These are the most important developments in the podcast business so far in 2017

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 135, published September 5, 2017.

Programming note! Ah yes, so we are in September! As you might already know, I’m taking a five-issue break from writing Hot Pod, starting next week and back on October 17, to do the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowship in Cambridge (very on-brand, I’d say). But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Hot Pod #content will stop flowing, as I’ll be serving up bonus goodies here and there to those who read Hot Pod as a newsletter. (You can sign up to that here.)

But even as the newsletter churns out extra, the Hot Pod column as you know it will be on ice for a while. So, before the break and ahead of the third annual IAB Podcast Upfront happening later this week (also the NowHearThis Festival, I suppose), I figured this is probably a good time to take stock of the year in podcasting so far, which is, you know, quite a lot. In this issue, you’ll find top-level numbers, the six big things/trends/developments that stood out to me, thoughts about the three most interesting podcast companies, and some news hits before we break for a month and a half.

Let’s jump in.

The year so far. We begin by asking: Just how much has the industry grown over the past year? And do we have a better understanding of the space than we did before? I’ve been keeping these two digits pinned to my notebook:

  • Audience size: 67 million U.S. monthly listeners, according to Edison and Triton Digital’s annual Infinite Dial report, up 21 percent from 57 million from the year before. The volume of growth between 2017 and 2016 is slightly less than the period immediately preceding it (4 percentage points off a smaller base), which was a source of consternation among some in the podcast community at the time. But as I wrote back when the report first dropped: “We’re still talking 10 million new Americans actively listening to a medium that (a) is still propped up by a barely evolved technological infrastructure, (b) has only seen a few instances of significant capital investment, and (c) still sees its industry power very much under-organized.” Those three things, by the way, have changed a little since I wrote that line. More on that in a bit.
  • Advertising: The industry is expected to top $220 million in podcast advertising revenue by the end of 2017, according to an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) study. The study is the first of its kind, a long-awaited official research effort into a pool of the biggest players in the space — which gives us a floor, at the very least — that’s a marked a step up from that methodologically-fuzzy Bridge Ratings report that’s been floating about the past few years. (Yeah, it’s all totally weird.) The IAB study was also able to give us some valuable historical context: 2016’s podcast ad revenue came in at $119 million, while 2015 came in at $69 million.

I’ll be thinking about how the industry moves forward based on three dimensions:

  • Growth — whether audiences and revenues will continue to grow, obviously;
  • Sustainability — whether companies will meaningfully diversify their revenue streams and whether the industry will see its activities and fortunes spread out across a wide number of companies; and
  • Refinement — whether the ecosystem will improve upon its various inefficiencies, from discovery to measurement to monetization.

Cool. So, with all that out of the way, let’s talk about six big things that’ve stood out to me since January.

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(1) Fundraising uptick. The summer closed with what might have been the loudest month in terms of significant investments in the podcast industry since…well, since I’ve started writing this newsletter in November 2014. August saw a total of four big investments in all (that were publicly disclosed, of course):

  • August 1: Gimlet Media announced a $15 million Series B funding round led by the New York-based Stripes Group, whose portfolio also includes Refinery29, eMarketer, and Blue Apron. Participants in the round also included Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Graham Holdings, Cross Culture Ventures, and Betaworks. Variety had the first writeup.
  • August 3: DGital Media (which would later rebrand as Cadence13) announced that Entercom, the fourth-largest radio broadcaster in the U.S., paid $9.7 million to buy 45 percent of the company. The arrangement was described as an “investment and a strategic partnership” in the press release, and Entercom also signed a “multi-year services agreement under which DGital will dedicate ‘significant resources’ to create on-demand audio content leveraging the broadcaster’s roster of local talent and relationships.”
  • August 23: Art19, the California-based podcast technology company, announced a $7.5 million Series A round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) and DCM Ventures. Other investors in the round included United Talent Agency (!), Gallo Digital, angel investor Zach Coelius, and Array Ventures, according to the press release.
  • August 31: HowStuffWorks, the Atlanta-based veteran podcast company that’s been publishing for almost a decade across multiple parent corporations, announced that it will be spinning out as a new independent company with a $15 million Series A fund led by the Raine Group. Here’s TechCrunch with a writeup, which also includes a look at an executive reshuffle and marginal insight into expansion plans. The spinoff news comes not too long after the company announced a West Coast expansion, one that explicitly targets the comedy category.

First of all, mazel tov to all! But also: Why did all these investments come in at the same month? Also, why did it all come out in the time of year when many a venture capitalist is thought to be on vacation? Conal Byrne, HowStuffWork’s new incoming president, was game to put a positive spin on it, though he doesn’t quite answer the question. “The industry has finally hit the tipping point that investors have been waiting for,” he wrote, through a rep. “Validation of a big market opportunity.” That feeling is generally shared across other sources that I reached out to, though the timing thing remains a puzzle. (Herd mentality? An actual tipping point? Maybe a bit of both?) Nevertheless, there were several private expressions of relief that dollars are finally flowing.

One thing to observe from all this: These four investments are substantially different from the kinds of investments we’ve often seen in (and adjacent to) the podcast space up until this point. Much of the attention over the past few years has generally been on consumer-focused audio app and platform plays — Anchor, Bumpers, Otto Radio, 60dB, RadioPublic, and so on — which are, in other words, stuff that’s more conventionally known within the broader tech industry. But these recent investments — three straight-up media companies, one podcast technology infrastructure company — are specific to the needs, textures, and idiosyncrasies of the podcast ecosystem.

I like where this is going.

(2) Apple analytics. While the summer closed out with news of investments, the season kicked off with an Apple bombshell. During its WWDC conference back in June, the company’s podcast team announced that publishers will soon be provided with in-episode analytics — which is to say, publishers will soon be able to systematically go beyond the download and tell just how much of their episodes are actually being listened to on the aggregate. This is undeniably the most significant development to hit the podcast industry since…well, since Apple consolidated the disparate ecosystem by featuring podcasts in the iTunes architecture, breaking it out as a standalone app, and then eventually packaging the app with iOS by default.

My coverage on the matter was spread across three separate issues:

Nieman Lab also ran a useful piece from WAMU’s Gabe Bullard, who sought to project what might happen to podcasts by examining what happened to the radio industry when its ratings became more precise ten years ago. To sum: A fragmented world was revealed, genres died off, accuracy disputes emerged, and some who were thought to be big turned out not to be all that big after all. We’ll likely see the same kinds of effects ripple across the podcast industry, and as a result, we’ll probably see some recalibration of power and standing. We’re due for a moment of disruption, which is as much a period of potential as it is pitfall. (Chaos is a ladder, after all, as some dude once said.)

(3) More and more adaptations. To illustrate the prevalence of this trend, here’s a sample of just a few of noteworthy developments in this area over the past few months:

  • Gimlet Media articulating its intellectual property pipeline as a prominent talking point for press coverage around its recent fundraise, building on a steadily increasing track record of adaptations that include Homecoming and StartUp being adapted for television, along with the “Man of the People” episode on Reply All being adapted for film.
  • In August, HBO announced that it will be adapting WNYC’s 2 Dope Queens into a series of four hour-long specials.
  • Also in August, Universal Cable Productions announced that it was adapting Night Vale Presents’ Alice Isn’t Dead for the USA Network. Accompanying the news was word of a novel based on the podcast, to be published by Harper Perennial in 2018.
  • The TV adaptation of Aaron Mahnke’s Lore, picked up by Amazon Studios, has an October release date and now, a trailer. A book adaptation is also in the works.
  • There remains scuttlebutt that First Look Media was shopping Missing Richard Simmons around as “potential source material for a TV series,” per a Hollywood Reporter article from April.

The prospect of adaptation is valuable for publishers in three key ways: (1) obviously, it represents a whole new potential revenue stream, (2) they’re good expressions of recognition by more established systems of media and publishing, and (3) each successfully executed adaptation is an audience development and marketing vessel for the original podcast as much as it is a standalone product.

That said, some attention should be paid as to whether these adaptations actually pay off. Remember, it took a while for comic books to rev up as hot sources of intellectual property for the more lucrative film industry, especially after an uneven string of performances in the ’90s and early 2000s. (But then again, the film industry did have a…challenging summer. But maybe that doesn’t really tell us anything?)

(4) On programming. It’s been kind of a strange year, at least for me. We’ve seen a heckuva lot more podcasts of increasing ambition, and we’ve seen some tremendous successes that have taken the medium to new heights. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the pace of successes has been somewhat uneven. Like there isn’t much certainty that the space as a whole can hold the public conversation for a sustained period of time.

In any case, the year in #content so far has been defined in my mind by two things:

  • Two unambiguous hits from early in the year that broke into the mainstream, First Look Media’s Missing Richard Simmons (debuted in February) and Serial Productions’ S-Town (debuted in March).
  • The rise of the daily news podcast, about which I’ve written a frightful amount over the past few months. But frankly, between The New York Times’ The Daily (debuted in February) and NPR’s Up First (debuted in April), I think it’s the most exciting front in the space in a long time. The category represents a whole bunch of things: Innovation! Ambition! Serious consideration of the medium that breaks from podcasting’s still governing skeuomorphisms with radio! And with Vox Media throwing its hat into the ring soon, I’m excited to see how the genre continues to heat up.

Two questions moving forward: (a) Where will the next hit come from? (b) Does my thesis from May — where I argued that the success of Missing Richard Simmons, taken in context of the success of S-Town, indicates that podcasting remains fairly accessible and meritocratic, which is to say that a good thing can stand out no matter of pedigree — still stand?

(5) More and more windowing. There’s been a noticeable increase in such shenanigans between publishers and non-Apple platforms, particularly in terms of promotional partnerships that sees the former giving “exclusive early drop” opportunities to the latter. Examples include:

  • First Look Media’s Missing Richard Simmons releasing episodes early (along with some bonus material) on Midroll Media’s Stitcher platform. Of course, that flow was ultimately interrupted due to some, uh, “extraneous circumstances” related to the meta-elements of the podcast by the end of the show’s run, but I heard the experiment paid off quite a bit for Stitcher. A Midroll rep told me that the partnership drove six times the usual number of daily new subscription signups during the show’s run.
  • Gimlet Media debuted its collaboration with the Loud Speakers Network, Mogul, on Spotify weeks before the podcast would eventually be distributed through the open ecosystem. The Brooklyn-based company later announced that its upcoming history podcast, Uncivil, will be windowed on TuneIn.
  • Speaking of TuneIn, the platform had previously tested out an exclusive distribution arrangement with The Ringer’s MLB Show at the start of baseball season.
  • And speaking of Spotify, the music streaming platform also developed a windowing relationship with WNYC, where the public radio station debuted the latest season of 2 Dope Queens earlier on Spotify.

Aside from Stitcher, it’s unclear to me whether such arrangements are paying off enough to establish this as a worthwhile strategy to be commonly implemented across the space. What is clear, however, is that such moves have not gone unnoticed by Apple, the long-time steward of the space.

And there were hints of blowback from Cupertino. As Digiday reported during the Missing Richard Simmons run:

According to multiple people familiar with the matter, Apple was excited about promoting Missing Richard Simmons until it heard about the windowing strategy. They subsequently abandoned all the marketing plans for the show, those people said.

Awkward! Also, perturbing.

(6) Platform fluidity. Last March, reacting to the launch of Audible’s original programming slate, the introduction of Google Play Music’s podcast feature, and the continued rollout of Spotify’s video and podcast offerings, I argued that the word “podcast” will lose all of its original meaning by the end of that year. Which is to say, the concept will no longer be too tethered to its initial infrastructural connotations — RSS feeds, podcatchers, and so on — and that arguments over what’s a “podcast” and what’s not will be fully relegated into a game of pure semantics and ideological identities. Instead, the way we talk about all of this — the content, the technology, the audiences — will have shifted from a narrative about the clash between an incumbent and an insurgent (“the future of radio”) towards a clash between publishing factions defined by different formations of publishing communities (“a type/genre/kind of audio”).

(Man, I was so much less literal back then.)

I think there’s been a fair bit of evidence that precisely this has played out over the intervening year and a half, contributing to a space that feels a lot more…fluid, conceptually, than it once was.

