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Insider September 22, 2022 — Everyone’s still talking about ‘Serial’

Plus, YouTube gives creators what they really want — sweet, sweet ad revenue

Happy fall. It’s absolutely disgusting in NY today. Wake me when the crisp autumn weather arrives.

Today, we’re still talking about Serial, and YouTube makes it easier for creators to make money.

Serial tops the charts again after Adnan Syed’s release

Listeners are checking back in on Serial, many for the first time since 2014, following the news that Adnan Syed has been released from prison. Serial is currently the number one show on Apple Podcasts and the number two show on Spotify.

Its resurgence in the public discourse has been complicated. While many argue that Syed’s case would never have gotten the attention it deserves if not for Serial, there are many critics who say Serial did not go deep enough and was not skeptical enough of law enforcement. Leading the charge is Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and childhood friend of Syed, who brought the story to host Sarah Koenig in the first place and, dissatisfied with her reporting, launched her own podcast, book, and documentary on the case. (It’s worth noting that her podcast, Undisclosed, is charting, as well). Ira Glass, maybe unwittingly, stepped into the debate when he tweeted yesterday that “Sarah’s coverage is still better than anyone else’s.”

Then there is the issue of how much Serial and its imitators actually help right wrongs in the justice system. A piece from America Magazine argues that by focusing on the most extreme cases, true-crime podcasts rarely get at systemic issues. One show it credits for actually looking at everyday injustices is Serial’s third season, in which Koenig & co follow everyday cases in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

I have said it before, and I will say it many times again — I do not care for true crime. It often relies on outside reporting (without providing proper credit) to make crime entertainment that does not get at the true flaws of the criminal justice system. That said, Serial was special. Critics are not wrong to reexamine its reporting in light of how the case has borne out, but the fact that Syed’s case is a national topic of conversation and not a local news story is a testament to its powerful storytelling. 

Is podcasting just radio now?

Nick Quah asks the question in a new feature for Vulture, and he makes a compelling case. Blockbuster podcasts like Serial — limited-run, highly produced narrative shows that dominate cultural discourse — have not managed to take off in the last several years. Instead, what has emerged is an ecosystem of personality-driven chat shows like The Joe Rogan Experience and Call Her Daddy, much like corporate radio. 

He is not wrong! It’s hard to imagine any show on today having the same kind of impact that Serial does, even eight years after its debut. Part of that is scale — there are way, way more podcasts now than there were in 2014 (Spotify continues to point to the ever-increasing number of shows on its platform as a good thing). And now that there is more money in the space, producers are incentivized to make shows with a proven formula, whether that is true crime, celebrity chat, or nostalgic TV rewatch shows. What innovative stuff there is ends up getting crowded out: “Talent isn’t the problem,” Nick writes. “The shifting incentive structure around it is.”

Reading it, I can’t help but feel like my own listening habits reflect the larger problem. I gravitate to the shows that bring me comfort — history shows, food shows, Brian Lehrer — and rarely seek out new in-depth podcasts unless work compels me to do so. For lots of other listeners, that comfort comes from the latest episode of Call Her Daddy or Crime Junkie. Of course, it is up to platforms to improve their discovery functions beyond just the charts and studios to back ambitious audio projects. The system is deeply flawed, but it’s a reminder that I (and maybe you!) could do a better job of finding and supporting shows that push the medium forward.

YouTube is sweetening the deal for creators

YouTube is trying to lure TikTok creators with sweet, sweet ad revenue. YouTube announced that it will give YouTube Shorts creators a 45 percent cut of ad revenue. Like with music streaming, revenue will be allocated to creators based on their share of total views on the platform.

While YouTube Shorts is not nearly as popular as TikTok, the ability to monetize short-form content could be a huge plus for creators. For all of TikTok’s ability to launch influencers, creators cannot directly monetize their videos with ads, and creator funds are no replacement for consistent revenue. The change will go into effect early next year, so we’ll have to wait and see if they are able to poach some of TikTok’s top stars.

The company is also opening up another pathway for monetization. YouTube is known for demonetizing videos that include unlicensed songs, forcing creators to use drab royalty-free tunes instead. Now, the platform is introducing a catalog of music you might actually want to use in your videos, having cut initial deals with companies like Downtown Music and Empire Music. 

Creators of long-form videos (including podcasters) normally get a 55 percent cut of ad revenue. If they use the approved tracks, they can then split revenue with the music rights holders. If a creator uses one track, they get a 27.5 percent cut. If they use two tracks, they get an 18.3 percent cut. There could be additional performance rights fees that eat into that revenue, as well. Still, it’s better than zero!

That’s all I got. I’ll see you tomorrow.