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Hot Pod Insider

What’s up with Castbox, the Chinese podcast startup that raised $12.8 million?

Plus: Barbaro on Longform, Public Media Marketing Profile, and I'll be back soon

The Daily’s Michael Barbaro on the Longform podcast. Tons of great stuff in this interview, conducted by Evan Ratliff, that really illustrates the sheer amount of effort that goes into producing the New York Times’ highly successful (and highly effective) daily morning news podcast. As Barbaro notes in the conversation, the show is now staffed by seven producers — that’s seven heads to one show, which is the inverse of so many other shops in which each producer is often pegged to multiple shows — and the way in which Barbaro describes the daily production cycle suggests a construct that’s reminiscent of the machine behind nightly cable news shows. One would imagine that The Daily is significantly cheaper than cable news, and in this current state of the culture, less beholden to the more sensational aspects of television news broadcasting.

It’s interesting to think through what the relatively high bar of day-to-day investment that goes into The Daily says about the show’s replicability as a model, both for other news teams of similar resources and for smaller news outlets to assume. That question of replicability has been bubbling up for a while now; indeed, The Daily looms large over the minds of many in podcast-land, and even if we’re not explicitly seeing much of those influences right now (Vox Media’s upcoming daily explainer show notwithstanding), I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard The Daily being a source of inspiration-sobriety-gobsmacking in my many conversations with audio teams over the past five weeks. It takes a budget, an ability to pull talent, and the often unexpected willing scale of a place like the Times to establish that new template. It’s certainly conceivable that a place like Vox, whose coffers are plump and happy, would be able to mount a good match-up, but it’s unclear whether smaller, localized versions of The Daily can be executed by smaller, resource-constrained teams. In my head, it’s entirely possible because it isn’t entirely down to a question of hard financial resources. It does comes down to a matter of effective financial accounting, talent acquisition-retention, and the capitalization of creative opportunity.

To put it another way: The Daily is by no means a triumph of structure and format, but of individual creative execution. That, I think, is the thing that’s often misunderstood by a fair few in the industry; just as much as I’ve heard of The Daily being inspirational, I’ve also heard from a number of teams saying, “We’re doing a daily news podcast as well!”, and the thing being mere read-outs of headlines. Of course, part of the point behind The Daily is to build an operation to last, and good deal of that thinking involves building competitive advantages. Un-replicability is a type of advantage, and in this case, the un-replicability here is derived from the show’s specific blend of talent (on both sides of the mic), the goodwill engendered by the larger brand, and the sheer high level of effort, creativity, and thoughtfulness that goes into each edition. Every future project can be bolstered by similar application of that last thing, but the relative difficulty of lighting fire with the first two variables is where the question arises for the rest of the ecosystem: will we be able to see more actual attempts at The Daily from other teams? Or is it a news product that’s meant to stand alone?

Uh, what? Still processing this, but my immediate reaction is, well, that none of this makes sense, and I really can’t really tell what the hell is going on.

A China-based app called “CastBox” has raised $12.8 million in Series A to “fix podcast discovery” by creating the “YouTube for Audio,” bringing its overall funding up to a reported $16 million. Investors in the round include SIG China, GSR Ventures and ZhenFund, which are all Chinese companies. The company claims that its app has been downloaded “more than eight million times,” according to TechCrunch, but the Bloomberg News write-up pegs that number at 7 million. The raised funds will apparently be used to “on marketing, producing original content and hiring engineers” (TechCrunch again), and working with a target of hitting 10 million monthly users within 12 months, it will pursue a strategy of locking down exclusive content deals (Bloomberg). Which is, on paper, a ridiculous target for anybody that isn’t Apple.

Again, nothing about this makes sense, and there are whiffs of fishiness emanating from his story. Anybody knows what’s going on here? Taken at face value, this does seem like the first explicit instance of dumb money being invested in the space — albeit one from a non-US country.

For your historical notes. Chicago Magazine has a profile up on David Raphael, the president of Public Media Marketing, which is the company that sells advertising for, among other shows, Serial Productions, This American Life, The Joe Rogan Experience, and America’s Test Kitchen. Nothing particularly revolutionary off the piece — though I’m happy to see Raphael get some love — but I don’t think I’ve seen this number established before: “Serial had 102 million downloads in that debut year.” As a reminder, we’re still tallying S-Town numbers in that same time-frame.

As a reminder, I’m back full-time next week. Still figuring out my lineup for the first Hot Pod back — send me your news leads, or things you want to know — but I’m going to hit 60dB and Pinna, for sure, which doubles as stories about platforms and the ever-enduring question of “Will people pay for podcasts?”, respectively. What’s been on your mind?

I’m really, really excited to be back on the beat, but man, I think I’m out of shape.