Consider the following developments:

  • Spotify is producing original podcasts in addition to their overarching efforts to establish their platform as a meaningful alternative to Apple. (Or, internally, to establish podcasts as a meaningful addition to their raison d’etre of being a music consumption platform.) The company seems to be getting ready for another round of original podcast programming, according to Bloomberg, though it’s unclear how that’s been affected by the dismissal of Tom Calderone, its head of video and podcasting operations.
  • Audible and Stitcher Premium, both of which possess value propositions that are defined by a sense of exclusivity, have begun trickling shows out beyond their paywalls and into the open ecosystem.
  • Meanwhile, Google Play Music is making its own quiet excursion into original podcast programming.
  • iHeartRadio, a native of Internet radio (and progeny of old radio), is increasingly agitating to claim some portion of the podcast space. In the past year, the platform has established distribution relationships with Art19, Libsyn, and NPR member stations. It, too, dabbles with some original programming, branded and otherwise.
  • SiriusXM is quietly developing a podcast platform of their own by the name of Spoke.
  • And while we’re on the subject of apps, we’ve also seen increasing activity within the social audio app front. In particular, the Betaworks-backed Anchor — a contemporary of Bumpers — is increasingly deploying podcast nomenclature (and getting involved in the concerns of podcasts writ large) to describe itself, its machinations, and by extension, its value proposition. A prime example of this can be found in its latest audio-to-social video feature, which adapts the broader Audiogram initiative into its infrastructure.

One way to thread all of these developments together is to frame it all as the story of several non-Apple platforms slowly (and clumsily) encroaching on Apple’s position as a steward of the space with a relatively hands-off stance, maybe to one day capitalize on the various inefficiencies that have resulted from that stance.

Have we seen a meaningful alternative platform to Apple yet? It doesn’t seem like it, based on what I’ve seen. As it stands, Apple remains the primary firehose, and everyone else is still a tiny spigot by comparison. Nevertheless, the encroachment marches on.

(A quick side thought on the fate of user generated content-oriented apps: While it’s unclear what their precise value propositions are to bigger publishers, you could argue that they could collectively serve as a good next step for the species of smaller solo independent publishers that find themselves being pushed out by bigger, more organized, and typically moneyed publishers. I haven’t really thought this through just yet, but should Apple change its hands-off stance — and should Apple Podcasts’ facilitation of the space be diluted beyond some proportional tipping point — small and upstart creators would need a place to go.)

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So those are the six trends that’ve stood out to me. As a collective, I think they describe a space that has made meaningful gains where it counts (size, revenue, legitimacy, prestige, awareness, and so on), but as a result has become increasingly complex. That complexity can be destabilizing, and this story has a bigger potential curveball coming its way with the introduction of the new analytics layer in November. Rest assured: I’ll be back by then to cover all of that.

Before I move on to some quick news hits, I also want to quickly talk about the three companies in the industry that have most stood out to me over the past eight months. They aren’t necessarily the most successful or the biggest — though they are quite successful and big — but rather, they’re the most interesting, and they’ve been the most fun to think and/or talk about.

The three most interesting podcast companies

HowStuffWorks. HWS is officially almost two decades old; its podcast business, headlined by Stuff You Should Know, is about half that. And yet the Atlanta-based company has, over the past year, operated with a verve of a much younger venture. It has aggressively hired new talent (working from a playbook that seems to be revolved around drafting established Internet media pioneers from the mid-aughts, including Cracked.com founder Jack O’Brien and Mental Floss’ Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur), expanded the geography of its operations, and spun out as a whole new independent entity with new funds. Can an older hand successfully retool itself for the future?

The Ringer. I happen to love The Ringer as a publication, but I also think the stuff that they’re doing with their podcast network is low-key revolutionary. It features rigorous experimentation (Binge Mode, of all things, is a triumph in concept and execution), a fluid use of their writers as valuable audio assets, and an approach that seems to have meaningfully integrated their audio division with the rest of the business. The Ringer isn’t for everybody, but when it’s yours, it’s really, really yours, and its podcast division is the purest expression of that fact.

That said, the fact that its ownership structure is a mystery makes the enterprise tricky to fully trust. We can’t quite know for sure how the company is doing, and as a result, we can’t assess for sure whether the model is financially successful — and therefore replicable — or not. Then again, The Ringer head Bill Simmons told Recode’s Peter Kafka back in February that they’re doing well, and the organization seems to be valuable enough for Vox Media to establish a technology and advertising relationship with in May, so hey, maybe something’s there.

The New York Times. When the Gray Lady originally announced that it was assembling a new podcast team last year, I imagined an outcome not unlike what we’ve seen with, say, Slate: a portfolio of subject-specific shows that export the feel and sensibility of its parent publisher, only tighter and more pristine. What ended up emerging was something more drastic, the creation of a whole new…let’s call it a franchise. (Or, heaven forbid, a #brand.) By the end of summer 2017, it’s not inaccurate to say as far as the Times’ audio machinations are concerned, you have The Daily, and you have everything else that orbits The Daily.

On the one hand, this is incredibly exciting. That team has built a powerful machine, one that has equal capacity to break stories, deepen impact, and serve as a platform to launch complementary projects. But on the other hand, the problem with building a basketball team around a single player is the implosion that happens when that player gets injured, gets tangled up in controversy, or just gets old. This is a privileged problem, of course, but it’s a problem nonetheless. What happens next will be fascinating to watch.

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Two stories on political podcasts.

(1) The genre is strong! Which is not entirely surprising, of course, given the current spirit of the times where politics and the media have definitively fused into one giant, amorphous, Jeff Goldblum-in-The Fly-like blob. The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr (formerly of Ad Age) has a piece up checking in on the growing category, and it contains two nifty data points for us: First, that the twelve-year-old Slate Political Gabfest “brought in about $1 million in revenue last year at a $25 CPM and an average download of a few hundred thousand per episode,” and second, that revenue for the political podcasts in Midroll Media’s portfolio “has doubled this year compared to 2016.”

(2) Vice News is the latest media org to engage with the “podcasts as left-wing political talk radio” angle, providing a broad accounting of the emerging phenomenon. Do pair that with the “alternative left wing media infrastructure” by The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins from July, titled “How the Left Lost Its Mind.”

Kids podcasts make a marketing push. Drawing some inspiration from February’s #TryPod audience building campaign, a coalition of kids-oriented podcasts are attempting a similar cross-promotion scheme to spread their audiences around and generally bring more attention to the category. Participating shows include Brains On (APM), Wow in the World (NPR), Eleanor Amplified (WHYY), But Why (Vermont Public Radio), Tumble Science (Wondery), Circle Round (WBUR), Story Pirates, and The Longest Shortest Time (Stitcher).

I’m told that the coalition was formed organically, with NPR running point on the outreach to potential participants. This campaign is said not to be directly related to the Kids Listen collective, of which all of these podcasts are members.

As part of the effort, Brain On’s Molly Bloom will be producing a “bonus preview” episode that will feature highlights from participating shows. The preview will be distributed throughout the coalition’s podcast feeds in early October.

The campaign kicked off yesterday, and will run for 13 weeks.

Bites:

  • BlogTalkRadio and Spreaker have announced a merger. Note: “Shareholders from each of Spreaker and BlogTalkRadio will be making investments in support of the combined company’s growth plan, which will be rolled out over the next several months,” the press release states. Terms were not disclosed. (Press release)
  • Ben Johnson, host of APM’s Marketplace Tech and Codebreaker, is moving to WBUR to start a new project on “the vast/complex/rich community of the Interwebs.” Congrats on the move! (Twitter)
  • This is cool: “Welcome to Night Vale’s Cecil Baldwin on Finding the Queerness in His Character.” (Slate)
  • KCRW is ending the broadcast run of its weekday talk show, “To The Point,” and will repackage it as a weekly podcast. Anomaly or trend? Let’s hope that we stick around long enough to find out. (Current)
  • Frontline, the investigative documentary series from PBS and WGBH, is rolling out a podcast with the legendary Jay Allison serving as senior editor and creative director. PRX serves as distributor. The show officially launches on September 14.
  • Now, I don’t usually derive much value from content marketing pieces, but this audioBoom writeup sees the digital advertising agency Ad Results claiming to “own” 40 percent of the podcast industry’s revenues. This isn’t too far-fetched, from what I’ve heard. (audioBoom)
  • Keep an eye on this: “Traditional Radio Faces a Grim Future, New Study Says.” (Variety)

Cool! Thanks for reading. See you in six weeks.

[photocredit]Photo by Gauthier Delecroix used under a Creative Commons license.[/photocredit]

Reply All gets a movie deal (with Robert Downey Jr.), and Spotify is on the hunt for original shows

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 107, published February 14, 2017.

“We’re working on new features for podcasts, stay tuned,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, told Recode’s Peter Kafka on stage at the Code Media conference last night. Kafka had pressed Cue on whether Apple would get more involved in podcasts — specifically, whether better analytics could be provided. (Thank goodness for Kafka.) Cue, as you would imagine, was reticent to provide more details. We’ll just have to see where this goes.

The discussion on podcasts was very short, and you can hear the rest of the interview when it gets posted on the Recode Replay feed sometime later this week.

Missing Richard Simmons. Here’s an audio documentary with a delicious hook: three years ago, Richard Simmons, the fitness guru who was super popular in the eighties (Sweatin’ To The Oldies!), suddenly and inexplicably withdrew from the public eye. The podcast follows Dan Taberski, a documentarian and TV producer who is a friend and former student of Simmons, as he tries to track down and figure out what happened to the man — and in the process, explores Simmons’ place in the culture.

The podcast has a fair bit of firepower behind it. First Look Media is leading the project, with Adam Pincus, the company’s EVP of programming and content, and Leital Molad, who recently left WNYC to head up First Look’s podcast efforts, both holding executive producer credit. The company contracted Pineapple Street Media to produce the show — Max Linsky also serves as executive producer, Henry Molofsky as producer — while partnering with Midroll for sales and distribution.

Part of Midroll’s play here involves positioning Stitcher, which it acquired last summer, as an “exclusive launch partner.” That essentially amounts to a form of windowing: subscribers to Stitcher Premium will receive new episodes a week in advance. Wait, Stitcher Premium — doesn’t Midroll have its own premium subscription service? We’ll get to that in a bit.

Missing Richard Simmons is First Look Media’s latest foray in what is now a substantial push into podcasting. Its portfolio includes the podcast version of the company’s flagship digital property, The Intercept, which rolled out last month; Politically Re-Active; and Maeve in America.

Interestingly, Missing Richard Simmons is First Look’s first audio project that isn’t handled by Panoply, which is involved in the company’s other three shows.

The podcast drops tomorrow.

Related: First Look also announced that Politically Re-Active, its politics show with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, will return for a second season sometime in the early spring. Maeve in America kicked off its second season today.

A few notes on Stitcher Premium. The feature quietly rolled out late last year, but I was late to the party, only spotting the “Premium” button on the Stitcher website sometime in mid-January. Todd Pringle, Stitcher’s GM and VP of product, tells me that what we’re seeing is a soft launch — not a “relaunch” of the service’s previous iteration, Stitcher Plus.

At this time, Stitcher Premium remains separate from Howl, that other premium subscription play under the Midroll banner that the organization had been developing internally prior to its acquisition of Stitcher (awkward). Pringle notes that Howl subscribers can continue to use the platform’s web and mobile apps, and that the merge will come later. “We are planning a simple migration path that, over time, will transition Howl users over to the Stitcher Premium product,” he explained.

So, what’s the deal with Stitcher Premium? The “Netflix for Podcasts” tagline was once again evoked in the response sent to me — ahem, ahem — with ad-free exclusivity being the cornerstone of the strategy here: exclusive archives, exclusive sneak previews, and of course, exclusive original content, dubbed “Stitcher Originals.” (Who isn’t doing original material these days?)

Original projects include:

  • The Seth Morris Radio Project, which launched last week;
  • A show by comedian Jessie Kahnweiler called Schmucks;
  • A new show by the duo behind CBC’s Love Me, Cristal Duhaime and Mira Burt-Wintonick, called Pen Pals; and
  • The second season of The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium, whose first season is currently being distributed over the open infrastructure.

Will this premium exclusive approach to the market pay off? My thinking on this remains the same as the first time I wrote about the model back in August 2015:

Midroll’s choice to play the premium subscription game — with content and a sizable amount of back catalogs placed behind the paywall — and the subsequent positioning of the product as the potential “Netflix for podcasts” exhibits a very specific hypothesis of podcasts as consumable media, one that posits podcasts will be valued by audiences enough where they would pay for it and that enough podcasts have back-catalogues that will be deemed “worth it.”

