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Insider: September 26, 2019

- Vox Media + New York Media = Pods? - Alexa-enabled devices can now run podcasts through Spotify - Entercom is... how big now?

Vox Media acquires New York Media. *Kendall Roy voice* So, uh, yeah.

In case the NY Times push notification didn’t slap you in the face with the force of a hurricane, Vox Media, that one major digital media publisher — with, I should add, a growing 175+-show strong podcast empire — is picking up New York Media, that one media organization which owns the storied New York Magazine. The deal is also being described as a merger, but details, details.

This is, obviously, pretty big news, and there’s been a fair bit of reporting around the terms and context of the deal. Notably, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin reported that New York Media was valued at ~$105 million and Vox Media at ~$750 million at the time of the deal, and that the former was thought to have been more than $15 million in the red last year. And as far as analysis goes, I highly recommend you check out the dude Joshua Benton’s think-through over at Nieman Lab. It’s good shit.

Anyway, we’re talking about this deal today because there are podcast-related angles to consider. As mentioned earlier, Vox Media has a steadily growing podcast operation — some would say, “empire” — and from the looks of the past year, the company appears to have every intent of pushing deeper into the category. New York Magazine, meanwhile, has had a fairly checkered history with podcast development, initially rolling out Panoply-powered round-table shows like the Vulture TV Podcast and Sex Lives before hitting the well again with its current iteration, which seems driven by various partnership-oriented projects like Tabloid, a limited series exclusively on Luminary, and The Cut on Tuesdays, a recurring magazine show that comes out of a partnership with Gimlet Media… which is, of course, now owned by Spotify. It doesn’t take that much stretching to guess that Vox Media will probably, at some point, try to see what its audio infrastructure and expertise can do with New York Media’s various assets.

That said, I should say I have no particular insight into anything here. I heard about the deal just like everybody else — i.e. through the aforementioned NYTimes push notification — and though I am, personally, a contract writer for NYMag, I haven’t heard anything from anybody within the org about the deal since. (Sticky, sticky.) Still, though, the environment that I highlighted in the previous paragraph is pretty obvious: Vox Media’s podcast operations has a distinct direction and the momentum to match, while New York Media’s attempts seem pretty tentative.

Anyway, I’m probably going to follow up on Tuesday with further thoughts on how the two-become-one companies could (and should) move forward with audio stuff.

In meantime, though, I’m just going to try and figure out how this impacts my work with Vulture. However it shakes out moving forward, though, chance are it’ll be, much like everything else about the podcast industry (and me, for that matter), probably very weird.

Connected everything. Quick, but exceedingly noteworthy, smart speaker hit: as part of big product event yesterday, Amazon announced an expansion of available on-demand audio and podcast content that can be accessed through its various Alexa-enabled devices.

Here’s what the company said in the official blog post: “We’re adding support for Spotify’s podcast library in the US, so you can easily access hundreds of thousands of podcasts with Alexa. We’re also expanding the selection of on-demand audio available on Alexa to include SiriusXM’s vast On Demand library, which offers nearly 10,000 hours of archived shows, musical performances, and interviews. And we’re launching a preferred podcast setting so that you can pick your default podcast provider.”

Previously, smart speaker support for podcast had been a cobble-together after-thought, with whatever podcast-oriented requests generally being routed through the TuneIn skill by default. This, in my mind, marks a significant realignment of those interaction flows.

Don’t miss, as well, the larger context of this announcement: Amazon’s big product event yesterday came with big hardware announcements, which presents what appears to be company’s broader strategy of going… virtually everywhere.

For what it’s worth, I am simultaneously intrigued by the technology and totally bugged out by the privacy implications. But, much like what I said about Descript’s Overdub tech last week, the future is indifferent to how I feel about it, so what the hell.

Questlove now making pods with iHeartMedia. It’s mostly interesting because of another company: Pandora. Questlove, musician and artist extraordinaire, previously distributed his audio show, called Questlove Supreme, as a Pandora exclusive going back to 2016. I’m not sure how well it did — poked around and sent some messages, but I couldn’t find anything — but however well it performed, it wasn’t enough to drive much press, and more importantly, compel Pandora to make triumphant statements about it.

Anyway, under this new arrangement, Questlove is bringing new seasons of the show over to iHeartMedia, which is probably going to run its through the podcast-broadcast mix that it’s so fond of.

Fun related fact for your back pocket: Questlove joined the board of New York Public Radio, also back in 2016. He doesn’t seem to be listed on the page anymore, though.

Speaking of organizations with that podcast-broadcast fondness: I reckon, given the whole Cadence13/Pineapple Street acquisition a few months back, we’re probably going to be talking about Entercom a whole lot more in the days to come. That starts today, it seems, though our discussion here comes with a heaping side of side-eye.

Entercom CEO David Field sat down with Variety recently for a podcast interview — what else? — to talk shop about the half-century-old radio company’s digital position. Curiously, the trade pub’s write-up of the interview episode included the following sentence: “The deals helped pushed Philadelphia-based Entercom into the No. 3 spot among U.S. podcast publishers, after NPR and iHeartMedia.”

It doesn’t list a source for the claim, but I’m guessing it’s a preemptive reference Podtrac, which currently lists NPR and iHeartMedia as its top two publishers. (And as always with Podtrac, caveats caveats and nope it’s nowhere near being the Nielsen for podcasts.)

And even if it is a reference to Podtrac… what? Are we supposed to take it that Cadence13 and Pineapple were producing enough listening volume to vault the company past the other eight publishers on the list, including WNYC Studios, PRX, and the New York Times? Or are we supposed to take it that Entercom’s pre-existing podcast properties — of which they list as having “3000-plus” — were producing those competitive volumes, but just were simply not listed on the ranker, even though virtually nobody has ever heard of an Entercom podcast before?

Or are we just supposed to take it that it’s a bullshit claim to puff up some chests? Ai yai yai.

Anyway, if you need another fun fact for your back pocket: Entercom’s various podcast acquisitions are now sorted under the Radio.com brand, which the company acquired from a merger with CBS Radio in late 2017. CBS Radio, by the way, used to have a podcast division of its own, called Play.it, which came and went without much of a fuss. I think the Play.it brand is technically around, though, but no one’s heard a peep.

Audioboom is now a client of Nielsen’s “Podcast Listener Buying Service.” Not much to add beyond what’s already in the press release, other than to say that the value of this information is only worth as much as you believe in the effectiveness of the tool Nielsen has built to work around the analytics gap here. For what it’s worth, I’ve spoken to podcast advertising folks who seem to like it, and I’ve spoken to folks who remain skeptical. It’ll work itself out.