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Spotify-Gimlet: A View From Across the Pond

The acquisition by Gimlet and Anchor by Spotify really threw me for a loop, I must admit. And I don’t just mean because it’s a big story that happened to coincide with a busy period at Hot Pod when we had plans to cover other things. I have conflicting and unresolved opinions about the arrival of such a huge deal in the podcasting world that I’m still working out, so now you get to read me processing over the next few hundred words....

The acquisition by Gimlet and Anchor by Spotify really threw me for a loop, I must admit. And I don’t just mean because it’s a big story that happened to coincide with a busy period at Hot Pod when we had plans to cover other things. I have conflicting and unresolved opinions about the arrival of such a huge deal in the podcasting world that I’m still working out, so now you get to read me processing over the next few hundred words.

My perspective on this comes from outside the US, or even specifically, outside podcasting’s American East Coast community that Gimlet Media has to date been part of. And from where I sit, I suspect the UK probably won’t feel much direct ramifications from this deal… at least in the immediate future. “Why isn’t there a British Gimlet?” is a question that I hear among audio folks here fairly often; there are lots of different answers, but what matters is that the odds of a similar deal  for a UK company is relatively low, for now.

(Sidenote: it’s my understanding that Gimlet does currently have one employee in the UK, who is attached to the advertising giant WPP, an investor in the company. As far as I understand it, he was just undertaking a year-long research project to scope out the possibility for expansion into the UK — obviously it’s unclear what happens to that now, since Spotify already has a podcasting presence in London.)

It’s the larger, harder to define shifts that this change will bring about that I’m concerned with. Even when you’re part of a smaller industry like this one, trends do eventually trickle down. And if this is the beginning of the end of Apple’s dominance over podcasting, markets like the UK will feel that like everywhere else.

Nick did a good job earlier this week laying out all the good and bad things that could come out of the fact that a massive music streaming platform is now set to become publisher, platform and even possibly a sales house for a lot of podcasts. Spotify has a small UK operation, and to my knowledge it only produces one original podcast from London at the moment. (That would be the political comedy show We Need to Talk About. . ., which is made by an ex BBC Radio 4 producer very much in the style of a British broadcast radio show). I think Spotify would probably need to see some market growth here before they really grow that roster of UK original shows, but I suspect that they will add to their line up here before long.

The Anchor deal also intrigues me, because depending on how the company’s in-platform advertising marketplace fares under the new arrangement, it could be that elusive third monetisation option for smaller UK podcasters (beyond Acast and Audioboom) that I’ve long thought the British scene needed in order to grow further. Such a tool, perhaps integrated into Spotify in the way their music royalty platform for artists is now, would be a significant move everywhere, but I feel like it would have a disproportionately large impact in a place like this where there are no major networks yet and monetisation options are thin on the ground.

I also want to briefly touch on the ripple effect that this will have beyond the English-speaking podcast ecosystem. I’m aware that Spotify is a popular podcast platform in lots of other places, including among Spanish speakers, as the tie up with Vice News last year on the bilingual Chapo podcast showed. Theoretically, a solid financial commitment to podcasting from a popular platform in these places seems like a good thing, but I want to report this out a bit more before I make any sweeping statements. (I’d love to hear from anyone with expertise who’d like to talk.)

The question I keep coming back to in all of this is: ultimately, who benefits? A lot of big numbers have been flying around in the last few days, but it’s as yet unclear to me if this great injection of cash will mean anything for anyone other than those in leadership roles at the companies directly involved. In the UK, everything has felt so commercially tentative for so long now. If it does nothing else, I hope this deal inspires confidence in what comes next.