This is difficult enough to internalize in the present tense. Unlike Netflix and television/movies or Tidal and music, podcast audiences have little-to-no experience with paying for shows in the past, and the hurdle of convincing users to go from an entire experiential history of enduring host-read ads, which they can skip fairly easily, to paying for an ad-free experience is tremendous.

To state the obvious: the success of Stitcher Premium would almost purely come down to a question of programming: Will the team be good enough at curating the right kind of paywalled library, and will it be savvy enough to build right incentives for certain creators to put their wares behind that paywall? And barring that, will the company figure out how to further increase the value of the premium service beyond just the content?

A Reply All episode is being adapted into a movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The episode in question is “Man of the People,” a shockingly relevant tale of a con-man who built an empire off fake medicine, populism, and radio dominance — and the man who works to take him down. The adaptation will be directed by Richard Linklater, with Robert Downey Jr. in the starring role. Linklater and Downey will also serve as producers under their respective production banners, along with Susan Downey, Annapurna’s Megan Ellison, and Gimlet Media’s own PJ Vogt (who reported and hosted the episode), Tim Howard (who edited the episode), and Chris Giliberti (the company’s head of multi-platform).

This is Gimlet’s first announced film adaptation deal. The company currently has two TV adaptations in the pipeline: StartUp (recently given a pilot order by ABC) and Homecoming (being developed by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail). Giliberti also holds producer credit with those two projects. With this third adaptation, I think it’s safe to say that Gimlet has officially built out a formal adaptation pipeline — a move that introduces a whole new revenue dimension and potential to its content backlog. You can read my previous analyses on the topic here, here, and here.

“Spotify has been talking to podcast producers about original shows,” according to a new report at Digiday. Those being approached include: Gimlet, HowStuffWorks, and Pineapple Street Media. The article cites “multiple people familiar with the discussions.” What’s unclear: how developed those discussions are, the substance of those plans, and how central original and non-music content currently are in Spotify’s machinations. (Though, recall that original video programming is apparently still a notable part of the company’s vision.)

Spotify has produced original audio programming before…in Germany. That podcast, featuring the talents of German comedians Jan Böhmermann and Olli Schulz, rolled out last May. (Here’s the press release, for all you German speakers in the crowd.)

Here’s another interesting bit from the Digiday writeup: “To date, podcasts have fit awkwardly into Spotify’s product…The number of users that have bothered to look them, thus far, is quite small. For most podcast producers, Spotify accounts for less than 5 percent of their total shows’ listens.”

Hmm. The article frames the development as a “big new front has opened up in the war for exclusive podcasts.” We’ll see, but at this point, I’m not inclined to read too much into it for all the hesitations I outlined earlier about podcasts and exclusivity. I mean, I see the upside for Spotify to hammer out these deals with bigger podcast shops, but I don’t see any upside for those shops other than pocketing upfront cash — which, as we saw with the now-ceased Facebook Live publisher deals, is good enough reason for some, so long as there are excess resources to commit.

HowStuffWorks partners with AdsWizz to make use of the latter’s dynamic advertising tech to expand its ad inventory and monetize its substantial content library. The partnership will apparently also grant the Atlanta-based infotainment podcast network with increased targeting and reporting capacities, according to the press release.

The move will probably lead to a significant revenue increase for HowStuffWorks, given its relatively evergreen structure. Jason Hoch, HowStuffWorks’ chief content officer, tells me that listening across the network in any given week is evenly distributed between the head and the tail — that is, between the latest episode of a given show and the rest of that show’s catalogue.

To Hoch, this partnership with AdsWizz is more a matter of efficiency than it is about unlocking a whole new driver of the business. “The old method of stitching an ad placement directly into the same MP3 file as the episode makes no more sense than hard-coding a banner ad on your website,” he said. Hoch also notes that this doesn’t really change the dynamics of selling campaigns. “We don’t differentiate between new shows and those in our deep library. In 95% of cases, advertisers aren’t buying a specific episode of a show, they are buying that show and the passionate fan base of that show,” he explained.

Quick note on the tech. HowStuffWorks uses its own internal Amazon Web Services’ hosting infrastructure to house its shows, and that it remains the case after this partnership. “Rather than move our entire infrastructure elsewhere to make this happen, the AdsWizz software platform became technology that sat on top of what we already had,” Hoch said. “That’s pretty unique in the industry and was a good fit for our approach.”

Turner Broadcasting now has its own official podcast arm. The new division, called the Turner Podcast Network, is headed up by Tyler Moody, who serves as GM and VP for the network. Moody was previously the VP of CNN Newsource, the organization’s affiliate video service, and CNN Collection, its video archive library. While in those roles, Moody laid the foundation for CNN’s tentative foray into original podcast content, signing President Obama’s former chief strategist David Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files in late 2015.

“We want to engage with fans of our shows and networks in the podcast space, and do it in a coordinated way across all of Turner,” Moody tells me. “Initially I’ll be on the lookout for things internally, meeting with producers at our networks for show ideas and to assess our current capabilities to deliver high quality podcasts. Externally I’ll be looking at industry trends in terms of content, ad delivery, sponsorship models, and potential partnerships with other podcast producers.”

Here’s a model that other publishers can emulate: Yesterday, New York Magazine’s entertainment site Vulture rolled out Good One: A Podcast About Jokes, a limited-run podcast where comedians are brought on to deconstruct a joke in their repertoire. In other words: “Song Exploder, but for jokes.” Perhaps not unrelatedly, Song Exploder recently partnered with the site for a special run of episodes focusing on notable film scores from last year. That arrangement was timed for awards season, which culminates two weekends from now with the Academy Awards. Good One is hosted by Vulture senior editor Jesse David Fox. It kicked off yesterday, and will run weekly for ten episodes.

The podcast was described to me as an extension of the site’s experiments with topically-focused, one-off editorial projects — similar to the string of “pop-up” blogs that Vulture has executed in the past. A spokesperson directed me to a 2014 Poynter write-up of that strategy, which explained the internal process as follows:

The editorial team comes up with a series of topics they think would be a good fit for New York [Magazine], and the advertising staff tries to sell those concepts to advertisers. If the sales team finds a sponsor, the editorial side creates the blog and fleshes out plans for coverage.

“Basically, we have certain editorial projects across platforms that are pitched to advertisers for exclusive sponsorship,” that spokesperson told me. “The editorial is completely independent (though thematically aligned), but only gets created once a sponsor commits.” In this instance, that advertiser is HBO, which is peddling its latest comedy offering, Crashing.

The production of Good One is handled by Panoply, similar to NY Mag’s other podcast projects.

And speaking of Panoply, it looks as if the network’s sister company, Slate, which also functions as one of the company’s core clients, announced layoffs yesterday. The Huffington Post with the details.

Documentaries, queued up. The Bay Area public radio station KQED is testing an intriguing model to distribute short-run, multi-part audio features: a single RSS feed that will serve as a home for serialized investigation projects produced by the station. The feed is framed as being its own weekly show called Q’ed Up.

The show kicked off operations last week with the debut of its first investigation, American Suburb, an eleven-part feature on gentrification in the Bay Area as told through the story of a single suburb 45 miles east of the Bay. (As a side note, I love titles with the “American” prefix. See: American Governor, American Pastoral, etc. Much gravitas.) At this writing, the station has at least two other features in the pipeline that will immediately follow American Suburb once it concludes, including an investigation into the growing number of homeless college students in the region and another that examines the story of a wrongly accused paroled man.

Holly Kernan, KQED’s VP of news, tells me that Q’ed Up emerged as a means to solve an anticipated problem. “[American Suburb] started out as a reporting project that ended up being this really rich documentary, and so we thought, okay, we want to turn this into an on-demand audio experience,” Kernan said. “But when you have a one-off podcast like this, it’s a problem when you don’t have anything else coming down the pipe once you put all this marketing effort into and build up an audience.”

She added: “So we thought, if we’re going to put all this effort into this beautiful production, why not give it an umbrella?”

Kernan aims to grow Q’ed Up to a point where it’s able to function as a break-even proposition for the station, but she’s also keen on ensuring that the show’s investigations will yield local impact. She notes that the primary intended audience for American Suburb is listeners who live in Antioch and the East Bay — areas covered in the story — and that the station has partnered with the San Francisco Foundation (which also serves as the show’s sponsor) to hold community events to discuss issues highlighted in the investigation.

“American Suburb” is reported by Sandhya Dirks and Devin Katayama. Julia McEvoy is editor.

Keep an eye on this: West Virginia governor’s budget plan proposes to eliminate state funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Tyler Falk at Current with background, The Charleston Gazette-Mail with detail.

Audible seeks the Jad Abumrad bump. Checked out the Radiolab feed lately? The widely loved WNYC podcast published what was essentially a cross-promo for an Audible Original series, the Bernie Madoff documentary Ponzi Supernova, late last week. And it wasn’t an instance of a simple rebroadcast or a straightforward drop-in-the-RSS feed either: the episode was slightly remixed in the Radiolab style, with Abumrad leading segments intros and outros.

This isn’t the first time that Radiolab has published a remixed cross-promo of other another program. Just last month, the podcast ran a similarly repackaged version of the special On The Media series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths.” The show also gave the same treatment to its Supreme Court-focused spinoff, More Perfect, twice last year, though that’s completely understandable given the heritage. But it is, to my knowledge, the first time the show has provided exposure support to a show outside the WNYC system. That said, Ponzi Supernova isn’t a show that’s entirely outside the WNYC family — Ellen Horne, an executive producer at Audible who leads the show’s production, is a Radiolab alum.

It’s often been said within the industry that the most effective podcast marketing channel is other people’s podcasts. I guess that will apply to Audible as well.

Ponzi Supernova wrapped up its six-episode run on Audible earlier this month.

Bites:

  • The New York Times is looking for a producer for a “New York Times Arts show” — that is, stuff like books, music, film, TV, theater. It’s unclear how this show, and this producer, will be related to the still-running first-gen Times pods Popcast and the Book Review. A fascinating job posting, but certainly not as interesting as news of the organization’s partnership with Spotify. Those youngs, they love the musics. (The New York Times)
  • Looks like Who? Weekly’s Bobby Finger has a new show: “Dirtcast,” which comes out of his day-job at Jezebel. (Jezebel)
  • “How Patreon became a major source of revenue for podcasters.” Some podcasters, at least. (Simon Owens)
  • On the more strictly technology front: Betaworks, the “startup studio” responsible for (among other things) Tweetdeck, Chartbeat, and the Digg relaunch, has announced an accelerator for teams working on voice-driven interfaces. Venturebeat’s coverage has more background, and here’s the link to the application.

[photocredit]Photo by Roey Ahram used under a Creative Commons license.[/photocredit]

Hot Pod: Gimlet risks its image as scrappy and transparent by mishandling a show cancellation

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue ninety-one, published October 11, 2016.

Growing Up Gimlet. Okay, there’s a lot baked into this story and I’m still processing, so this isn’t an argument so much as me thinking through this. Let’s get to it.

Podcastland was lit aflame last Thursday when Starlee Kine, the creative force behind the highly popular Gimlet podcast Mystery Show, published a note explaining the show’s extended silence since wrapping up its first season last July. Kine explained that she had been let go “without warning” by Gimlet in April and spent the past few months figuring out a way forward. “I’d been having trouble figuring out the new season — second seasons can be tricky — and so I’d gone away, to work on an episode,” she wrote. “The day I returned, Alex told me the show was unsustainable.” (The note was published both on Kine’s personal Medium account and on the Mystery Show Facebook page, which has since been deleted.)

Gimlet published a statement of its own shortly after. The statement was vague, but it confirmed that the company was no longer participating in Mystery Show’s development. “Mystery Show is an ambitious production and Starlee has an uncompromising vision for the show, which is what makes it so great,” the statement read. “However, these factors combined make Mystery Show unsustainable to produce and publish on a consistent basis.” The company noted that it’s still in discussions with Kine on how she may proceed to produce the show independently. In a recording appended to the StartUp episode released later Thursday evening, Gimlet cofounder Alex Blumberg declined to discuss the issue further, maintaining that some things “need to remain private.”

Pretty scandalous stuff for this still-small podcast industry — so much so that it was written up by more general publications like Vulture, Vox, and Wired. And there’s a lot about this announcement that’s publicly unclear: why Kine’s announcement came out last Thursday, what happened in April, what the actual situation is, and so on. Public response to the news has been fairly negative towards Gimlet for the most part, and in the intervening days, two dominant narratives have come to define the story: (1) Kine was shortchanged by Gimlet, and (2) letting go of the show is a strategic misstep for the budding media giant.

