Issue 213,  published June 11, 2019

#Sponcon and Chill

Did you know that Netflix has podcasts? Like, a whole bunch of them? And did you know that those podcasts, overt in advertising purpose as they are, are little more inventive and interesting than one would otherwise expect?

Netflix’s growing portfolio of audio #sponcon was the subject of a Vulture piece I wrote last week, and one of the main ideas I was trying to work through was: what, exactly, do I want from a branded podcast?

It’s a query that I was going to have to confront at some point or another, given that branded podcasts isn’t set to fizzle out anytime soon. If anything, the trend seems to be heading in the other direction, between Pacific Content’s acquisition by Rogers Media last month and a data point in the recent IAB/PWC podcast revenue report indicating that the ad category grew almost ten percentage points between 2016 and 2018. Furthermore, branded content contracts continue to be a vital revenue pillar for many independent podcast studios, especially those that aren’t able to secure the backing of an investor or a corporate overlord right out of the gates.

For what it’s worth, I’m not bothered by this trend as a matter of, like, economic development. I might have been, a few years ago, when I held obvious and less-developed views on artistic integrity and all that bullshit. These days, I don’t see — or at least I fight hard against the impulse of seeing — the work of making branded content as any less honorable or whatever than any other kind of creative work. The realities of the media business are what they are, most of us do not have the luxury and/or the privilege of being able to only make work on our own terms. There will always be the things we need to do to be able to do what we want. (Robert Pattinson made a gazillion dollars off the Twilight movies. Now he gets to make wild Claire Denis movies about… baby-making in space, I think?) Choices and compromise; that’s just adulthood.

But of course, just because branded content is a fact of life doesn’t mean I’m not going to demand more from it, or want something genuinely interesting from the experience. If late-stage capitalism is going to consume everything around me, I might as well ask for a good time.