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Hot Pod Insider

Insider September 29, 2022 — Whose feed is it anyway?

Plus, Crooked Media gets air time on SiriusXM

Given the whole Sway / Hard Fork switcheroo, I am further convinced my policy about being very selective with my podcast subscriptions is a good one. That’s mostly to protect my phone from being overrun, but it’s also nice not getting podcasts I didn’t ask for.

More on that situation below, plus Crooked Media’s election showcase on SiriusXM and a plush new deal for MrBallen.

The New York Times repurposed Kara Swisher’s old feed for a new show

Swisher’s listeners are not thrilled. The tech journalist ended her New York Times podcast, Sway, in July. Now, the Times has given the feed to its new tech show, Hard Fork, hosted by Kevin Roose and Casey Newton, bringing along Sway’s old subscribers. 

I am not sure if the NYT thought listeners wouldn’t notice or mind, but they, uh, did. Many tweeted their frustration over being automatically signed up for a podcast they didn’t seek out, with one comparing the move to that time everyone got a U2 album on their iPhone whether they wanted it or not. Swisher fanned the flames, retweeting pissed-off listeners, but made it clear she does not blame Roose or Newton.

Quick disclosure: a number of people in this saga have ties to Vox Media, the parent company of The Verge, which owns Hot Pod. Swisher hosts New York Magazine’s Pivot and On with Kara Swisher, both of which are Vox properties. Newton is a contributing editor to The Verge.

NYT’s decision to build off the feed is not without precedent, but it perhaps went a little too far. Swisher hosted Vox’s Recode Decode from 2015 to 2020, after which it was taken over by Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel (my boss) and changed to Decoder. Even with the name change, however, it was still functionally the same show, just with a new host (which happens all the time). And while there is likely lots of overlap between Swisher’s listeners and Roose and Newton’s fan bases, Hard Fork is… a completely different show. Jordan Cohen, a spokesperson for the NYT, said that “our priority is always the experience of our listeners,” which is why they recorded an announcement explaining the change.

The whole thing raises the question of what podcast publishers owe their hosts. A host of a show from a larger company (like NYT) often does not own the feed, but they are key to building the feed’s subscriber base and value. Swisher may not have had a say in what happened to the Sway feed after she left, but it probably would have been better practice to get her support before handing it to Hard Fork. Swisher says that Vox asked for her approval before rebranding Recode Decode and gave her the ability to tell listeners ahead of the change. Cohen said that Swisher was informed of the decision in advance, but did not comment on whether she had given her permission. Swisher did not immediately respond to request for comment.

That said, I don’t think the backlash will do much to stop publishers from building off old feeds. Launching new shows has become increasingly difficult as podcasting becomes more crowded, even for a heavyweight like NYT. And for every fan who tweets in anger, there are many more who don’t care enough to hit unsubscribe. I will be curious to see how it pans out for Hard Fork and if NYT and other publishers seek to replicate it. Perhaps retired feeds will start selling for hefty sums (or already do, unbeknownst to me).

Crooked Media gets SiriusXM air time leading up to election

SiriusXM, which has an exclusive distribution and ad sales deal with Crooked Media, will air some of the left-wing network’s shows on its Progress channel (number 127) for the next several weekends leading up to the midterm elections. SiriusXM subscribers will get a taste of Crooked’s most popular shows, including Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It, Pod Save the World, and Strict Scrutiny.

SiriusXM is also partnering with Crooked for two live events. They hosted a live taping of Pod Save America yesterday, which will air tomorrow night, and will have another taping for Hysteria on October 18th.

It’s not the first time SiriusXM has leaned on its partner podcasts for satellite content. Part of the deal when it acquired Conan O’Brien’s company in May was that there would be a dedicated Team Coco channel. 

The Crooked takeover is a savvy move. It could potentially introduce SiriusXM’s older-skewing subscribers to Crooked’s podcasts and possibly podcasting for the first time. Plus, liberals have relatively little to choose from when it comes to talk radio compared to conservatives (a regular complaint of my dad’s).

Amazon Music is taking MrBallen fully exclusive

Amazon Music has snagged another top podcast, this time shifting its strategy. Starting in November, it will be the exclusive home to past and future episodes of MrBallen Podcast: Strange, Dark & Mysterious Stories. The YouTube transplant series has become a massive hit since debuting in February, currently ranking at number 16 on Spotify and number 65 on Apple Podcasts.

The company has cut deals with other blockbuster podcasts in the past, including My Favorite Murder, Smartless, and Morbid, utilizing a one-week exclusive window for new episodes. The MrBallen deal looks more like what Spotify does with its prize podcasts, which is to make it fully exclusive to subscribers.

Amazon Music plans to expand Ballen Studios’ roster of podcasts, and the deal also includes first-look rights to any content built off the podcast, including film, TV, and games.

That’s all for now. See you tomorrow!