That second narrative is, frankly, more interesting to deconstruct here compared to the first, which has significant potential to devolve into analytically unproductive schoolyard gossip. Whatever happened between Kine and the company is theirs to internally litigate; for what it’s worth, I reached out to Kine for comment, but she declined to extend the issue beyond her statement, and while I was able to discuss the situation with several people familiar with the matter, both inside and outside the company, none were willing to speak on the record. So no, I’m not going to be the one who presents the tick-tock here, but if you’re into that, there appear to be a few other publications pursuing the story — based on some inquiries that hit my inbox yesterday — so you might still be in luck.

The more significant question for me is: What does this mean for Gimlet as a business?

I don’t think the company will suffer much — or indeed, at all — from a revenue perspective. Just looking at the structure of the show, it’s highly unlikely that Mystery Show was ever much of a moneymaker for the company. The first season was made up of six episodes that ran sporadically across a two-month period, and even if you account for an exceptionally strong download rate during its initial run, a fairly strong long tail in the succeeding months, and a comparatively high CPM (set before the show actually premiered, I might add), the show’s very short run automatically keeps its overall revenue potential fairly low. As part of a larger portfolio, Mystery Show would likely have been less financially important compared to the company’s other continuously-publishing properties like StartUp, whose seasonal releases are probably balanced against super-premium CPMs justified by a high-value audience segment, and Reply All, which operates on an industrious publishing schedule and was revealed in a recent StartUp episode to have enjoyed consistent audience growth since launching in November 2014.

Mystery Show’s main contribution to Gimlet was the fact it was deeply loved. It drew critical praise, a star-studded following, and tremendous buzz. The show, after all, scored Kine an appearance on Conan, and it accumulated an exceptionally strong, ardent, and loud fanbase.

And that goodwill, I imagine, is understood to provide a halo effect for the rest of the company’s brand. But Gimlet’s core advertising-driven business model, whose financial health depends on consistent and continuous publishing, values all listeners as equal, and given that Gimlet has no current way to further monetize its audience beyond advertising — and no, I don’t consider the company’s membership play to be an effective secondary channel just yet — Mystery Show’s intense fandom doesn’t translate into a real business case in the company. And while the success of the first season may well have sown the conditions for greater revenue potential for its second season (by virtue of a higher earned CPM), the show still has to be produced on time in a way that make sense within the context of the production costs, which continues to grow as more time is spent on its production. As we know now, the project ultimately suffered from high production volatility, which some companies would probably still consider slogging through if they perceived the potential of, at least, a proportional return on the other side of the investment.

But Mystery Show, as an investment, never really had a shot of generating a strong enough revenue return given its structure, which raises the further question: Why take the risk in the first place? And why continue supporting the show until April — bearing the costs of keeping Kine on payroll, even as the company began to feel that it may not meet its production timeline (which must be enforced due to advertiser commitments)?

The most plausible reason, in my mind, is that the company, well, believed in the art. If we believe this to be the case, then what we have is a company that made an artistic choice that initially paid off but eventually backfired. Which may look naive now, given the circumstances, and perhaps a little irresponsible, given its larger reality as a venture-backed media company that’s accountable for revenue and audience growth, but I’d personally defend it in the overall scheme of things, because I’d much rather media companies — venture-backed and otherwise — take risks occasionally in the service of art (or the public, as in the case of journalistic operations). What I find much less defensible is the way the company deeply mishandled communications in the aftermath of last Thursday’s events, which is a mistake that potentially compromised its core brand dynamics and value.

No two ways about this: Gimlet should have done a better job getting in front of this story and managing the fallout that this incident has brought upon its relationship with its audience. At this writing, the company still has not adequately addressed the concerns that linger on the minds of a good chunk of its audience and fans or even make them anything beyond being blocked out. By skipping that step, the company has drawn into question one of its biggest appeals to its community: a sense of radical, authentic transparency.

There’s a very strong possibility that the company is fully aware of all this and decided to endure that tradeoff anyway. I really have no idea whether this is the case, but if so, it makes the entire situation ever more interesting — and tragic — and it is here, I’d say, that I’m most intrigued about what actually happened behind the scenes. (Though I’m not that intrigued.)

Nevertheless, last Thursday illustrated this breakdown to its fullest extent: Kine’s post dropped hours before Gimlet was set to publish its latest season of its flagship show StartUp. The brilliance of that podcast, which earned Gimlet its initial acclaim when it debuted in late 2014, was premised on a spirit of confessional authenticity, which really shined when it kept the focus on itself. As a listener, you felt like you were friends with these people; you felt like you were glimpsing at the truth; you felt like you were involved in their lives. Gimlet’s blanket unwillingness to attend to this very visible fallout rendered last Thursday’s episode hollow, and perhaps irrevocably undermined the polite suspension of belief that has long distracted you from the actual truth: that even as pieces of nonfiction, these people are still characters on a show, and as much as it feels like you know them, you never truly will.

Perhaps more crucially, this incident also highlighted a fundamental tension within Gimlet as a company that it has never properly resolved: the company actively cultivates a feeling of goodwill associated with being small, scrappy, and independent — a carryover, one would imagine, from its public radio DNA — while at the same time enjoying the advantages of being an empire-building, venture-backed, for-profit business. The company has, in a lot of ways, never really had to publicly confront the burdens, traps, and responsibilities that come with being big and venture-backed, and now it’s doing just that.

Mystery Show’s conscious uncoupling with Gimlet probably won’t matter much in the larger scale of how podcasting plays out in the years to come. But it does mark a public loss of innocence for Gimlet. The company now shuffles out of adolescence, grappling not just with growing pains, but with all the changes those pains bring to its identity. It can no longer be what it once was, and must now fully reckon with whatever it is it wants to be.

Meanwhile, the rest of us in the industry will have to digest how, I guess, we’re all kinda sorta growing up too. *shudders*

The Sarah Awards, part deux. Ann Heppermann, head honcho of the Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Awards that saw its inaugural prize ceremony take place back in April, informs me that preparations for the second ceremony are currently underway and, more importantly, that its website has been redesigned. Among its improvements and additions, the site now also sports reviews of and essays about audio dramas, which is a piece of news that, I suppose, should count as good timing after my whole warble-garble last week about podcast criticism requiring the development of whole new business models.

It looks like the model Heppermann is using for her commissions essentially amounts to patronage. According to her re-welcome note on the Sarah Awards website, those critical essays and reviews are funded by a “generous contribution” from Panoply — which would probably provoke some sort of conflict of interest concern if the reviews were meant to play a kind of consumer-guide role, except that it doesn’t seem like it. The Sarahs, above all, assumes an advocacy role in the podcast ecosystem — something closer in spirit to a trade lobbying or consumer awareness group, perhaps — which is an interpretation that compels me to further wonder what, exactly, is the business of criticism in the first place.

Anyhoo, the next Sarah Awards ceremony is set to take place on March 28, 2017. Submissions for the awards will open sometime this fall, so keep your eye on the website. Until then, occupy yourself with the site’s Very, Very, Short, Short Stories Contest, which is now taking entries.

Radiotopia Fundraiser No. 2. I’m being told that the podcast collective is kicking off its second annual fundraiser this morning. Recall that this whole direct-listener-support thing is fundamental to the collective’s hypothesis. Check out their website for more information.

Quick and Dirty origins. D.C.-based reporter and friend-of-the-newsletter Simon Owens published a great profile of the Quick and the Dirty Tips podcast network, an on-demand audio operation that first came to life ten years ago when Mignon Fogarty launched its flagship show, Grammar Girl, in June 2006.

The network is really interesting for a number of reasons: It has a distinct focus on educational programming that’s baked into a broad adoption of the advice format. It’s an example of a diversified, multi-platform business built around audio as an anchor of sorts. And it has a unique partnership with Macmillan Publishers — one that sees the former play a talent incubation/marketing role for the latter, and the latter play a business development role for the former. The network reportedly generates about 2 million downloads per month with 18 shows in its portfolio, according to the profile.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Might be just me, but I see a really strong parallel between Quick and Dirty Tips and the Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks network (which I profiled last month, by the way). Both are networks that were born relatively early on in the podcast format’s history, and both pursued growth and self-sustainability through the late 2000s. That the two networks ended up adopting a multi-platform strategy as a way to diversify their revenue bases and further build out their brands is probably not coincidental. But what does appear coincidental to me is a common focus on educational programming between the two networks. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what this tells us about the relationship between form and content, but I think there’s a broader story here about “sexy growth” (for lack of better term, my deepest apologies) and not-so sexy growth.”
  • If there’s a huge lesson to draw from Quick and Dirty Tips as a case study, I think it’s this: Your list of potential allies is always bigger than you think it is, especially if you look in non-obvious places. So, if you’re an independent operator starting your show or a network — or indeed, if you run a smaller public radio station somewhere — it’s worth considering partnerships with companies beyond the audio vertical.

Anyway, check out Owens’ writeup, and do subscribe to his Tinyletter if you’re into media analysis stuff, which I’m pretty sure you are.

Lore is successfully heading to television. Amazon has picked up the podcast, whose development was first announced back in April, with a mid-2017 debut schedule, according to Deadline. Other podcast-to-television projects still on my personal watchlist: Limetown, StartUp, and My Brother, My Brother, and Me.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn. Chris Morrow, head of the Loud Speakers Network (which is the home of, among other fine shows, The Read and Tax Season), writes in to tell me that they’re launching a new show this week: InsecuriTea, a show that recaps the Issa Rae HBO show “Insecurity.” The recap podcast is a co-production with HBO.

Morrow continues: “[This] comes on the heels of some additional branded content: Rich Friend, a fashion and music show with Avion Tequila featuring The New Yorker’s Matthew Trammell and GQ’s Style Guy Mark Anthony Green, and Colorful Lives, featuring career advice for African-American women sponsored by State Farm featuring Lip Service’s Angela Yee, Friend Zone’s Fran and Tatiana King from Fan Bros.”

Bites:

  • WNYC begins rolling out internships that now pay $11.50/hour as opposed its previous $12/day rate. This comes after a successful petition campaign from a group called Fair Trade Radio that took place in April. (WNYC Careers)
  • “…a core user expectation [of podcasts] is one of interoperability, where as a listener I know that I can listen to my favorite shows in whichever podcast app I choose, whether that’s the latest paid app or the Podcasts app pre-installed on my iPhone. And right now, the best way to enable that is to follow the rules and publish RSS.” RadioPublic’s chief architect makes the case for RSS, along with some helpful code. (Medium)
  • On the kids’ podcast front: NPR is playing around with an experimental podcast for kids and is looking for feedback. And upstart Blobfish Radio launched a “serialized mystery podcast for kids” called The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel.
  • Remember that tech podcast Bloomberg’s Michael Shane was talking about when I profiled the company’s audio strategy recently? It’s out now. (Bloomberg)
  • Mashable has a profile up on “Jason Flom’s Wrongful Conviction,” a show that comes out of the budding Revolver network. (Mashable)
  • “As accuracy of speech recognition goes from 95% to 99%, all of us…will go from barely using it to using it all the time.” The Economist snapshots the market opportunity in “smart speakers” or audio-first computing. (The Economist)
  • This is a fascinating read: “Podcasting from Prison.” (California Sunday Magazine)

This version of Hot Pod has been adapted for Nieman Lab, where it appears each Tuesday. You can subscribe to the full newsletter here. You can also support Hot Pod by becoming a member, which gets you more news, deeper analysis, and exclusive interviews; more information on the website.

Hot Pod: Is there an opening for budding U.K. podcast businesses to challenge the BBC?

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue ninety, published October 4, 2016.

Night Vale Presents welcomes a new show to the podcast universe: The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air), an audio drama that will “tell the story of a mysteriously impossible variety show broadcast from the top of the Eiffel Tower”…well, let’s just say it’s appropriately strange, and exactly what you’d expect from the Night Vale team. The show is written by musician Julian Koster of the band Neutral Milk Hotel, and will feature a really remarkable lineup of voice talent that ranges from Mandy Patinkin to Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame.

Orbiting Human Circus is the third project to be released under the Night Vale Presents label since its formation in January, after Within the Wires and Alice Isn’t Dead. The show also has the distinction of being the network’s first “independently produced” podcast, meaning that it’s the first project being distributed by the Night Vale Presents team that does not creatively involve Night Vale creators Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. (Cranor cowrote Within the Wires, while Fink wrote Alice Isn’t Dead. Both write Welcome to Night Vale.)

