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Insider February 11, 2022 — One show concept; two fates

Plus, Discord abounds

Howdy! I wanted to take the time today to point out how two podcast companies created similar shows that had very different trajectories. I’ll break down why you may never have heard of the first podcast and why its successor made more of a splash. It’s kind of a bummer of a story, but it’s one I think other podcast companies could learn from. Take notes, babes!

One show concept; two really different fates 

Everyone around me has gotten an earful about how the buzzy new podcast This Is Dating is very, very similar to LoveSick, a podcast that came out in 2020 but had a short and much quieter run. Both shows set up single people on video dates after being matched together by producers, who then listen in on the calls and offer prompts and guidance to the pair. With both shows, the listener gets to eavesdrop on both the conversations and the debriefs that happen afterward, and This Is Dating even has a cover-art concept that calls back to LoveSick’s, showing isolated figures backlit in their apartment windows.

Since launching just last month, This Is Dating has gotten loads of coverage and engagement, some of which praised the show’s inventive concept and the co-hosts’ rapport, and some of which — including a line from me a few weeks back — expressed simple adoration for love stories. So why did that show break out, while LoveSick, which had all these same attributes, didn’t?

The press coverage around This Is Dating obviously helps, but it takes a certain amount of success to get to that point. There are four big reasons that seem to have directed these shows to such different fates.

The first reason is the most obvious: LoveSick stopped short after six episodes. House of Pod, the company that created LoveSick in 2020, had only launched in 2018, and it couldn’t withstand the upfront expenses of such an involved, interactive show, as HOP’s founder Cat Jaffee outlined in a recent newsletter. Some of her team’s core approaches to running the company created a lot of overhead, like paying rent for a physical recording studio and hiring people as employees rather than contractors. These approaches created larger financial struggles for the company, beyond just the production of LoveSick, and after nearly shutting down last month, HOP eventually opted to compromise on some of those practices.

Second, HOP was seeing better returns on other projects. LoveSick initially turned out hundreds of interested singles and thousands of listeners, Jaffee wrote, but it took a lot of time and money to coordinate and transform all that into finished audio. HOP’s co-production Guardians of the River, on the other hand, reached plenty of listeners and won multiple awards, including Best Narrative Nonfiction Podcast at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.

Third, This Is Dating launched at a pretty good time: in unison with the announcement that its parent company, Magnificent Noise, would be partnering with PRX. That means that the show reaped — and will continue to reap — the benefits of the partnership itself (in which Magnificent Noise’s shows are distributed through PRX’s existing channels and associated with its recognizable brand), and it undoubtedly also benefited from people like me drawing attention to the partnership in the first place.

Fourth and finally, The Podglomerate has been behind the scenes of This Is Dating during its run, executing interesting promotional campaigns for the show. As an example, just this Wednesday, the show’s creators responded in real time to users on the r/podcasting subreddit as part of an “ask me anything” session, which yielded dozens of questions right off the bat.

As Jaffee wrote in her newsletter, “[p]erhaps, if we had had more time and more funding, or less overhead and more flexibility, we could have truly invested in ourselves and our concept.” And as Paul Karolyi, who co-produced and co-hosted LoveSick alongside Jaffee, told me over email, it was a concept that made a big impact not only on its listeners and participants at the time, but on the people who worked on it.

“I loved making it. I’m insanely proud of it. And it was one of only a few positive memories I have from the first few months of the pandemic,” said Karolyi. Sure, the show was about dating, and lots of shows are about dating, but it was also about “connecting people in the most disconnected time any of us has ever experienced.” He added, “I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that the show actually helped.”

Harmony among Discord

On the topic of engagement and reach, a couple other companies have done some neat things lately, including the podcast network Multitude (behind the Netflix show The Homo Schedule, which was previously called The Gay Agenda) launching a Discord server for its listeners to talk to one another. In doing this, the company isn’t selling the ability to contact the hosts or even making the server discussions explicitly about podcasts. It’s intended to be a shared space for people who ostensibly have shared interests, and it’s free.

Relatedly, the Spanish company Mumbler recently conducted a survey of monetization practices among podcasters. Then once the data came in, the company started its own Discord to get more insight into the responses. The people surveyed seemed to show some confusion about how to monetize, if they wanted to at all, etc., and the company took it upon itself to create a casual channel of communication to find out more — and, yes, to eventually profit off of those needs, in the event that they can meet them, but I still appreciate the spirit.

And Meadowlark swings another partner

And following its recent deal with the Mexican company Ocellated Media, Meadowlark Media — which, as a reminder, was founded by a former ESPN president — just partnered up to make audio and TV projects with Backstage Media, “a new company led by former ESPN executive John Marvel and former Sports Illustrated podcaster Mike Silver.” Sport on!

MOVES

Starting mid March, NPR will have a new COO: Will Lee, previously senior vice president / head of digital for such teams as Entertainment Weekly at Meredith Corporation. Also in March, Gabriel Roth will move into the role of editorial director for the Freakonomics Radio Network, after stepping down from the equivalent role for Slate Podcasts. Most recently PRX’s manager of business development and partnerships, Ian Fox is now product manager of audio for Harvard Business Review. And Acast has appointed new directors on this side of the pond, finding a US director for its creator network in Tiffany Ashitey, who formerly served as the company’s US director of partnerships, and appointing its former director of Acast Studios, Tim Ruggeri, as US director of development and studios.

Give valentines to your friends! Trust me! It’s the move!