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Insider March 3, 2022 — Luminary shakes things up

Luminary is getting a shakeup and a burst of new energy

Hi everyone, Jake here again while Aria is out. Since most of you don’t know me, I figured I should give a little introduction: I’ve been editing Hot Pod — and working closely with Ashley and Aria — since Nick handed the newsletter off to us last September. So if you’ve had any complaints since then, well, they’re probably on me!

I’ve been at The Verge for close to a decade now, first as a writer and, more recently, as the editor of our Creators desk. And yeah, I occasionally step in to pinch-hit when someone from my team is out. So I’m going to keep doing my best impression of the Hot Pod crew until Aria gets back and hopefully learn some lessons about actually writing this newsletter along the way. Let me know if I’m missing anything! I’m jake@theverge.com.

Luminary gets a new CEO and investment from Dave Chappelle

Luminary is getting a shakeup and a burst of new energy. After two years, Simon Sutton is stepping down as CEO; he’s been replaced by Rishi Malhotra, co-founder and former CEO of the Indian music streaming service JioSaavn.

Malhotra says he’ll be refocusing Luminary around sports, music, and comedy shows. He’s also planning to expand Luminary’s product to let creators offer merch and NFTs as another revenue stream. Selling podcast subscriptions is still the big picture goal, though.

How’s that going so far? Luminary co-founder Matt Sacks tells me Apple subscriptions have “been an accelerant” for Luminary, with Malhotra adding that the company now has a subscriber base in the “couple hundred thousands.” Does that make them profitable? Of course they’re not going to tell me that!

On top of the new CEO, Luminary is also getting an investment (of an undisclosed amount) from Dave Chappelle’s Pilot Boy Productions, which is working on more shows for the network. Chappelle has rightly been a cause of controversy at Netflix for his transphobic comments, but there’s no getting around that he remains a major draw for content platforms — surely there’s a reason Netflix paid him for six specials and just announced four more specials branded with his name.

I’ll have more from Malhotra on Tuesday.

Epic buys Bandcamp

The company behind Fortnite announced that it had acquired Bandcamp on Wednesday. It’s a surprising pairing, to say the least. Epic says Bandcamp will “play an important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.” Can we picture a new podcast marketplace in the future?

And Twitter podcasts, too?

Looks like Twitter is working on a podcasts tab, as spotted by code sleuth Jane Manchun Wong. I can’t immediately envision how this will work in practice, but I think it’s worth taking seriously. Twitter very quickly turned live audio into a natural piece of its platform, and it seems like they might want to do that with all our recorded shows next. Twitter bought Breaker, a social podcast app, in January 2021, so they’ve clearly got folks interested in the space.

BuzzFeed Studios partners with Acast to launch new podcasts

Remember BuzzFeed’s beloved podcast slate from a few years ago? After ending shows and shutting down its podcast team in 2018, BuzzFeed is taking another crack at it through a partnership with Acast that seems designed to make the venture more sustainable.

Together, the companies plan to launch six weekly shows that will “celebrate diverse identities and themes for Gen Z and Millennial audiences.” And you’d better bet there’ll be bonus content through Acast Plus subscriptions.

What’s particularly interesting to me is the division of labor here. According to the press release, Acast will do… um, most of the things that are involved in creating and distributing a podcast? Acast will “launch and distribute the podcasts, provide production services and creative direction, and manage monetization of the slate through advanced advertising and sponsorship technology.”

That all said, BuzzFeed Studios is “certainly leading on the programming and the creative direction,” Acast spokesperson Ryan Hatoum tells me. Where Acast will come in on the creative side is offering “proven, podcast-specific best practices for large publishers” that the company has learned from working with other media companies.

A spokesperson for BuzzFeed told me the company did something similar in 2020, partnering with iHeart on an impeachment podcast and with Pineapple Street Studios on a limited-run investigative series. Shows are expected starting in Q3, according to The Hollywood Reporter, with “producers or project managers” handling things on BuzzFeed’s end.

The structure sounds like a way to make podcasting cheaper for BuzzFeed to dabble in. The company gets to launch six shows and see how they fare while leaning on outside production resources instead of building out its own in-house team again. Not ideal for people looking for production jobs, but perhaps a smoother way for BuzzFeed to find out whether it can make this business work.

Spotify removes RT and closes Russian office

Spotify has removed “all RT and Sputnik content” from its service in the EU and other markets, the company said in a statement sent out yesterday afternoon. That appears to include the US, too — I searched around yesterday and again this morning and wasn’t able to find anything.

The company has also closed its Russian office “indefinitely” and says it’s providing support to local employees and employees globally with ties to Ukraine. Spotify’s service will stay online in Russia, however, with the company deeming it “critically important … for the global flow of information.”

I poked around Apple Podcasts, too, to see if they’d done anything similar with RT and Sputnik, and I likewise wasn’t able to find either of the Russian state-controlled networks. I’ve reached out to Apple to see if they can confirm the removal or whether they weren’t there in the first place.

Alright, that’s all for today. See y’all on Friday.