“Julian and his artistic team built the world entirely on their own and approached us with the season one concept and the first three episodes already produced,” Cranor told me when I reached out last week. “We saw a group of artists making music and theater, and they had devised this brilliant digital audio show, and we wanted to provide them with a financial base and audience base to get this work off the ground.”

Authentic, Podtrac’s advertising arm, is handling sales for the show, as they are for the rest of the Night Vale Present portfolio (including the flagship Welcome to Night Vale).

I’ve come to view Night Vale Presents as conceptually equivalent to an indie label and, to some extent, a book publishing imprint — with a strong curatorial commitment to a very specific sensibility, closer in spirit to something like Radiotopia but in structural opposition to more conventional, scale-oriented podcast network like Panoply. (That reminds me: I’ve got to come up with a different vocabulary for these companies; the specificities of their details have accumulated enough to become strong differentiators.) Which is really, really interesting given that, for the past year or so, the podcast industry has come to feel like a protracted land-grabbing conflict perpetrated by entities looking to become the foundational arbiter of economic activity in the space. And I have, in recent weeks, come to suspect that much of that fight has already completed its course.

That leaves us, of course, with the question of what frontiers are left for entrepreneurial creators looking to stretch out their arms in this ecosystem. The enterprise of figuring out how to build a fulfilling business in the post-scale-oriented-network stage of this creative economy is certainly a hard one, but I think Night Vale Presents is doing just that — and providing us with a template of one way forward.

“We have a couple of other artists with imaginative ideas/concepts and we are using our experience to help these people enter the world of podcasting,” Cranor wrote when I asked about what’s down the pipeline. “Joseph and I reaching out to provide whatever resources we can to help initiate these good ideas, whether that is professional support, financial support, or just cheerleading. We want more fiction podcasts, more diverse podcasts, more original podcasts.”

Season one of Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) premieres on October 12, with new episodes dropping every other Wednesday. The first season will run for nine episodes. The podcast will also involve a live tour component, which will start this fall.

Spotify in “advanced talks” to buy SoundCloud, according to the Financial Times. Do keep an eye on this, given that the latter has long served as a solid podcast hosting platform option for newcomers — and even a few networks — and given the former’s gradual push into becoming a worthwhile podcast distributor. (Worth noting: I’ve been hearing from some publishers that their Spotify listenership appears to be growing steadily over time, though not a rate that particularly pops.)

I’m tempted to speculate how this acquisition may impact podcast publishers hosting on SoundCloud or publishers looking to distribute through Spotify — it remains a closed garden — but I imagine that will all be contingent on the details of whatever deal may emerge, should there be one.

Some notes on the U.K. I was curious, like most, when I heard that Panoply was setting up shop in the U.K. When I last wrote about the podcast scene in that region, I was left with the impression that building out an on-demand audio business there would be a tremendously difficult proposition, particularly given the outsized role that the BBC plays in the local non-music audio economy, presumably leaving little oxygen for potential competitors.

Panoply, I figured, is in for a tough fight. But I wondered what someone who has had experience building out a podcast business in the U.K. would think, and so I reached out to Stuart Last, general manager and SVP of audioBoom, a British on-demand audio company that has, in recent years, made inroads in the U.S. His extensive reply:

The podcast market [in the U.K.] is really in its infancy — there’s been an increasing number of independent podcasts, but a noticeable lack of podcast networks compared to the U.S., so the first stage of consolidation has not really begun. Also, the ad sales market is not hugely established yet, both in the money agencies and brands are dedicating to podcasting, and how sellers are selling.

The one thing the BBC’s dominance of the audio space has created is a really competitive independent production industry. By law, the BBC has to buy a large percentage of its radio programs from the independent sector — which means there’s creative, and well established production companies ready to develop and produce fantastic audio products. So I think the main challenge for them will be how to monetize effectively. But their key opportunity is all about content and being able to tap into the independent production industry for great ideas.

I think it’s great that a third major player is launching there — obviously it’s more competition for ourselves and Acast, but because the industry is so in its infancy, it’s a chance for all three companies to shape what podcasting becomes in the U.K.

Interestingly, Last also wanted to clarify the current state of audioBoom for me: “I know we’re also seen as a British company,” he wrote. “We are — that’s where the company was founded and where our HQ is based — but the majority of global business is out of the U.S and we’re growing here at 10 percent a month.” Last further notes his company’s position as a dynamic ad-insertion platform competitor to Art19 and Acast (“and at much bigger scale,” he adds; “over 50 million downloads per month are coming via audioBoom”) and, simultaneously, a podcast advertising sales operation. It currently reps Undisclosed, Astonishing Legends, and the NBC Sports podcast network, among others.

Meanwhile, in Australia. The great continent down under — sorry folks, I couldn’t find a less cliched nickname — enjoyed its inaugural OzPod conference last week, with WNYC’s Manoush Zomorodi presenting the keynote. The conference, which was organized by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), is the second relatively high-profile conference in the country after the more indie-oriented Audiocraft that took place in March. Anyway, I’d like to draw your attention something that the ABC published ahead of the festivities: an audience research report that covers Australian podcast listenership, put together by the organization’s audience insights team.

The report drew from a sample of 1,145 surveys, and it should be noted that the majority of respondents had been listening to podcasts for more than five years. (Which, in my mind, presents a pretty engaged — and therefore somewhat irregular — respondent pool, so keep that in mind when you look through the findings.)

You can view the full report here, but here are the points that stood out to me:

  • Australian podcast consumers listen to an average of 5.5 podcasts per week. The report didn’t make it particularly clear, but I believe “podcasts” is equivalent to “podcast episodes” here. The report also found that nearly 1 in 5 respondents listen up to 11 podcasts per week.
  • The most common location where respondents consume podcasts is apparently at home, with 76 percent reporting that behavior.
  • This is interesting: 36 percent of respondents indicated that they are listening to more podcasts compared to previous year. The report further noted that this is a net 14 percent increase compared to the previous year.
  • Finally, nearly 1 in 2 discover new podcasts by word of mouth and listening to the radio or television.

Cool. And in case you were wondering: ABC Radio is the largest podcast publisher in the country, reporting about 135 million overall downloads and streams in 2015. The company is projected to enjoy about 160 million overall downloads in 2016.

A writer’s room? Parcast is a fairly new podcast network that has taken what’s becoming a conventional route to building out its initial audience base: leaning hard into true crime. (Indeed, it’s a strategy so compelling that even some city newspapers, like the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have adopted it…with moderate success, looking at the iTunes charts.) Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories is a dramatic, reenactment-heavy take on the genre, and it comes off as a bit of campy mix between Nightline and an old-timey radio drama. I’m told it drew 1.8 million “listens” in its first three months.

Max Cutler, a cofounder of Parcast, tells me that the company is set up “like an old-time movie studio,” in that production is built around a rotating pool of screenwriters and voice actors, with different combinations working on a given episode. It’s an intriguing way of structuring your production process, especially if you can make the economics of running a team like that work, and I think it’s a model that other shops should try out in the future — particularly the drama-inclined.

Anyway, the network launched its second show, the salaciously-named Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths, in early August, and Cutler notes that they intend to launch five to seven more shows over the next year.

Recognition. Something’s wrong, argues Johanna Zorn and the Third Coast Festival team in a manifesto published on Medium last Monday. It’s time for the Fall Arts Previews — an annual tradition of sorts where publications across the print and digital spectrum draw attention to upcoming artistic and creative events — but there remains, quite glaringly, an absence of radio and podcast-related coverage. Zorn & Co. further characterize this gap as an extension of a greater lack of critical recognition for the medium — a long running state of affairs, to be sure, but one that’s grown increasingly incongruous given the medium’s recent burst in attention and popularity. “We seek recognition of the Radio/Podcasting genre through thoughtful reviews, criticism, and a deeper examination of styles and trends,” the manifesto concludes. “We know you can hear us.”

As you can imagine, I’m sympathetic to the issue that Zorn & Co. raise here, but reading the manifesto, I found myself wondering: What, exactly, does “recognition” mean here?

When I spoke to the Third Coast team last week, Zorn told me: “It’s like we’re fighting for equality here…We talk about novels, dance, and movies, but we don’t talk about radio and it doesn’t feel like it’s being treated as art.” Maya Goldberg-Safir, the team’s social media strategist, presented a more practical line of argument: “People are still using The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune for event listings. I think those outlets are crucial for us to get visibility as an art form that we deserve at this point.”

A few things here:

1. It’s worth decoupling those two arguments. So, Goldberg-Safir’s argument for greater discoverability — which can yield material economic impact — really resonates with me, but I find Zorn’s appeal for greater cultural positioning much trickier. In my mind, it conveys a sense that the team is appealing to a stable of elite cultural gatekeepers to open their doors and let them in. I’m generally skeptical of any impulse that ties recognition to an acceptance from an elite class, although I understand that feeling.

2. I generally believe in cultivating radio/podcast criticism in order to realize their functional utility as a consumer guide of sorts and to increase their influence over the economic outcomes of podcast projects. To that end, I’m hopeful about the way things are shaping out: Podcast recommendation lists appear to be more common these days, there’s a growing class of young and independent online operatives taking up the task (like the Bello Collective and Podcasts in Color), and there’s been a slow but steady rise in writeups within strong publications (a very recent example: The New York Times’ recent profile of You Must Remember This’ Karina Longworth in the Style section, mere weeks after a similar writeup of The West Wing Weekly in the Arts section.)

3. I also happen to absolutely love consuming criticism as a standalone editorial product. (Hell, I love producing it too.) And as an editorial product, criticism has been subject to all the structural brouhahas that the rest of the media industry is suffering through, including the bifurcation into commodifying plays for scale and narrowing plays for niches. And therein lies the problem: Rdio/podcast criticism of the former kind may be well served by all we’re seeing already — the lists, the occasional writeups by big publications (many of which have been downsizing form-specific critics for years), and so on. The deeper and more thoughtful stuff, the stuff that the Third Coast team advocates for, requires the development of whole new, probably niche, businesses, either within an existing organization or as an entirely new venture. And that is no small thing.

Heads up. The Reply All team is trying out something weird next week: a 48-hour live show where they will take every phone call they get for 48 hours — all day, all night. “We want to see what happens when you open a line to the internet and invite anyone to use it,” wrote Alex Goldman in an email to me. “I have no doubt that will include abuse, pranks, insanity, and very little sleep.” Phone lines open on Monday at 10 a.m. Watch their Twitter and Facebook accounts for the number after that time if you want to participate.

Bites:

  • iHeartMedia dips its toe a little deeper into podcasts with Taglines, a show that comes out of a partnership with Advertising Age. This comes a few months after iHeartMedia rolled out a similar programming partnership with the coworking-space company WeWork. It also follows Libsyn announcing that it would be now distributing podcasts through iHeartMedia’s listening platforms. (Ad Age)
  • I’ve been enjoying the different ways that publications are taking to the Amazon Echo. Here, The Guardian announces its own Alexa skill for the Echo, splitting its flash content pipeline between three categories: news and opinion, reviews, and podcasts. I’m looking forward to seeing how other publications handle design taxonomy. (The Guardian)
  • WNYC’s Note to Self continues its experimentation with audience engagement and service journalism through digital research projects: the show is collaborating with ProPublica on a Chrome-extension-driven study to figure out what, exactly, Facebook knows about you (or thinks it knows about you). (ProPublica)
  • Panoply works to even out its political programming with the inclusion of two gabfest-style podcasts from Ricochet, a conservative website, into its network. I’ve written a little bit about Ricochet and the spread of conservative podcasts before, and if that strikes your fancy be sure to check out this recent article by Wired’s Charley Locke.
  • (Panoply)

  • Quick shoutout to the political podcast producers working overtime to pump out post-debate episodes mere hours after the actual event: Jocelyn Frank and Jayson DeLeon of Panoply’s Slate Political Gabfest and Trumpcast mashup, Brent Baughman of NPR Politics, Galen Druke of FiveThirtyEight, and whoever pulled the super late hours on The New York Times’ Run-Up team.
  • Dropping this here, due to the company’s relative ubiquity as a podcast advertiser: BuzzFeed’s investigation [by former Nieman Lab staffer Caroline O’Donovan —ed.] into Blue Apron’s not-so-wholesome supply practices. (BuzzFeed)

This version of Hot Pod has been adapted for Nieman Lab, where it appears each Tuesday. You can subscribe to the full newsletter here. You can also support Hot Pod by becoming a member, which gets you more news, deeper analysis, and exclusive interviews; more information on the website.

