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Insider February 10, 2022 — Meta’s earnings and the case for podcasts

What a bad quarter tells us

Welcome back to Thursday. I’m still coming down from all the Rogan news, but I’m happy to report today that we do indeed have other things to talk about. We’ll discuss Meta’s earnings  (née Facebook) and how it might explain the company’s podcast interests, and we’ll speculate about Substack’s seemingly growing efforts in the podcast space. Let’s get right into it with a smallish Rogan update to start.

Brené Brown speaks on Rogan again and more

After pausing her shows weeks ago, Spotify exclusive podcaster Brené Brown issued an Instagram post on Tuesday explaining her thinking around Joe Rogan and Spotify’s treatment of him, as well as the news that she’s picking her show back up. She essentially says she specifically chose to partner with Spotify because they don’t require her to read ads — her producers can — and also allow her to maintain a list of products she won’t advertise. That said, she finds many of Rogan’s comments “belittling and humiliating,” and sharing a platform with him puts her in a “tremendous values conflict with very few options.” 

Then she says she’s sticking with Spotify and returning to Unlocking Us in a discussion with Ben Wizner of the ACLU about free speech and censorship. She essentially makes it sound like she’s stuck in the contract, and I do wonder what she’ll do when it expires. This marks the second Spotify podcast, after Science Vs, to address the Rogan deal directly in their content. Yikes. 

Even more Spotify-associated podcasters are speaking out, too. Xavier D’Leau, of the former Spotify-exclusive Jade + X.D., tweeted his story on Monday, seemingly in response to CEO Daniel Ek’s leaked memo in which he says the company will invest $100 million in content from historically marginalized groups. D’Leau says Spotify low-balled his show initially when negotiating; the show only got featured once (during Black History Month), received delayed payment, and had no project manager for weeks. Basically, he describes a very messy-sounding situation that resulted in his show now being available widely.

“So, I really challenge Spotify to really think about what it means to truly invest in minority creators,” he says. “Because when they tried, it didn’t work. Because it was something thrown at the wall.” 

Meanwhile, Rogan is back on his show and doing in-person stand-up. Per Variety, during a live comedy set, Rogan had this to say about his use of the n-word: “I haven’t used that word in years. But it’s kind of weird people will get really mad if you use that word and tweet about it on a phone that’s made by slaves.” In his podcast, he describes the n-word compilation video as a “political hit job.”

There you have it. The situation is starting to feel like it’s coming to a close, for now, so I’ll leave you with what I’m continuing to watch. One is employee response. Both Apple and Netflix employees internally organized last year, so it’s entirely possible Spotify’s workers do the same. The second is the ongoing work of Spotify’s other podcasters and exclusives. Do they keep speaking out about the platform? Do they all leave their exclusive deals? Having Rogan and his massive fanbase on your platform is a leg up on the competition, but not so much if the rest of the industry leaves you behind. With that, let’s move on to…

Meta’s dire earnings might explain its podcast interest

Last week, Aria brought you all the earnings news from the public audio companies we follow, but this week, I want to talk about Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. For those who haven’t seen, the past quarter’s earnings didn’t go so well for the company. Facebook lost daily active users for the first time ever; it also lost a record $230 billion in market value in one day; and it is facing regulatory pressure all over the world, but particularly in Europe, where CNBC says it threatened to shut down Facebook and Instagram only for Facebook to say that isn’t the case. Oy. In response, the company is reportedly pivoting to video (again) to compete against TikTok and telling employees they should apply to jobs that contribute to building the metaverse. 

There are a variety of issues potentially at play here, but one we’ll focus on is Apple’s new privacy setting that allows iOS users to turn off tracking across apps. This means Facebook’s ad tracking suffers because it can’t see what you’re doing all over your phone. Essentially: if you’re browsing a store or looking up a specific vacuum in one app, Facebook won’t be able to target you with ads for that vacuum in its own app. A big problem for a company whose main product is ad targeting! 

We talked about this issue back in September when I wondered if brands would start spending more money on podcast ads simply because Facebook’s aren’t as powerful. Maybe that’s worth another check-in, but instead, I’m now wondering how this tech informs Facebook’s decision to pursue podcasts on its platform.

We all know podcast ads notoriously suffer from a lack of data — who exactly is listening to a show, what is being said in that show, and how much data an app has on that listener is nowhere near the levels of ad targeting on the web. Still, listeners buy products from those ads and listen when they’re read. 

We could have assumed Facebook’s interest in new areas always comes down to ads, but the company is in particularly dire straits right now, and podcasts offer not only new inventory for it to insert ads into but also a way to work with advertisers who are okay with a little less data. Even Facebook’s in-app data is more than most brands are working with now. A person’s age, religion, relationships, and community are illuminating enough that brands might be convinced to give audio a go on Facebook specifically. 

Now, with that said, we haven’t heard anything from Facebook on the audio front for months. I’m unclear where that team stands or what they’re doing. Did they pivot to the metaverse? If you have a clue, you know where I’m at!

SXM Media launches new ad tech to identify users across platforms

This news is slightly old — from the end of January — but because we’re talking ad tech, I wanted to briefly mention it. SXM Media announced its AudioID technology, which it says will do a better job identifying listeners and targeting them with ads. I unfortunately don’t feel I can accurately assess how helpful or revolutionary this will be to marketers, but my skeptical instinct is that this is mostly marketing fluff but speaks again to the reason massive tech platforms see potential in the space. SXM is harnessing the data it receives from across its app portfolio  — Pandora, Stitcher, and SiriusXM — but given that Apple and Spotify dominate podcast listening, that data is naturally going to be lacking. The rest of the industry is trying to get ahead of if and when the bigger platforms fully fire up their advertising machines.

Is Substack poaching Patreon podcasters?

Comedian and podcaster Tim Dillon took to his podcast at the end of January to discuss Substack approaching him for a deal that would have him leave Patreon, where he has over 38,000 paying subscribers. He spends nearly half the episode describing the courtship, which ultimately culminates in Substack saying it won’t pay him to move and instead offers him creative freedom to say what he wants. (He notes Patreon does the same.) Now, granted, Dillon is a comedian, and he could be doing an expanded bit here — I’ve reached out to Substack for comment — but this also doesn’t entirely surprise me! Substack is already hosting podcasts and dedicates a landing page to them, and it issued its first “pro deal” to an audio company in the form of Booksmart Studios last year. The platform is still primarily thought of as one for newsletters, however, which, again, it might be trying to change with big names like Dillon.

Okay, two small bullet points below, and then I’ll leave you until Tuesday with Aria in your inboxes tomorrow.

  • Ah, remember the days of live social audio updates? Reddit is now allowing people who use the Reddit Talk feature to record their chats. The feature is also coming soon to the web, and users can comment and use emoji in addition to speaking live. 
  • Cumulus is partnering with The Bulwark to monetize and distribute the political network’s programming. Not much to add here other than the fact that Cumulus knows how to monetize political commentary well — see Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro’s shows — and so using that strength to ink more deals makes sense!

Alright, I’m out of here. See you all again on Tuesday!