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Insider: September 24, 2020

Spotify signs first-look deal with Chernin Entertainment APM CEO and president is out Hillary Clinton to launch pod (again)... and more!

Spotify signs first-look deal with Chernin Entertainment. This announcement hit the wires about an hour ago, and while it’s not particularly novel, it is significant if you’re monitoring the podcast-to-Hollywood pipeline closely.

Here’s the headlining detail from the press release:

Spotify and Chernin Entertainment today announced a multi-year partnership to adapt podcast content for television, film, and digital video. The two companies will identify and adapt film and television shows from a burgeoning library comprising more than 250 Spotify original series, inclusive of thousands of hours of content, that is growing by the week. The agreement includes access to hundreds of Spotify originals from around the world.

That last line is the one that stands out to me the most, given the global reach of both Spotify and the various video streaming services on the market. In addition to the obvious processes — Spotify taking a tested episode of, say, a Parcast show to Chernin Entertainment to be packaged, produced, and shopped around distributors for the American market — you’re also looking at a situation where Spotify could do the same for one of their original Indonesian podcasts to be packaged and produced as a TV show for Indonesian Netflix.

(I’m assuming, of course, that you know that Netflix has different titles available in different countries, and that for certain countries, they’ve developed locally-produced programming specifically for audiences in that market. Whenever I go home to Malaysia, for example, I’m always a little shell-shocked by the number of Netflix shows in Bahasa Malaysia, including a couple of specials from a fairly well-known local comedian. It’s somewhere between surreal and gratifying, but mostly surreal. Anyway, this is an overly long aside.)

So, I should note that this isn’t the first deal of this kind in the podcast business. Back in February, iHeartMedia signed a first-look deal with Universal Content Productions (UCP), a division of NBCUniversal, which more or less indicates the same construct: UCP gets first dibs on building packages around any of iHeartMedia original podcasts for video adaptations. iHeartMedia gets to continue shopping those packages around if UCP passes, of course, but having a first buyer is always nice, because you already have a foot in the door. (I guess another way to frame this trend is, like, if the game of Hollywood production is basically a game of relationships, then this is a formalization of a default relationship in place.)

There are also smaller-scale examples of this deal type floating around the podcast space. For example, Campside Media, the small podcast studio founded by three magazine journalists that I wrote about a while back, has an arrangement like this with Sister, the global media production and development company founded by Elizabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider, and Jane Featherstone. Three Campside projects are said to already have been identified for development towards television, according to Variety.)

Anyway, this thing with Spotify is a little more distinct given the global market matching-component, but also given Spotify’s general wave of volume and attention it’s been driving around podcasts. That stuff is material, I think. The link between podcasting and Hollywood is growing increasingly tight over the past few years, and this looks like it might be yet another accelerating step in that direction.

In other Spotify news…

(1) Spotify is apparently testing interactive podcast polls on its platform. From The Verge:

Spotify’s newest interactive podcast test brings a popular Instagram feature to the platform: polls. Similarly to Instagram, respondents and hosts can see the poll results in real time, although unlike Instagram, answers are anonymous. You’ll only be able to view the results if you vote.

The Verge piece notes that the feature is only being tested on a few Spotify-owned podcasts at this point in time. File this story away in the bucket about Spotify trying to deepen — and further own — the relationship and engagement between the show and the listener, along with all the data that might produce. You can also read it, theoretically, as a gambit to further increase the platform’s value for publishers. After all, the notion of developing a structurally deeper give-and-take between publishers and audiences has been an on-going concern in some podcasting corners for a while now.

(2) From Variety: “Dr. Brené Brown is launching a new podcast exclusively on Spotify, and her existing show will move over to the platform in early 2020 under a multiyear pact.”

Brown’s new podcast will be called “Dare to Lead,” and as a reminder, her old existing podcast is called “Unlocking Us,” which was originally distributed through Cadence13. (Thus, this story marks a situation where Spotify has swiped a valuable property away from Cadence13, theoretically a direct competitor via its position as an Entercom division.)

Maybe I’m typecasting here, but in my head, this is somewhat similar to Spotify bringing Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? over to the platform, where she ended up launching a spin-off show as well, How’s Work?

Anyway, one detail to note is the fact that Brown’s podcasts will now be sorted under the Parcast banner, which is interesting, and confusing, because Parcast is typically associated with its pulpy semi-generic genre offerings, with a portfolio that includes SEO-friendly titles like Cults, Serial Killers, Conspiracy Theories, and so on. The purity of that association was altered somewhat with the news of the Kim Kardashian deal, who is apparently developing a criminal justice-theme podcast exclusively for the platform. Still, that kinda makes sense: you could imagine that a theoretical “Criminal Justice (with Kim Kardashian)” makes for a natural Parcast property.