Is Hillary Clinton’s podcast propaganda or a milestone for political podcast advertising?

With Her. Well, this is certainly something. Last Friday saw the launch of With Her, the official Hillary Clinton presidential campaign podcast, which both marks a milestone for the industry and, I suppose, is a sign of the times. The show also has the distinction of being Pineapple Street Media’s first launch, the podcast company recently founded by former BuzzFeed director of audio Jenna Weiss-Berman and Longform Podcast cohost Max Linsky. Linsky holds hosting duties on the podcast, which he ostensibly shares with Clinton herself, though one imagines that her extensive campaigning schedule will ultimately have a say in that.

The podcast is an absolute coup for the company and a strong, attention-getting start to its portfolio. The linkup between Pineapple Street and the Clinton campaign grew out of Weiss-Berman’s previous collaboration with the team, back when she worked on BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast that booked Clinton on as a guest last October. “I stayed in touch with her digital team,” Weiss-Berman told me over email. “And shortly after Max and I started Pineapple Street, we started talking to them and we all loved the idea of a campaign podcast that focused on day-to-day life on the trail and not policy.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that last point — the podcast’s focused on campaign trail life and not on policy — ended up being the point of critique for a few media outlets. Politico’s writeup of the podcast bore the headline: “Hillary Clinton finds another way to avoid the press: Her campaign launches a podcast with an on-payroll moderator whose first interview is the nominee herself,” highlighting the show as an extension of a long-running grievances held by the parts of the news media about Clinton’s tightly messaged campaign. That perspective was echoed by Michelle Goldberg over at Slate, who called the show “charming and gutless propaganda” and further argued that “a politician attempting to circumvent the media by creating media of her own sets a bad precedent.”

I don’t buy those critiques. For one thing, media creation — whether through tweets, a YouTube channel, creating a TV spectacle out of a convention, and so on — is an essential tool for a candidate’s political communication, and it’s one that’s part of a much wider set of tools, with messaging through the news media (either directly, e.g. sitdowns with Charlie Rose, or indirectly, i.e. free media) being only one within a larger toolkit. A candidate’s aversion to working directly through the press, as in the case of the Clinton campaign, may well be morally and procedurally frustrating for the press, but a perfectly fine outcome in this scenario is to make the absence of participation mean something as part of the candidate’s larger spectrum of political communication. (Which, indeed, is what is already happening, and we see traces of that in Slate and Politico’s analysis.)

So the media aversion/”propaganda” reading of the podcast isn’t one that really resonates with me, but I think the reason for that lies in an understanding that the podcast shouldn’t be read as anything too dramatically different from it actually is: a political ad.

Consider With Her as yet another example of a branded podcast — not unlike Gimlet Creative’s Open for Business or Pacific Content’s Slack Variety Pack. (Indeed, viewed this way, With Her is quite possibly the first major political ad buy in the history of the podcast medium.)

And because it’s a branded podcast, we should levy onto it the very same questions (of ethics and execution) that we would those projects from Gimlet, and Pacific Content. Questions like: Is the show successful in harnessing the format’s associations with sincerity, authenticity, and intimacy? (I.e: Do the interviews make her feel more real, the way the Longform Podcast and Another Round have drawn out people in the past? Also, just how real can a career politician, so hardened by decades of battle, feel?) Is the podcast able to be engaging while nulling the overarching context that the listener has opted to enter a space where the brand is trying to get them to think and feel a certain way? Is the project doing a good job being clear with its targeting — is it focused on deepening the candidate’s relationship with her supporters, or is it more engaged with humanizing Clinton in the face of on-the-fence supporters? And is the podcast, with its opt-in, on-demand, and high-involvement consumption requirements, appropriate for that?

That’s how I’d approach reading the podcast. Which is why I’ll say this: Based on the first episode (which runs short, at about 15 minutes), I’m not very sure whether With Her will answer these questions much beyond its novelty as the first presidential campaign podcast ever. To be sure, it’s a fizzy and fun listen, and longtime Hot Pod readers know I love love love me some Linsky interviews. But as a person already predisposed to the Clinton campaign, I didn’t feel like I gained anything particularly new or meaningful that wasn’t already telegraphed at the Democratic National Convention. And considering the broader messaging context, I also don’t think it’s clear yet who the podcast is for — and, by extension, how it’s supposed to carry out the aims of the campaign, which (and this isn’t a new thought at all) really struggles with connecting.

That said: It’s only been one episode, and I want to be clear that an assessment like this doesn’t quite honor the immense complexities that go into working with a campaign that aims to win the highest office of the land. (I can’t even begin to imagine the number of clearances that the production must go through.) The podcast is slated to run up until the election in November, and I have a good amount of faith that the team will figure out a way to take this powerful, powerful novelty — let’s not forget the fact that the first presidential campaign podcast is a major milestone for the emerging medium — and fashion it out into a genuine tool of political communication in the future.

What’s next for PSM? Weiss-Berman: “We’re working on lots of great stuff and something I’m really excited about is that we’re trying many different styles. So we’re doing a very heavily produced short-run serialized mystery show, a really fun chat show with The New York Times, Women of the Hour season two with Lena Dunham, and we’re developing a bunch of original shows. And so much more! And all the shows are really different, with amazingly diverse hosts, so I’m hoping they bring in audiences that are new to podcasting.”

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The convention bump. The Republican and Democratic conventions were dramatic and often confusing affairs, and it seems like a significant number of folks turned to political podcasts to figure some stuff out. Indeed, several enjoyed noticeable jumps in downloads across the two-week period. Some highlights:

  • The NPR Politics Podcast saw more than a 50 percent increase in weekly unique downloaders. (That metric tracks the number of individual listeners based on measurements of IP addresses.) The podcast dropped episodes every morning across the conventions, with each edition covering the goings-on of the night before.
  • Panoply reportedly experienced a 35 percent increase in weekly downloads (over the average of the previous four weeks) among their set of political podcasts: the Slate Political Gabfest, The Gist, and Vox’s The Weeds. The Gist, which is already a daily podcast, opted to drop short review episodes every morning in addition to its normal episodes across the period. The other two shows maintained their weekly schedules.
  • The FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast also saw “a big rise in downloads and rankings,” according to producer Jody Avirgan. A spokesperson later added that over the convention period, the team “saw consumption of the Elections podcast increase nearly 300 percent compared to daily consumption before the conventions.” The podcast also dropped episodes daily across the two events.
  • The Ringer’s Keepin’ It 1600, which features former Obama administration staffers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, saw a bump of about 15 percent. Before the conventions, the podcast had steadily grown up to an average of over 200,000 downloads per episode, and went up to about 230,000 downloads per episode through the two events.
  • BuzzFeed’s No One Knows Anything saw a “171 percent increase in downloads during the two weeks of the conventions, compared to the two weeks before the conventions,” said Meg Cramer, who produces the show. “But, it’s hard to make comparisons, because our convention coverage was different from our weekly show. (Several topical mini-episodes, vs. one big show.)”

These event-based growth bursts are extremely valuable, but the real question is whether the shows will be able to retain the influx of new listeners. Brent Baughman, who produces the NPR Politics Podcast, tells me that, while it’s still a little too early to tell, he estimates that about three-quarters of the podcast’s new listeners have stuck around since the conventions. He also notes that the podcast now enjoys an audience of over 560,000 weekly unique downloaders.

It should be noted that the bumps didn’t come from organic discovery alone. Around the convention period, FiveThirtyEight carried out aggressive cross-promotion efforts that hoped to draw in audiences that exist on its other platforms and on platforms controlled by parent ESPN. Those efforts included a refocus on embedding the podcast in FiveThirtyEight articles, adding language that welcomed new listeners to the show, featuring the podcast in the ESPN app, and working with ESPN Radio to run a spot on terrestrial stations promoting the podcast. “That’s going to start working into the rotation soon, I hope,” Avirgan added. “It’s not going to be a huge push, but frankly I imagine a lot of the kinds of folks who are just tuning in to the election are the types of folks who are listening to ESPN Radio, etc. So, we’re trying to be smart about targeting that group.”

NPR marshalled similar efforts of their own. On July 14, Gimlet’s Reply All dropped an episode containing a guest dispatch by NPR reporter and Politics Podcast cohost Sam Sanders (who, by the way, is an absolute star) that focused on the shooting in Dallas. And in the following two weeks, NPR director of programming Israel Smith coordinated a strong cross-promotion push across the organization’s other podcasts, acutely focusing attention onto the Politics Podcast and its presence on the convention floors.

Key national events like these conventions are essential opportunities for podcasts — or any new medium, really — to prove their worth as possible additions to the world’s wider information architecture, and the onus is on them to make themselves known in times when collective reality feels increasingly distorted.

“I think you build news consumption habits in a year like this,” Baughman said. “It’s a time when you generally want to be more informed than you are.”

An audio newsletter. It’s always a wonder to find a place that’s doing strange and wonderful things.

One such place is Boston public radio station WBUR, which will be launching an experimental 21-day fitness podcast project called The Magic Pill next month. Here’s how it works: People who sign up will receive daily Magic Pill newsletters, with each missive — that can be consumed right off their inbox — containing a short podcast episode that contains exercise tips, stories about fitness, and even some music to get that body movin’. Participants move through three-week-long sequence on their own, as they’re given the ability to initiate the challenge cycle at any time, and their relationship with the podcast will be tightly managed through their interactions with the newsletter.

“In a way, you could call this an audio newsletter,” said Lisa Williams, who holds the title of engagement director at the station. “It’s a real hybrid.”

The challenge is one of the many projects being developed in WBUR’s Public Radio BizLab, a Knight Foundation-funded initiative that seeks to explore possible new business models that can help sustain public radio stations in the future through rigorous experimentation and design. (And let me tell ya’, some of these experiments are fascinating, including a blockchain-powered emerging music library.) The lab is a smart, deeply needed enterprise and, quite frankly, I’m amazed that such a thing exists in the first place.

Like all other BizLab projects, The Magic Pill was designed to answer very specific, testable questions: Could you create a tightly-design podcast experience that plays out within a subscriber’s inbox (as opposed to, say, an RSS feed)? Can the process of creating that experience increase the level of data literacy among the operators at WBUR? And, perhaps most importantly, are listeners who take part in an ongoing experience more likely to donate or become members?

That last question, which focuses on discovering new fundraising avenue within the public radio system, is a crucial pillar for the BizLab initiative. And much of the project designs are guided by tangible, and often frustrating, past experiences. “We did this great project once on Whitey Bulger,” Williams said. “It was just such amazing work, but we didn’t do anything to package it in a way that would get people to support the station more. But when we packaged and sold it as an ebook, about 11,000 people bought it. We left money on the table.” (Interestingly, the ebook, “Whitey on Trial,” is generally available for free, but it’s priced at $1.99 on the Amazon Store — the lowest possible rate — because ebooks can’t be listed there for free.)

When I asked Williams what conversion rates she would consider a success, she guided me to focus more on the balance between outcome and effort. She noted that relatively low conversion rates would still be considered fine, given that the amount of work that goes into making The Magic Pill is significantly less than the huge fundraising efforts that involve heavy participation across the whole station. In Williams’ mind, the emphasis is on the tightness of workflow and a rigor in pushing specific sets of audiences down the fundraising funnel. It is a valiant, refreshing prospect, and I’m curious to see where this goes.

You can sign up for the newsletter here. The Magic Pill project goes live on September 1.

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Bumpers. I believe I’ve been on the record before as not particularly enthusiastic about social audio apps and any relevant enterprise that seeks to make podcasts more shareable on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook more broadly. For me, the arguments largely takes two forms: (1) a sense that the rendering of a piece of media into something more shareable threatens to deconstruct, atomize, and commoditize that piece of media for a whole other purpose — and for podcasts, that fundamentally means a stripping it of its original value proposition, and (2) a general feeling that social platforms are universes upon themselves whose activities should be native to the very structures of those platforms. Plus, there’s a whole square peg/round hole bit to such efforts, and I just find it all rather inelegant.

That said, I’ve still made it a point to keep an eye on new social audio apps like Anchor (my write up here) and Rolltape (R.I.P., my write up here) because I figured there’s always something to learn from such experiments.

