The Office.” It’ll feature Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, who should be familiar to Office fans. I, personally, am not a big Office guy — more an Arrested Development than anything else. Anyway, Office Ladies will drop October 16.

This wasn’t a Podfront announcement… but it’s very much worth tracking: The Ringer is launching a bite-sized daily podcast called The Hottest Take… that will be an exclusive on Spotify. This will be The Ringer’s second dealing with podcast exclusivity, after The Rewatchables: 1989 on Luminary.

Unpacking the Morning Edition on Smart Speakers product. Here’s another piece on this… simply because I find the whole thing fascinating.

First of all, I was mistaken about Triton Digital being NPR’s primary online audio distribution solution to this day. Earlier this year, the company switched over to using AdsWizz (now owned by Pandora) as its primary podcast ad server. Apologies for that oversight.

Anyway, I was able to learn more about the analytics and monetization of the arrangement. Just a quick reminder on how this works, per the explanatory Medium post by NPR’s technology team: listeners of Morning Edition over smart speakers are getting what are essentially repackages of what’s going live over their local radio airwaves. The product, using technology provided by Omny Studios, captures live local streams of the show being distributed through broadcast, creates .mp3 recordings of them, and delivers regionally-specific recordings via RSS feed through the Morning Edition Alexa skill based on the listener’s geographic position.

Now, the first major thing to note is that there is no incremental monetization involved with Morning Edition over Alexa-enabled devices, or what the team is calling “Morning Edition On Demand.” Because the content being distributed over smart speakers are essentially repackages of what goes over the radio, all the original broadcast sponsorship messages — both local and national — also carry over to the Alexa version. (And by Alexa-enabled devices, I mean all of it: Echo devices, Alexa apps on phones, and the Amazon app on phones.)

Which leads us to the other major thing to note: the product was designed to play into Nielsen PPM (portable people meter) analytics, meaning that any smart speaker listening captured via PPM will ultimately be measured towards the stations’ terrestrial broadcast audience. (Or, at least, for audiences in the top 50 “metered” markets.) I was also told that diary markets get credit as well, provided that diary keepers note that their consumption was “on demand.”

In other words, this is primarily a radio play. Listeners who use Alexa-enabled devices to listen to Morning Edition on-demand will be grouped together with broadcast audiences — the way it was explained to me, Nielsen’s rules credits listening within 24 hours of air for people in markets that are being measured.

So that’s the bones of this thing. Here, also, is a quick Q&A I did with Sharon Taylor, CEO of Omny Studios, about her side of the project —

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Hot Pod: What was the original goal of this product?

Sharon Taylor: We collaborated with NPR to help with a unique use case – to syndicate Morning Edition at scale with zero effort for the local member stations. Zero effort includes no changes to their processes or technical setup. A meaty challenge. So we used our live stream capture technology, called “recording agents”, to coordinate recording across each stream on set schedules and provide those episodes in an ongoing, refreshed manner (ie we provide the most recently available episode to listeners when requested).

HP: How did you approach the problem?

Taylor: One of radio’s key strengths has always been in timely/localised content – extending that to the smart speaker experience is a natural step and a great application for the medium. We’ve always wanted to do more than just make podcasts available on smart speakers and think about real listener needs. I do have to give a shout out to Larry Rosin from Edison Research here, who helped plant various seeds for this project. I also can’t overstate the NPR teams role in all this – they did a tonne of work on the consumer experience, in order to deliver the episode to the listener.

HP: Would I be correct in assuming that this project, to some extent, informed Triton’s acquisition of Omny? 

Taylor: I wouldn’t say this this project or it’s applications (ie the recording agents and ability to shift radio into the on-demand space) were the specific reasons for the acquisition. But it is one piece of a much larger puzzle, where we combined to create the most sophisticated tech stack to help publishers around the globe innovate in audio.

HP: What’s your sense on how this bundling might work for other audio and podcast businesses writ large?

Taylor: This is a new opportunity for national broadcasters who have localised content, to offer “replay” experiences to their audience with minimal requirements from each station. I also hope this may inspire audio creators in general to do more with localisation or dynamic content on these devices. On the smart speaker front, it’s going a step further to access an audience in the home and build an existing audience using emerging technologies.