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Setting up Serial Season 3

Notes on the business end.

Serial! Season! Three! Cleveland! Ohio! Criminal! Justice! System! Updated! Theme! Song!

You probably know this by now, but in case something happened to you yesterday: Serial is returning for its third season on September 20, and the team is fixing its sights on the criminal courts system in the everyday, ordinary city of Cleveland in order to weave a larger story about the American justice system as a whole.

I wrote a preview for Vulture yesterday, where I spent some time thinking out loud about the podcast’s on-going association with true crime — Vanity Fair: “Serial Is Back—And Returning to Its True-Crime Roots” — that was very much unintended. I’m planning to write a little more about the original premise (one story, told week by week), and how the world changed around it, in next Tuesday’s Hot Pod.

In the meantime, though, we should talk business. Two things about the Serial S3 situation that stood out to me:

(1) ZipRecruiter will serve as the season’s exclusive sponsor. (Goodbye, Mailkimp. Hello… ZipRekruiter?) The Chicago-based Public Media Marketing secured the deal.

(2) Here’s a noteworthy platform factoid: Serial has an “exclusive streaming partnership” with Pandora. It’s a continuation, apparently, of a relationship that started with season two — and, as you might remember, sparked a bit of a hullabaloo. (See here and here on that.)

When asked what, exactly, that means, I was told by a rep: “According to Pandora, no other audio streaming services have Serial. Since Pandora is the only streaming partner, Serial 3 won’t be available on Apple Music, Spotify, etc.”

Some folks (rightfully) brought up the fact that the whole situation seems familiar; that a similar claim was made back in Season 2, which was thought by many to be somewhat confusing and/or marketing-speak. (What’s the point of the streaming exclusivity when you could just, like, download the thing as a friggin’ podcast, anyway?) Two things to note:

  • We’ve seen a little more activity among “streaming platforms” and podcasts these days, with Spotify in particular being significantly more active with its podcast-noodlings than back in 2015.
  • Also worth remembering: Pandora whipped out some special experiences/UI specifically for Serial, as detailed in this column from back then.

The world is a little different nowadays, and so Pandora’s claim, I think, means something a little more in the current context. (But does it matter to ordinary, everyday people who want to listen to Serial? Probably not. They’re going to find Koenig and co-host Emmanual Dzotsi some way or another.)

Anyway, Elle secured a pretty extensive Q&A with host Sarah Koenig on the season. Here’s a fascinating chunk:

Q: I read that you once said people might not like season 2 as much as season 1. Do you think people will like season 3?

A: [Laughs] I don’t think I said people wouldn’t like season 2.

Season 2 has a piece of my heart. Season 3 is very close to my heart. The stories are really good, and we’re really excited to tell them to people. Then again… if you’re looking for a murder mystery, this is not it.

At the end of the day, you can’t worry about it because it’ll make you nuts. You’re either going to do the stories you want to do or you’re going to do the thing you know will be some sort of pop culture sensation. I suppose if you hit gold then both of those come together, but whatever. We don’t worry about it because you can’t.

… am I the only person who liked the second season way more than the first?