Which is why I’ve been tracking a new app called Bumpers for some time now and, I have to say, it’s perhaps the audio-oriented app that comes closest to deconstructing and replicating the original value proposition of a podcast. Where apps like Anchor and Rolltape focused on communication, Bumpers firmly trains its eye on creation and expression — and that, I think, is where it gets the association right.

Here’s how it works: Users record a session through the app, which then automatically segments the recording based on sentences that users can stitch together into a podcast (referred to as a bumper within the app’s universe, for obvious reasons) by selecting and sequencing those sentence units into a whole through the app’s rather intuitive mobile audio editing interface (which, goodness, is key to the whole experience). There’s a library of preset sounds that you can throw into the mix, the additions of which greatly influences the feel of the bumper — not unlike, say, how an Instagram filter alters the feel of a picture.

That evocation of Instagram is not accidental. “I think a good analogy is Instagram for podcasts,” said Ian Ownbey, one of Bumpers’ creators, when I asked him to describe the app, which I had trouble articulating. “Instagram’s goal wasn’t to replace professional photographers — it was to let everyone else easily take and share high quality photos.”

Ownbey, who was an early engineer at Twitter and is also responsible for the OneShot app (which I’ve written about in relation to the theory behind screenshorting audio), has been paying close attention to the dynamics of the podcast space to build Bumpers, and thus is privy the complexities associated with the distribution and listener-end of the ecosystem. A lot of those considerations inform the development of the app.

“The problem isn’t solvable as long as the community is fractured over all these different consumption mediums,” he said, reflecting on the distribution question. “Even if I went out and created a consumption client that had the best discoverability in the whole world, it would be impossible to get adoption high enough that it was useful…If all the listening happens in Bumpers itself (or in an embed from bumpers), we can start to solve these problems.”

For now, though, it’s still early days for Bumpers, and so tackling the distribution angle will have to be a future preoccupation. “Creation is our entire focus right now,” Ownbey said.

Bites:

  • A little more on the NPR Politics Podcast: Producer Brent Baughman believes the experience producing the daily convention episodes have given them a roadmap for possible breaking or morning news podcast projects in the future. “Someone’s going to plant the flag on the morning news podcast, and I think it can be us,” he said.
  • I am super, super psyched over Castro 2, a new podcasting app that shifts the user experience paradigm in such smart, wonderful ways. (Supertop)
  • After the Cleveland Browns, another NFL team has launched their own official podcast: the Baltimore Ravens. (Official Ravens website)
  • According to Current, “the audience for NPR’s newsmagazines and its member stations has been growing,” bucking a recent trend. The organization credits the rise to a bunch of different factors — much of them internally driven, but also one that involves a change in how Nielsen collects listening data — but as Tape’s Mickey Capper tweets out, “wouldn’t the main factor be the election?” Be sure to check out the ensuing thread.
  • “The (Future) Queens of Podcasting.” (The Ringer)
  • This is super cool: “Introducing 1,000 Words, a podcast that describes internet pictures in binaural audio.” (The Verge)

Serial finishes season 2, and The New York Times, ESPN, and Digg all bet on podcasts

The New York Times builds a pod squad. Nieman Lab covered this pretty comprehensively last week, and you should definitely check out their writeup for the full skinny, but here are the highlights as I see them:

  • The paper of record is assembling a new audio unit to develop a slate of “news and opinion” shows. It hopes to roll out throughout the rest of the year and into 2017. The exact number of shows to be launched is unclear.
  • Some staffing details for this new unit: Samantha Henig is editorial director, Kelly Alfieri is executive director of special editorial projects, and Diantha Parker is editor and senior audio producer. Pedro Rosado and Catrin Einhorn will also be audio producers in the unit. Local podcast rabble-rouser Adam Davidson, who is also a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, will serve as an adviser.
  • Some info on the long-term strategy, from an internal Times memo about the new unit: “The plan is to pursue a two-fold strategy: to launch a handful of shows with outside partners which, like Modern Love, have a strong prospect of quickly attracting a wide audience; and then use those shows as a platform from which we can build audience for shows produced within The Times that are as integral to our coverage as our live events and visual journalism efforts.” Delicious.

So, what is the significance of this development? In my mind, the distinction lies in the scale (and gumption, frankly) surrounding the design of the Times’ new audio unit: its staff size and density, show rollout expectations, intent on meaningful revenue, and scope of ambition in terms of aesthetic and goals.

As anybody shouting “bubble!” will tell you, many publications are currently dabbling in podcasts; some successfully, others less so. A big part of the strategy for networks like Panoply and DGital Media involves them serving as intermediaries for publishers, shouldering significant chunks of the creative, production, strategic, and monetization burden for partners. And for many of these arrangements, it’s not exactly “plug and play,” but it’s fairly close.

Such partnerships provide reduce publishers’ risk, as startup costs are relatively low and they don’t have to personally invest much resources into infrastructure and talent that may be difficult to shed should their audio strategy burst into flames. It’s a solid, conservative strategy, but the tradeoff here is that there’s a ceiling to what publishers can achieve in these arrangements — creatively (given the limitation on dedicated resources), monetarily (given that the responsibilities are largely shouldered by the partner network), and even from a brand perspective (given that there’s a limit to how unique you can sound when you share a network’s production infrastructure, sensibility, and possibly template with other publishing competitors).

By choosing to build a team in-house and diving face-first into audio (and not for the first time), the Times is eschewing that relatively conservative route for a more aggressive and robust podcast strategy, one that sees the paper essentially doubling down on its ability to determine an aural aesthetic that will result in a better payoff. As the internal memo indicates, that strategy does not necessarily preclude partnerships; it just suggests that they demand more from those partnerships. In these arrangements, networks (or public radio stations) would be required to serve more as collaborator than intermediary, more partner-in-crime than outsource factory. We saw the fundamentals of this with the company’s enormously successful Modern Love podcast — which launched in January, currently draws over 300,000 downloads a week, and comes out of an involved partnership with WBUR.

This is all a reflection of the basic dynamics of risk and reward: The more you’re willing to risk by pouring more resources into the strategy, the more control you’re going to have over shaping the outcome of that strategy, and the more reward — from all corners — you stand to gain from it. As the adage goes, you don’t get a win unless you play in the game.

One more thing: The announcement of the unit was accompanied by a pretty gorgeous job posting for an executive producer. From the looks of the job description, they’re looking for a veteran to quarterback the team both creatively and operationally.

I’ll be taking bets on who they end up hiring, and what shows they end up rolling out. HMU.

Related: shooting up a flare just hours after the Times job posting went live, the other paper of record The Washington Post announced on its PR blog that its Presidential podcast has topped 1 million downloads on iTunes since launching in January. The post further mentioned that “more than 100,000 listeners download the podcast each week,” not including folks who listen right off the Post’s site.

I’m all about that Gray Lady-WaPo rivalry, and I’m psyched it’ll play out on the audio front too.

On strategy. Speaking of podcast strategy, you should totally check out Adam Davidson’s recent Medium post that refined and expanded his critique on that very subject as it pertains to NPR. There’s quite a bit to absorb from it, but I’d like to note two quick things:

  • Davidson’s post contains a bunch of specific prescriptions, but here’s how I interpret the fundamentals of his critique: that the organization’s process of developing podcasts is more chaotic than not, that the pace of new podcast launches is way too slow, and that both of these things come out from an ecosystem-wide podcast strategy that’s lacking in coherence, vision, scale, enthusiasm, and intent.
  • A constructive question, at this point: What, exactly, makes a podcast strategy? Seems like a simple question with an obvious answer, but I think it’s actually pretty complex. I find it helpful to think about it, above all things, in terms of goals and intent: What do we want to achieve with podcasts a year from now, and what should we do to get there? Within this framework, you can sort of begin to see the source of Davidson’s frustration: It’s probably unclear to him what NPR wants its podcast operation to look like a year from now, and when you contextualize that against the larger trends in the industry — trends that distinctly flow towards digital — you can reasonably understand why the NPR alum is unnerved. For the record, the organization’s goals on that front are pretty unclear to me too, and I spend a lot time staring into the transom. Also worth noting is the fact that it’s entirely possible there is a coherent internal strategy, and it’s just not being well communicated. In which case, the possible counterargument is: What’s the point of communicating what we’re doing right as long as we’re doing it right? To that I say: positive messaging is important for internal morale, external recruitment, and the faith of the public radio random!

By the way: The first episode of Embedded was great! It felt really raw and illustrative, and it projected a sense of place really, really well. Gonna hold my judgment until we’re a couple more episodes in, so stay tuned.

Related: NPR has finally revamped its audio player, eschewing the popup player route for a snazzier, smoother in-browser experience. The player, which now rests persistently on the right side of the site, is designed to allow users to flow seamlessly between local member station streams and NPR’s own content made available on-demand.

The revamp also affords new digital sponsorship formats, including podcast-specific matchups and multimedia mobile slots. Cool stuff.

Also, the great Linda Holmes of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour on NPR One.

Serial closes its second season. And just like that, it’s over. Last Thursday, the wildly popular This American Life spinoff published the final episode of its ambitious second season, which throughout its run had unambiguously moved beyond the first season’s local true crime scope and took on the subject of Bowe Bergdahl.

The season drew strong numbers. Entertainment Weekly reported that the second season had surpassed 50 million downloads going into Thursday’s final episode. Kristen Taylor, Serial’s community editor, confirmed those numbers, further noting that each episode had consistently enjoyed around 3 million downloads on its launch week throughout the season.

While the show’s numbers were not altogether surprising given the now-legendary response to the first season, it did strike me as incongruous with what feels like a relatively tepid critical response. I asked Taylor how the team has felt about the reception this season, and whether I’m erroneously reading my conception of hype or buzz as some approximation of critical response. “The second season is a really different type of story, and of course the field is in a different place than last year — what you’re seeing in the number is the dark social, the growing audience listening and writing to us and talking to each other privately,” said Taylor.

“The team is damn proud of the season,” she added.

Details are slim on the show’s third season, though a followup EW interview with Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder suggests that we shouldn’t expect it anytime soon. The two also mentioned that they were “also looking into other projects, and other shows that are not Serial, but Serial-adjacent.”

ESPN does “longform” audio. The Disney-owned sports media empire flexed its audio muscles today, launching a five-part audio documentary series called Dunkumentaries. In case the word “dunk” means nothing to you, or if you’re one of those people who ducks behind the word “sports ball,” the series is a collection of stories all about the sport of basketball.

Radiotopia fans might find the project familiar: Back in February, ESPN and the 99% Invisible team collaborated for an episode called The Yin and Yang of Basketball about the sport’s invention and the design problem that came out from its initial conception. The Dunkumentaries podcast feed went live around the same time that episode was published, back in February.

Dunkumentaries comes out of ESPN Audio, and its being billed as the unit’s “first longform podcast” — signaling a trendy expansion in offerings for an operation that’s long favored talk radio fare like Jalen & Jacoby and audio-only versions of television broadcasts like Pardon the Interruption. The documentary will feature a rather unconventional ad integration with SeatGeek (a growing staple in sport podcast advertising), according to the Hollywood Reporter. Instead of a conventional host read, the campaign will involve a serialized story spread out across the five episodes’ pre-rolls.

The series was published in its entirety this morning, using a tactic last adopted by Panoply with its Pregnancy Confidential podcast. (The so-called binge method was also partially adopted by American Public Media’s Codebreaker podcast, albeit as part of a larger transmedia project.)

Episodes are on the short-side in podcast terms, ranging between 12 to 20 minutes.

Digg dabbles in podcasts. The social curation site (and erstwhile Reddit competitor) launched a podcast project yesterday, and it’s part of a fascinating piece of multimedia journalism. What The Hell Happened In East New York? is a four-part podcast series, hosted by Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Abnos, that follows journalist Kevin Heldman as he investigates East New York’s status as one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. It’s…a little hard to provide a more substantial explanation of the podcast without diminishing one of its core hooks, but I will say that it’s vaguely Sherlock Holmesian in the sense that it presents Heldman as a character in a larger narrative.

Much like Dunkumentaries, the whole series was published simultaneously (noticing a trend, anyone?), and the project culminates this Friday with the publication of Heldman’s investigation as a feature on the Digg website. The project is a co-production with The Big Roundtable, the narrative nonfiction site founded by Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Shapiro.

