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Pandemic Watch: May 12, 2020

It’s May 12. Going by Stitcher’s good ol’ pandemic timeline, this is Week 11, or ten weeks after the initial widespread implementation of stay-at-home measures. More than half of all American states are now undergoing some form of “re-opening,” despite continued increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The word from last night’s Podtrac coronavirus update: another flat week in terms of downloads, while unique audiences crawled up by 1% over the previous week. The update also comes with a bigger picture note on April, noting that average downloads for that month was down by 6% compared to March, though still up from January. Generally speaking, I’m content with flat.

Meanwhile, the podcast industry has now seen its first acquisition in the pandemic context. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Courtside Group Inc, the parent entity of the Los Angeles-based PodcastOne, is being bought by a company called LiveXLive. It’s something of a middling digital media platform that doesn’t really seem to have a pronounced edge. Initially specializing in live streaming music performances, LiveXLive has since branched out to include radio streams and on-demand video. In 2017, the company acquired Slacker Radio, also something of a middling online radio service, for $50 million.

The acquisition will be an all-stock deal that values PodcastOne at $18.1 million. For context, that’s about the same price as Pineapple Street, a significantly smaller and production-minded shop, which was acquired by Entercom last year. The best comparisons for PodcastOne would probably be something like Midroll, which was sold to EW Scripps in 2015, and Cadence13, which also went to Entercom last year, since those two firms are built on a combination of advertising sales and talent deals. Both were sold for about $50 million. According to the Journal report, PodcastOne apparently did about $27.5 million in revenue last year. Seeing as how LivexLive brought in about $33.7 million in revenue during the last fiscal year, this looks more like a merger than an acquisition.

Launched in 2013 by former Westwood One founder Norm Pattiz, PodcastOne is in many ways built around the Adam Carolla Show — who, for what it’s worth, just re-upped his deal through to 2023 — along with torrents and torrents of celebrity-driven podcasts. Controversial and opaque, there have been sporadic rumors that the company was being shopped around for a sale over the past several years. They entered 2020 facing a wildly competitive environment increasingly dense with new companies, new shows, and new competition for celebrity talent deals, and their position was almost certainly further compromised by the current calamitous economic picture. A stark outcome.

One smaller pandemic watch thing to note before we move on. The New York Times reported its earnings last week, and it was mentioned during the earnings call that The Daily, the organization’s flagship daily podcast, is now getting about 3 million downloads every day “despite the loss of the morning commute.” I think it’s fair to say that the conditions that led to the disappearance of the commute actually adds to the generation of The Daily downloads. These are intensely newsy times, after all.