But I think there’s a good bit of brand confusion here, given that Brené Brown’s stuff makes for a natural companion to Esther Perel’s stuff, which are sorted under the Gimlet brand. It complicates how you’d square out the differentiation between Parcast, Gimlet, and not to mention Spotify Studios. The big question, then: what do each of those brands stand for, nowadays? (I am, of course, leaving The Ringer aside from this query, as they’ve already established something of a strong brand identity before being gobbled up by Spotify.)

Then again, maybe that doesn’t matter. I’m cognizant that more than a few podcast execs hold the belief that (most) audiences don’t really care about (most) publisher identities, which, I dunno, may be true. But I imagine the lack of clear differentiation might make for some awkward relationships between the three Spotify content divisions internally.

As a side note, speaking of Parcast… Unless I missed the announcement, and I don’t think I did, Parcast’s union still has not been recognized.

(3) This story builds upon a thread that’s been floating around for a while, and I find that thread absolutely fascinating. Peter Slattery, writing for One Zero, published a reporter yesterday on how Spotify’s platform seems to be rampant with search-optimized spammers operating as “artists” pumping out generic sounds.

Slattery writes:

Spotify is full of “artists” like this: Pro Sound Effects Library, On Hold Music, Yoga, Jazz Music Therapy for Cats, and Natural White Noise Best Nature Sounds for Sleeping, Stress Relief, Relaxation, Sound Therapy.

While the platform pays only in the neighborhood of a third of a penny per stream if you’re not Drake, it boasts more than a quarter-billion active users. So, if your music ranks highly for a search term, you can accumulate enough listens to steadily make hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars a month with minimal effort.

He goes on to argue that this state of affairs, theoretically, feeds into the logic of Spotify’s platform, and therefore is unlikely to be dealt with anytime soon:

There isn’t really an incentive for Spotify to clean up repetitive tracks or bizarre artist names. In a way, these prolific posters are just executing an extreme version of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s vision of a world where artists spend less time on their music and focus more on volume. The platform’s own goal, as Liz Pelly wrote in The Baffler in 2017, is (arguably) to “fit music snugly into an emotional regulation capsule optimized for maximum clicks.”

There is a way, I think, that this fits into the recent stories about the Spotify-owned Anchor’s having to deal with counterfeit podcasts on the platform. It’s all very YouTube-like, and as I said in an earlier newsletter: if you’re building out a YouTube-style platform, you gotta brace yourself for YouTube-style chicanery.

The other big thing that this makes me think about: it’s a strong reminder that, as much as Spotify is increasingly turning into a publisher, it is still, primarily, a platform with baseline platform problems.

(4) Keep an eye on the bigger tensions. From Reuters: “Apple critics form coalition to challenge App Store fees.” Spotify is part of that coalition. Meanwhile, we seem to be drifting into a more aggressive space with the tech antitrust story.

Public media shake-up. From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

Amid tumult over how sexual harassment and racial equity has been addressed at Minnesota Public Radio, its parent organization said Tuesday that a major shift in leadership is underway.

Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of the St. Paul-based radio giant American Public Media, informed staffers in a memo that he has set in motion plans to step down.

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Public media shake-up. From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

Amid tumult over how sexual harassment and racial equity has been addressed at Minnesota Public Radio, its parent organization said Tuesday that a major shift in leadership is underway.

Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of the St. Paul-based radio giant American Public Media, informed staffers in a memo that he has set in motion plans to step down.

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Public media shake-up. From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

Amid tumult over how sexual harassment and racial equity has been addressed at Minnesota Public Radio, its parent organization said Tuesday that a major shift in leadership is underway.

Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of the St. Paul-based radio giant American Public Media, informed staffers in a memo that he has set in motion plans to step down.

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In other news…

Hillary Clinton is launching a podcast with iHeartMedia, making her the second failed Democratic presidential candidate to make a podcast with iHeartMedia and the second Clinton to publicly formalize a podcast deal with iHeartMedia.

From a press release in my inbox: “Cadence13, a leading premium podcast company and part of Entercom’s Podcast Network, today announced that it will partner with Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author Tim Weiner, Jigsaw Productions and Prologue Projects for Whirlwind, a ten-part original documentary podcast franchise that tells the story of the 75-year battle between the US and Russia that led to the election and impeachment of an American president.” The increasing complexity of these projects makes for extremely, extremely long announcements.

From the Los Angeles Times: “A Latina void in podcasting? The women of ‘Locatora Radio’ are all over that.”

Digiday has an interesting write-up on Schibsted, the Norwegian publishing group that currently publishes over forty podcasts, spending the last year building its own podcast platform as part of its bid to grow revenue.