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Insider September 16, 2022 — Layoffs, payouts, and road trips

Can Amazon convince people to use live audio by paying them?

Hey, everyone, Jake here. It’s been a while. I’ve been in so many video calls this summer that my AirPods have started to buzz (which surely explains why a new pair just got announced last week). I’m going to hang onto these for the time being, but I’ve got my eyes out for the day their case gets a USB-C port.

Today, we’re covering layoffs at Acast, a creators fund for Amazon’s Amp, and a lightning round of news.

Layoffs at Acast

Acast announced on Thursday that it would lay off around 15 percent of its staff as it looks to hit profitability years sooner than it had originally planned. Acast had initially projected hitting profitability sometime between 2024 and 2026; now, the company says it’ll hit that goal in 2024. 

Emily Villatte, Acast’s CFO and deputy CEO, says that’ll be possible for two reasons: 1. The company is moving out of a period of “heavier investment;” and 2. The company is laying a bunch of people off. (Or, as she puts it more discreetly, “we can increase our internal efficiency significantly.”) The layoffs were first reported by Bloomberg.

Acast has been growing rapidly (its net sales jumped by nearly 75 percent last year), making big purchases ($34 million on Podchaser in July; RadioPublic last year), and bringing major talent over to its platform (like an exclusive deal with Marc Maron in May). Things are, generally speaking, going well for the company. But. Acast also went public last year, and that may speak to why it’s taking such an aggressive action to advance its timeline toward profitability. The company’s growth slowed substantially in the last quarter, while its losses (by certain metrics) grew.

Now, Acast says it’s time to build out what it’s already working with. “After an intensive period of product development and investments, focus will shift towards the creation of profitable growth in line with the company’s updated financial goals,” the company wrote in a note to investors.

Amazon will pay creators for using its live audio platform

Amazon is taking its live audio service a lot more seriously than I expected. I’ve been seeing ads for the service — Amp — all over the New York City subway; the company has been signing new shows to the platform; and this week, it announced a pretty meaningful update: it’s going to start paying creators to broadcast.

That said, details are a bit thin. TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube all announced how much money they planned on paying out through their creator funds. But Amazon is being a lot more vague. Amazon spokesperson Rebecca Silverstein told Hot Pod the company is allocating “millions of dollars” — which is great! But are we talking $2 million or $200 million? Silverstein declined to share specifics. Another important question: how much can creators expect to get paid each month? No real answers there, either. The fund size is “dynamic,” Silverstein says, and it may change month to month, as might the number of creators who get paid out.

The program is limited to creators in the United States. They can be as young as 13 (with a parent’s permission), and they have to host at least one show in a given month to get a payment (which, duh). How will Amazon determine how much to pay you? It’ll consider “show performance and listener engagement,” the company shares in its continued vagueness.

Creators have long complained that these payout funds aren’t an ideal payment mechanism since payments can vary wildly from month to month, and the way payments are gauged tends to be opaque. Amazon’s is unusually opaque. But that all said, this still seems to be the most direct attempt any company has made to get people to use live audio. Clubhouse paid creators to help start up specific shows, and Spotify announced (but maybe never actually launched) a creators fund for Greenroom.

Will this be enough to make live audio a thing again? Will people actually look at New York City subway ads and go, “Yes, I trust this thing that is advertising beside a workers comp lawyer?” I am not entirely convinced, but it’s always good for creators when a company gives it a go.

Lightning round: SiriusXM, road trips, Apple Music, and NPR

There are a bunch more things I saw this morning and wanted to hit on, so I’m going to jam through them in brief:

  • SiriusXM signs an exclusive deal with Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness podcast. Sirius has been signing a ton of these exclusive ad sales and distribution deals, and this looks like another big one. The show launched in 2013 and has notched “over 500 million” in the time since.
  • Podcasts aren’t a huge hit on road trips. Inside Radio reports on a Katz Radio Group survey that found only 14 percent of people tuned into podcasts on long drives. The big winner? Radio, with 66 percent of respondents saying they tuned in. (Grain of salt: the survey was done by a radio advertising firm.)
  • Apple Music lost its creative director. Larry Jackson is leaving after joining the company in 2014 through its Beats acquisition. Variety reports that he played a key role in getting major artists to side with Apple and in pushing for Apple to launch more artist-hosted radio stations. A lot of the exclusivity war around music has passed, so it’s possible a role like this became less critical as time went on. But even so, having a friendly relationship with major artists will always be important for companies like Apple and Spotify.
  • A big hire at NPR: Brittany Luse has been brought on as the new host of It’s Been a Minute, replacing Sam Sanders, who left in March. Luse co-hosted The Nod and For Colored Nerds, which will wrap up as she moves over to NPR starting October 7th.

That’s all for this week. We’ll see you Tuesday!