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Acast raises $19.5 million in Series B funding

Plus: Adaptation deals, PRX expands its garages, and a formal TuneIn strategy takes shape

Another Fundraise: Acast, the Swedish podcast platform company, has secured a $19.5 million Series B funding round led by Swedbank Robur and Norron Asset Management, both of which are Swedish investment firms. The round brings the company’s total funding up to $32 million, since 2014. As these things go, the valuation remains uncertain.

As the Financial Times’ Shannon Bond points out, this development adds to “a flurry of funding rounds in recent weeks worth more than $70m,” which strikes Bond as a “sign that the digital audio industry is converting listener buzz into revenue-generating businesses.” A quick recap of the capital that has flowed weeks past: Gimlet Media ($20M, combining the early August raise with the recent WPP news), the company formerly known as DGital Media (an “investment and strategic partnership” from Entercom, where $9.7 million was paid for 45% of the company), Art19 ($7.5 million Series A), and HowStuffWorks (spinout from parent company, raised $15 million Series A).

It’s interesting to consider the collective narrative. On the one hand, it’s the story of investment capital finally flowing through in eye-grabbing, voluminous manner about 1-2 years removed from the start of this so-called “podcast moment.” A form of validation, indeed, but also, proof that elements of the industry has successfully gotten their houses in order to effectively extract value from the financial class. On the other hand — and this isn’t a conflicting observation — one also gets the sense of an industry in reset; fixing parts of its shape in anticipation for the future that many of the older companies have long envisioned.

Anyway, back to Acast. The Venturebeat write-up outlines the strategic thinking at play: with this latest cash injection, the Swedish company intend to “accelerate its growth in the U.S. as well as expand into new international markets.” (Who doesn’t?) The international markets business is one that floated across my ears on and off for a while now, and if I were to be frank, I’m hard pressed to be confident in any optimistic read on non-US podcast markets… at least, at this point in time.

(That said, Australia might definitely beg to differ with my skeptical read. And I suppose it’s relevant to note that Acast recently inked a deal with NOVA Entertainment, formerly DMG Radio Australia, a broad media holdings company in the country that’s owned by a private investment company run by Lachlan Murdoch.)

Venturebeat also notes the following: “Acast wouldn’t confirm… how many active listeners it has, but it did provide one vague metric: The company claims 56 million listens per month — a ‘listen’ is defined as an audio segment that’s listened to for at least 60 seconds. It also said that there are more than 2,000 creators on its platform.”

Panoply signs with WME for adaptation work. It’s one thing to close an adaptation deal on an individual piece of intellectual property for gold and glory; it’s a whole other thing to dream a business built on a dependable supply of adaptation deals.

In what is an agreeable feat of risk-management in pursuit of multi-platform adaptation money, Panoply announced a partnership with WME this week that will see the talent agency working to adapt Panoply’s various properties into film, television, and live event projects. This shouldn’t be a particularly surprising piece of news for anyone —  WME, after all, boasts an ever-increasing list of podcast-oriented clientele that includes Crooked Media, Two Up Productions, and, get this, Midroll Media. What’s noteworthy is that the story was given to the Hollywood Reporter for public announcement. (Consider the readership.)

I find myself making a conceptual distinction between what’s being done over at Gimlet — where adaptation pipeline management work is perceived, in my head, as a principally in-house affair, led by head of multiplatform Chris Giliberti — and what’s being done in these WME-podcast company partnerships, which I tend to perceive as a form of outsourcing. Of course, all arrangements are specific to their own ways, and each “outsourced” relationship challenges the distinction in a thousand tiny ways. But the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that, in Gimlet, there exists a person that ends up singularly absorbing the knowledge of the adaptation work. And that, I think, is significant.

In any case, let’s not forget the big picture here: podcasting is a flush forest, and the fruits are being picked by… gosh, I can’t land this metaphor.

And while we’re on the subject of adaptations… Book publishing is a related appendage, and this week we were greeted with news that Death, Sex, and Money’s Anna Sale (all hail!) has gotten herself a book deal. “Go There: The Art of Talking About Hard Things” will be… well, the subtitle is pretty self-explanatory, and if you have any familiarity with her (great, great) show whatsoever, you probably have the gist of the book is going to be.

As New York Public Radio CEO Laura Walker pointed out on Twitter, Sale’s book joins a steadily growing shelf of books written by WNYC show hosts — many if not all of which are podcast-oriented: Note to Self’s Manoush Zomorodi, On The Media’s Brooke Gladstone, and 2 Dope Queen’s Phoebe Robinson. That entire stable builds upon a broader and expanding universe of podcast-to-book adaptations, including Night Vale Presents’ It Devours, Aaron Mahnke’s Lore, and Gimlet Media’s Homecoming (if you count ebooks, of course). (Oh boy I’m not going down that rabbit hole.)

Worth noting: Sale was repped by Daniel Greenberg of the literary agency Levine Greenberg Rostan, and the book deal was picked up by Jonathan Cox at Simon & Schuster. (Picked up? Bought? Acquired? What’s the right lingo here, fellas? I’m not too familiar with book publishing.) Keep tabs on that agency and that editor at that publishing house; especially if the book-podcast overlap is something that’s close to your heart.

Update on the 60dB-Google story: The situation remains fluid, and it may be a while before the whole thing properly reaches sunlight, so keep a close eye on this storyline.

Windowing and Exclusives, now a formal TuneIn strategy. What was once mere dalliance and experimentation is now official party position. From the streaming platform company’s corporate blog:

Today we launched the TuneIn First Play program, which gives listeners early access to new episodes from a broad range of great podcasts. We’ve partnered with top content creators like WNYC Studios, Gimlet, HowStuffWorks, Wondery, Feral Audio, and StarTalk to include some of their most popular shows and some brand new ones, too.

