Issue 223,  published August 23, 2019

Supply Side

Predicting the future is a fool’s game, but then again, I’m at least half a fool. On that note, here’s a future I’ve been mulling over: one in which Apple is no longer the overwhelming end-all of podcast distribution, and where podcast listening is broadly spread across Apple, Spotify, a rainbow of podcast apps, and maybe Pandora.

Barring catastrophe, this outcome feels very probable to me. The questions that remain, then, mostly have to do with details: what the exact market share composition will shape up to be, and the specific story of each player will get there.

We saw a requisite scene-setting development in that latter story last week, when both Spotify and Pandora trumpeted their efforts to siphon more third-party podcasts onto their respective platforms. For Spotify, that meant pulling its “Spotify for Podcasters” dashboard out of beta and open it up to the public. For Pandora, that meant rolling out its equivalent with the public unveiling of “Pandora for Podcasters” self-service online hub, in which podcast publishers can now manually upload their shows onto the platform. There’s a lot of hubbub associated with either announcement, but the fundamentals are about the same: both companies have opened up their platforms for manual podcast inclusion (pending safety checks, natch), something that wasn’t exactly the case before.

It is, ostensibly, a no-brainer for podcast publishers to jump on both platforms. (Unless they’ve signed some lucrative exclusivity deal, in which case, okay.) After all, the fundamental appeal is the possibility of accessing greater pools of audiences, with the conventional thinking being: you already have Apple Podcasts for the already-converted podcast audiences, but Spotify and Pandora present oodles of yet-to-be-converted podcast audiences, which both companies seem somewhat incentivized to convert themselves (at least for now). Why not ride the wave? Sure, possibility isn’t probability, and much as it is on the Apple Podcast platform, where you have to play the Apple Podcast Charts roulette and/or get the attention of the editorial team for banner promotion, you’d probably have to engage in similar dances with the Spotify and Pandora teams. But that’s fine, because you now have three plots of land to prospect for gold, where you used to have just the one.

There are additional incentives being proferred, of course. Pandora is headlining the discovery benefits of being listed within its Podcast Genome Project — i.e. truly algorithmic show-listener matching, a.k.a. a Black Box of Audience Development even more opaque than any chart system — and, tucked away in the FAQ, there’s discussion about direct on-platform monetization opportunities. “You will have the opportunity to indicate if you’re interested in being contacted about monetization during the submission process,” it reads. Which, of course, comes with terms: “Ads sold would replace any ads currently within your podcast (if you have any).” On the other hand, Spotify seems focused, at this point anyway, on building out a value narrative of providing increased listening data to podcast creators, including demographic and geographic information, which publishers can presumably use to enhance their own advertising sales efforts. (That said, all signs point to Spotify eventually layering its own advertising mechanisms onto its podcast-distribution experiences, so there may not actually be much daylight on the monetization question past the short term. The differences in messaging is still interesting, nevertheless.)

The big picture to keep in mind is whether the incentives of podcast publishers adequately line up with the incentives of Spotify and Pandora over the long term; which is to say, whether all these shifts will lead to a proportionally acceptable win-win for these new platforms and for podcast makers as a class (as opposed to, say, a small collection of winner-publishers). This, I think, comes down to  how all that monetization stuff goes, along with how the terms of the rev share and ad integration policy shape up to be. There’s a way this can work, and there’s a way this won’t. It’ll all come down to the details.

On a related note…

  • Spotify is beginning to expand availability for user-generated podcast playlists on its platform. It should be out to 100% of Spotify users by the next week. A buzzy topic for those who are deep into the podcast discovery discourse. That said, and maybe it’s just me, but I’m just not… all that bullish on playlists being that big of a deal in podcast-land.
  • Looks like Slate is bringing back Thirst Aid Kit, the fantastic ~desire~ podcast by Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins, which went on hiatus after BuzzFeed pulled the plug on its podcast business last September. This would be the seventh podcast added to Slate’s portfolio this year. The show will return on September 26, and it will additionally feature Cher Vincent as a producer.
  • Uh… huh. ICMYI: the BBC is launching a rival voice assistant to the Amazon Alexa next year that will be called… uh, Beeb. Here’s The Guardian on the matter. Now, I’m not the kind of person that’s wont to think dimly of something with a silly name, given that we live in a universe with a corporate overlord called Google, but still. It’s perhaps second in its peculiarness to… uh, Knewz.com, News Corps’ upcoming news aggregation service that’s supposed to rival Google News. Then again, this newsletter is literally called Hot Pod, so maybe I really should just calm down.