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Miscellaneous Bites: November 8, 2018

Apple Analytics hiccups, Follow-up to the Recode piece, and the Homecoming TV show.

Apple Analytics reporting hiccups? This development is probably freaking some folks out at this writing. The Apple blog 9to5Mac reports that some podcast publishers are witnessing “steep declines” in listenership — particularly when using Apple’s Podcast Analytics tool. Apple has sent a note out to publishers stating that they are aware of the problem, and that those declines “do not match” the data they’ve been seeing on their end. The company is currently investigating the matter.

Which is to say: it’s a technical hiccup. This development comes a month or so after the groundswell of awareness around clickfarm-originated dysfunctions at the upper echelons of the Apple Podcast charts.

When writing Tuesday’s item about Recode, I kept thinking about this: Recode is, I believe, a fairly good example of a media organization that could easily fit into the framework advocated by Stratechery’s Ben Thompson in a 2015 piece called “Grantland and the (Surprising) Future of Publishing.” (It’s a column that I find myself revisiting a lot, for what it’s worth.) You should check out the whole thing, but one of the more compelling takeaways, in my view, is the idea of understanding web articles as solid lead generation vehicles for an array of relatively stronger monetizable businesses.

I also had my eye on another thematically-related development. Last Tuesday, The Athletic announced that it has raised $40 million in new funding, and according to Axios, which had the exclusive on the story: “The money will be used to invest in audience, data and editorial teams that drive subscriptions… as well as podcasts and video teams.”

For the uninitiated, The Athletic is a relatively new sports media company that’s principally known for three things: a defining reliance on a subscription-first business model, a belief in the ability of internet-enabled bundle economics to capture the value of the sports pages beyond local geographical constraints, and a hiring strategy that mixes recruiting buzzy names (e.g. Shams Charania, Richard Deitsch) with raiding the sports section of financially-struggling newsrooms for publishing workhorses.

Here’s the specific thing that interests me: if the company does indeed allocate meaningful resources to audio — and that’s a big if, because podcast production is difficult in ways that many places still do not fully appreciate — there is a future in which The Athletic can replicate SB Nation’s recent move of building shows to cover each NFL team, thereby individually serving the engaged communities around each of those teams. Combined with the possibility of surgically distributing those team-specific shows through The Athletic’s app (assuming strong usage), you have the makings of a podcast portfolio that can seamlessly contribute to the company’s existing subscriber base, audience strategy, and revenue architecture.

I’m about halfway through the TV adaptation of Homecoming, and indeed, not only is it really good, it’s probably one of the best TV experiences I’ve had this year. The adaptation of the Gimlet fiction podcast dropped in full on Amazon Prime Video last Friday, and much of its strength, in my opinion, lies in the deep extent to which executive producer and director Sam Esmail draws from the language, history, and baggage of film history. The whole thing is littered with references and cues from paranoia thrillers of the decades past. One good expression of this: the way it uses classic movie soundtrack cues to unlock cultural memory (if you have it) or ride on its built-in psychological impact (if you don’t). Which is to say: despite its roots as a podcast, the Homecoming TV show is so deeply a product of its medium. And that, I think, is something I couldn’t quite say about the actual podcast itself.