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SiriusXM’s Q2 Earnings: “The Flea Market,” The Radio Business, and Talent Deals

"As you well know, there's content everywhere but it's almost like a flea market."

I’m following up yesterday’s Insider by sticking to brief earnings report coverage: this morning, we’re going to spend some time looking at SiriusXM, which completed its acquisition of Pandora back in February. As you might recall, Pandora is the other major music streaming platform that recently made some (albeit smaller) moves with respect to podcasts, between the hiring of Lindsay Bowen as its new podcast chief and rolling out a test around the concept of a Podcast Genome Project, both last November. They’ve been pretty quiet on the podcast front since then.

SiriusXM leadership was asked about the whole podcast thing during their earnings call on Tuesday, and there are two chunks from the responses that are worth flagging here. (I’m pulling these excerpts from the transcript hosted on Yahoo! Finance.)

Here’s the first, which comes from CEO James Meyer:

Look, we’re very committed to the podcast space. We feel like we built talk premium radio. And so I think — we think we have a really good understanding of what listeners want in terms of spoken word. There’s a long way to go in my opinion in two areas. The first one is exactly what content do people really want in podcasting.

Right now it seems to be a race as you can just put the most stuff up, which personally I don’t believe is what’s going to win. I believe, and I think Scott will reiterate with me, we believe that probably more branded content is probably more important in the space, but we’ll continue to work there… as you well know, there’s content everywhere but it’s almost like a flea market, in that it’s up there everywhere and no one can find it and no one can find it easily. And so we’re busily working on those two things that we think are kind of gatekeeper kinds of things that need to be done for this stuff to finally catch fire.

It’s relevant to note that SiriusXM fancies itself as being “in the radio business, not music distribution,” meaning that the company, like the broadcast radio giants of yore, tends to primarily think in terms of forging talent deals at scale above anything else. This explains the way it initially approached the podcast space — the exclusive streaming partnership with This American Life and Serial Productions, which, notably, isn’t strictly a “podcast asset” per se — and it also explains this next chunk, from President and Chief Content Officer Scott Greenstein:

It’s sort of a twofold strategy. Pandora will acquire a lot of podcasts that are out there. So it’s a convenience factor for a lot of the listeners that they don’t have to go elsewhere to find it. So to-date Pandora has already picked up about 3,000 podcasts, and well on their way toward their goal of between 5,000 and 10,000 by the end of the year. So we do — we have a lot of convenience of having most of the major if not all the top podcasts available on Pandora…

… The last piece [is] going to be the big names and big brands that actually are not in podcasting yet that will likely make one-off big podcasting deals to be part of the platform. Those will look more reminiscent of the SiriusXM early talk deals, but will be triggered by both a component potentially for talk radio, but mostly for podcasting. So there are layers to go on that.

To sum and repeat:

  • Table stakes stuff, in the sense that Pandora is somewhat motivated to have its podcast inventory mirror the availabilities of what’s on Apple, Spotify, and third-party podcast apps so podcast-seeking Pandora users won’t leak out to other platforms;

  • The company seems primarily focused on possibly striking one-off deals “big names and big brands that actually are not in podcasting yet,” which is strategy well-pursued by other entities — iHeartMedia, PodcastOne, Entercom via Cadence13, and Spotify come to mind — but it’s one, should SiriusXM actually feel the pressure to do so, the company can leverage existing relationships to get something going. (Whether that content strategy works, at scale, is another question.)

  • However SiriusXM approaches the opportunity, it seems pretty clear: they’re going to stick to talk radio as their primary metaphor.

One other thing: did you notice the lack of any mention about the Podcast Genome Project? Might be a while before we see something from Pandora.

Meanwhile… Seems that Graham Holdings pocketed $29 million from their stake in Gimlet, according to their Q2 earnings report. Graham Holdings, which is the parent company of Panoply, participated in Gimlet’s $6 million Series A round that was raised back in December 2015.

Quick follow-up to yesteday’s Spotify write-up… At some point, we should talk about Anchor, which seems well-located within the company to facilitate all the podcast advertising technology stuff and to serve as the back-end for some podcast-equivalent of the “Spotify for Artists” tool. But that’s another day.