More than 30 podcasts will take part in First Play and new episodes will drop up to one week early on TuneIn, so our users can hear them for free before they’re available anywhere else.

Power is a fluid thing, it is built in relationships and contracts and customs. I’ve written about windowing and platform chicanery enough to know that the practice is quite divisive, if you accept the premise that my email inbox (and my text inbox, and my various conversations with sources) is representative. Me, I think it all comes down to the question of whether podcast publishers, establishing these presumably lucrative distributional arrangements, are fully cognizant about the nature of their power and value, and the extents to which they sacrifice or gain those things through these partnerships.

Related: I’m thinking a lot about paywalls and their feasibilities for various form of media, so this report from Kantar Media comes at a good time.

PRX is looking to expand its Podcast Garage initiative. From Fast Company:

As the Podcast Garage celebrates its first anniversary, PRX is looking to replicate the model in other cities—presumably the likes of Los Angeles and New York, where Hoffman says there is, unsurprisingly, a lot of demand for a space like the Podcast Garage… The Podcast Garage currently conducts workshops that span anywhere from one night to 20 weeks, and its expansion will involve investing in an accelerated training program and tiered curriculum. (Hoffman is currently raising money and eyeing a two-city expansion in 2018.)

Let me show my cards here: look, I love the Podcast Garage initiative. Personally, I have a strong belief in the virtues of physical community spaces — the way it stitches a group of people together, provides an opportunity to be or become a complete other person, contributes to the texture and culture of a place. I was, in many ways, a latch-key kid growing up, so I totally feel it.

Which is why I, for one, hope that the next garage isn’t in New York or Los Angeles, though I completely understand the economic incentives to do so. The strategy for a choice like this tends to negotiate one of two approaches, I think: either hit an emerging media city with a burgeoning creative community that hasn’t already been super-served (throw out NY or LA, toss in, say, Atlanta), or hit a place where the need for creative spaces are completely, utterly unserved. Which is to say, a fundamental grappling of the question: what city could most benefit from this?

Again, I get the economic incentives at play, and indeed, PRX should do what’s best to keep them in this game: when oxygen masks drop in a plane, put ‘em on yourself before you put them on your kid. In the end, it’s always some struggle over a balance.

Hello iOS11. Welcome, the new skin of our overlord, the new face of our sovereign, the new day of the way we live.

“Of course, ‘local radio’ itself is antiquated… . Terrestrial radio stations have been nudged aside several times over: first by satellite, then by the MP3, and, most recently (and thoroughly), by streaming services such as Spotify, which give subscribers a glut of songs and playlists to choose from.”

From a lovely, lovely piece in the New Yorker by Matthew Trammell. Do read it, do consider it.

Preet Bharara’s podcast, from Pineapple Street Media and WNYC Studios (and CAFE, I guess), came out this week. And as you’d expect, the first episode of “Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara” picked up a fair bit of buzz, as it featured the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York dishing on what went down between him and President Trump that ultimately led to the former’s dismissal. The episode was, for that reason, quite interesting, and I say this as a person whose life is uniquely organized around news consumption. But in many ways, the episode, and the show by extension, was exceptionally boring. It is the equivalent of a political memoir; formalistically a bore, with bits and pieces of delicious detail.

(Granted, I felt the same way about Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” which was a read of deep catharsis — but not closure — on several levels, but was a chore to sit through nonetheless.)

I don’t quite know what to make of this budding sub-genre of political communication podcasting, which is really being… pioneered, almost, by Pineapple Street Media. How should we consider that company now? An agency, truly, one with its own politics and worldview. Which is an interesting construction, but one wonders — and this has been raised before in an earlier Hot Pod issue — how the New York Times feels working with an explicitly political shop like Pineapple.

Public Radio Updates, through a string of Current headlines: “Senate Committee gives CPB full funding, $20M for interconnection” — capping, almost, a storyline we’ve been tracking over the year — “CPB puts another $3.3 million into news collaborations” — regional collaborations, that is, fuck yeah! — “After successful vote, StoryCorps will form union.”

Give them the clicks, but a reminder there’s a paywall.

This is probably relevant to your interests: an overview of the opportunities and blockers for media companies contained in the emerging smart speaker category… or, to be more specific, the emerging Voice AI (“talking to machines”) category.

Bites

  • The LA Times is taking out house print ads to promote their upcoming podcast collaboration with Wondery, “Dirty John.” Here’s a link to a company tweet if you wanna glimpse the creative. I’m told that this is the first of 14 ads.
  • “From faculty to students, how the podcast movement has taken Duke.” (Duke Chronicle) That intersection of pods and higher education: fruitful, I think.
  • reVolver Podcasts partners up with Univision. (Press Release)
  • So, the hook here is that Vox Media has built and launched a new podcast around Hitha Herzog and Liz Plank, the former of which was hired from Mic to be, among other things, the face of Vox.com’s video efforts. But the really interesting here is the new publisher nomenclature: “The Vox Media Podcast Network.” Stuff’s in-house, now. (Apple Podcasts)
  • Lifehacker spotlights a new podcast search engine: Listen Notes. FWIW, I’m pretty bearish on the search engine solution being one that’s meaningful to solving the podcast discovery problem; for one thing, it presumes an over-specificity in what a generic listener looks for when seeking out a podcast experience. You could actually trace this line of inquiry back to a more essential question: what do people look for when they decide to engage in podcast consumption? Of course, the answer is manifold, and so what we’re really talking about is the proportions related in breaking down the different versions of a podcast pursuit query. There is surely a significant number of people who would like to search out as many podcast episodes as they can featuring, say, Jake Gyllenhaal (bless his strange face). But is that a dominant enough demand dynamic to establish search as the primary paradigm of podcast discovery? Hmm. (Lifehacker)