This isn’t Digg’s first involvement with podcasts. In the past, the site has partnered with podcasts like Reply All and The Sporkful to package their episodes with rather lovely visuals and extensive writeups before serving them to the Digg readership through its various channels. But this is Digg’s first direct editorial involvement with an audio project, expanding on the original editorial work they’ve previously done for text features and video.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with how the project came out,” Anna Dubenko, Digg’s editorial director, told me over email. “There were moments where we were all nervous about how it would come together — there were so many moving parts…that we wondered if it would be too confusing for our readers. But, as we’re seeing in this first day of promotion, people get what the project is about and, I think, like the fact that we’re trying something with multimedia approach. More than anything, I think people appreciate that we’re not trying to do something gimmicky with audio, but really trying to honor the medium.”

When I asked if we should more audio stuff coming out of Digg in the future, Dubenko replied: “YES to more projects! Specifically with The Big Roundtable.” Fabulous.

Wonk. I spoke with Atlantic Media Strategies’ Jim Walsh the other day about the state of the podcast industry and where it’s going, and Walsh published a cleaned up transcript of our conversation over on the AMS’ Digital Index blog. It should be stated that Walsh’ efforts to transcribe and string together my chaotic, unstructured rambles made up almost exclusively of run-in sentences are nothing less than heroic, and that upon reading the article for the first time, I have swiftly concluded that I am, indeed, an insane person.

Relevant bits:

  • Here’s a sweet spinoff coming out of the HBO-Bill Simmons partnership: The Watch’s Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald will host a weekly Game of Thrones recap show on Mondays which will be distributed through HBO Now, HBO Go, and HBO On-Demand. WATCH THE THRONES. (The Ringer)
  • SoundCloud rolled out its new subscription streaming product, dubbed SoundCloud Go, last Tuesday. The new feature pushes the company more directly in competition with existing streaming companies like Spotify and Apple Music. The future of its status as the go-to free audio hosting platform, which has made it popular with budding podcasters, remains unclear. (The Verge)
  • Speaking of Spotify, the Swedish streaming company raises a billion in debt financing. (Wall Street Journal)
  • PodcastOne, the Adam Carolla-centered network led by Norm Pattiz, launched its own premium subscription play. From the press release, it appears that much of the network’s archives will be stored behind the paywall. Priced at $7.99 a month. (All Access)
  • Distribution responsibilities for On Being to shift from American Public Media to PRX. (Current)

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Talent discovery, a podcast accelerator, and a Ryan Seacrest joke begging to be made

The finalists for the WNYC Podcast Accelerator have been announced! For context: The accelerator was launched back in June on the heels of the station’s first ever women’s podcasting festival, where applicants were invited to pitch their big podcast idea for a shot to getting a pilot produced under the auspices of WNYC. The announced finalists will now spend the next few weeks in a “virtual” accelerator program — no idea what this means in practice, but hey, let’s go with it — in the run up to the Online News Association 2015 conference (dubbed ONA15) in sunny Los Angeles on September 25, where they will make their trained pitches to a panel of judges that includes:

  • Dean Cappello, WNYC’s chief content officer
  • Emily Botein, WNYC’s VP of on-demand content
  • Glynn Washington, creator, host and executive producer of the exceptional Snap Judgment

Still no word on who will play the role of Ryan Seacrest, but I’m holding my flowers for Brian Lehrer, because why the hell not. Specific info on the finalists can be found here, and there’s no mention of what happens to the non-winners. But I just want to put it out there: Non-winners, feel free to gimme a call. You know that’s cooler than producing a pilot? Producing a BILLION pilots.

So, about this accelerator. To begin with, I’m still trying to get a sense of how I feel about the whole thing. On the one hand, any effort to surface and foster new talent in the (still) hierarchical and notoriously career-linear world of radio (and now podcasting) is unambiguously welcome. But on the other hand, the nature, context, and veracity of these efforts are extremely important, and there’s something about this accelerator that feels slightly off-the-mark.

When I first heard about the accelerator, my first thought was: “Why all this attention on outsiders when WNYC is positively overflowing with untapped talent?” After all, as the legend goes, Death, Sex, and Money was the winner of an internal WNYC competition a few years ago (all hail Anna Sale), and TLDR, the On the Media spinoff whose original team would later create Reply All for Gimlet, was also a podcast that came out as a result from all the talent-surfacing instigated by that competition. And plus, given WNYC’s widely-known exodus of mid-level talent (and you can imagine that at least some of those talents are just gunning for an opportunity to climb), why look outward? Why not just keep tilling the soil in your own backyard, and facilitate a robust internal mechanism that allows for continuous, perhaps seasonal, internal discovery of new potential hits, instead of dedicating effort and resources into plowing through 400 reported applications of a bunch of randos?

Thinking it through a little further, the answer is fairly straightforward: because it’s important to expand the scope of discovery beyond the organization. WNYC is an Institution; it has a specific sensibility, a certain sound, a unique aesthetic logic across its many properties. Its shows grow out of its walls; the organization informs their creation and their definitions, which is great for optimization, but not so great for ideation. An organization is limited in the way it is able to dream, at a certain point. An outward-facing accelerator, then, is an invitation for sounds that WNYC is incapable of generating to be accepted into the institution, where they can be co-opted, optimized, and distributed.

At least that’s the idea in theory, I would imagine. But the current format of the accelerator doesn’t suggest that the initiative would be able to assess the theory to its fullest extent. The best possible outcome for a finalist would be that the opportunity to have a pilot produced under the guidance, (probably) training, and resources of WNYC (and ONA, I believe!).

But then what?

Would the winner have the opportunity to secure a job at WNYC, where said winner would be able to continue honing and contributing her/his skill regardless of whether the pilot becomes a show? Would the pilot get a good shake of having the opportunity to see how it holds up in the wild? And what is the accelerator actually saying to the winner? Does it borrow the language of tech accelerators, in the sense that “we’re helping you find out whether your idea was worth it, by giving you resources/support and pushing you into conditions where you can succeed or fail fast?” Or does it more borrow from the logic of TV pilot season: “Will you strike a chord with an audience, and will you strike it quickly?” Answers to any of these really key questions remain ambiguous to me, and that’s causing me to furrow my brow a tad bit.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, even with my scruples, the accelerator still strikes me as an exceptionally positive force in the industry, both in the fact that it’s drawing attention to some really talented people and for the mere symbolism of the whole endeavor. And now that I really think about it, I suspect that I give relatively few bananas whether the podcast accelerator ends up fully realizing its conceit or not. ((However, I would give endless bananas if the accelerator didn’t end up doing right by the finalists, which is to say, if the accelerator ends up stringing them along with an inflated sense of what they could potentially get out of the initiative. Nothing, at this point in time, suggests that this will happen, but you never know, and it’s always important to just point it out.)) The fact of the matter is: We need to build more spaces and raise more structures that allows for new talent, ideas, and voices to be expressed, cultivated, and discovered.

This is something I’ve been trying to get a handle on for some time now, but there are simply not enough spaces like these for spoken audio. Speaking generically: The music industry has bars and open mic nights and YouTube channels, while the film industry has festivals and underground cinemas and, well, YouTube channels (thank you Scandinavia for Kung Fury). We have iTunes and SoundCloud, I guess, but we’re all fairly aware that both platforms are each bounded by their own specificities, so any move to create more dedicated and focused spaces for talent and podcast discovery is great, great, GREAT. The accelerator may not end up being the best of execution of the idea, but it’s another point of discovery, and at this point in the time, I have a feeling that podcast discovery is a game won by the quantity, not quality, of these discovery points.

Anyway, I was going to go on a much longer bender over the existing sites of podcast discovery, but this item is running waaayyyy long, so I’ll come back to it some other week. But speaking of WNYC…

WNYC to co-produce Snap Judgment. So this is a really interesting development, particularly if, like me, you’re fascinated by how the mechanics of this arrangement would work. The amazing Snap Judgment, which is hosted by the great Glynn Washington and features a very specific interpretation of the nonfiction narrative genre dominated by This American Life and its alums, will begin a partnership with WNYC starting October 1 where the public radio station will help support the show from a sales, marketing, and business development perspective. (Which is to say, it sounds like they will bear the responsibility for much of the show’s longterm strategy as a brand.) You can find a good, granular breakdown of the responsibilities, which WNYC will partially share with NPR, over at the Current writeup.

WNYC will also assist Snap Judgment with “creative aspects,” according to the article. What this means in practice remains to be seen, because the Snap Judgment team is based out in Oakland, California (same hometown as 99% Invisible, by the way!), so one would imagine that either a lot of flying or teleconferencing is going to happen, or somebody’s being embedded or moved. Either way, I’m pretty excited, because Snap is a phenomenal show, and those folks deserve all the support in the world possible.

This partnership also continues WNYC’s current streak of flexing its bulging, throbbing biceps in the world of public radio podcasts. Earlier this summer, the station announced that it was breaking distribution ties with NPR to distribute On The Media and Radiolab themselves, which is probably the biggest “I don’t need a man” signal coming out of WNYC. (Remember: NPR exists to serve its member public radio stations, which historically rely on NPR to handle distribution of shows from one station to every paying station in the country.) You can find more on that, again, over at Current.

Damn. I’ve spilt a lot of ink on WNYC. Ah, well, it’s a big week for them.

Bill Simmons. You can’t keep an industrious man down. The former ESPN personality is slated to make his return to podcasting on October 1, where he will debut a new show under a new multimedia contract with HBO. While it’s my understanding that your mileage may vary when it comes to Simmons, I’m personally a huge fan of his work — particularly his podcast the BS Report and his work as founder of the miracle in digital media publishing known as Grantland, itself a quality podcast producer — and I’m excited to see what he cooks up over the HBO, home of dragons, Yonkers, and Colin Farrell’s mustache.

More details and context in this handy dandy WaPo writeup.

WireTapped. Did you hear? WireTap, the painfully unique CBC radio show written, produced, and hosted by the great Jonathan Goldstein, is no more. I’m fairly upset about this. I’ve always felt that WireTap is, in many ways, the perfect podcast. It’s the sincerest embodiment of a writer’s brain — a sonic and verbal performance that oozes with the chaos, wit, and burdens of a very specific perspective. Which is to say not everything on the show is real or true, which is also to say that the show is so good at making fun of the line between fiction and nonfiction. And when the show chooses to go all nonfiction… oh what a JOY (even when it’s incredibly distressing, like in “How To Deal With Loss.” To me, this is peak Goldstein. PEAK GOLDSTEIN).

Gimlet has already announced that it is working with Goldstein on a new project. This is not surprising at the least; Goldstein is an alum of This American Life, he’s already produced an episode for the Reply All boys that hits all the beats of a good Goldstein story (“Why is Mason Reese Crying?”), and really, where else would he go if he wanted to go, oh, you know, upwards?

It’s obviously a stupendous good fit, but I still can’t help but mourn for WireTap. I know next to nothing about this new project, and to be sure I’m very excited for it, but if it’s nothing like WireTap, if it tries too hard to play around with the essential Goldstein-ness, if it tries to deviate away from the singularity of Goldstein, I’m going to flip so many shits that I’m going to need, like, 50 spatulas.

So, uh, I need your help. I’m trying to organize a panel at SXSW about podcast audience growth — the strategies, the philosophies, the challenges, the structures, the specific experiences, and the ideas; the nature and dynamics of the whole endeavor. But here’s the thing: To get a panel into SXSW, I need to get votes. Not sure why the system is set up this way, but them’s the shakes.

Here’s what I can tell you about the panel. It’s going to feature:

There are specific beats I’d like to hit with each of the panelists — in my mind, each one of them adopted very separate approaches to thinking about their audiences and, in turn, developing them — based on the hope that specific case studies are a lot more useful than the turning of generic rules of thumb. But that’s what I’m working with in theory.

You can vote for the panel here. Please note that you’d have to create some sort of login to vote, which kinda blows and I’m so sorry and I’ll make it up to you somehow.

Anyway, whether or not the panel goes through with enough votes, I’m going to write up these three case studies at some point in the future, and maybe more. We’ll see how the fall looks.

Also, if you’d rather vote for another SXSW panel about podcasting, maybe one that involves, oh I don’t know, public radio types, you can check out NPR’s sweet, sweet list of public radio-related SXSW panels. Note in particular the one titled: “Journalist Intrapreneurs: Snows Becoming Starks.” Whoever wrote that title, I salute you and your nerd cred.

Following up that Jarl Mohn piece last week: If you had a good time reading about NPR and its (digital) discontents, you might enjoy chasing that shot with this long, fizzy dialogue between Planet Money cofounder Adam Davidson and John Sutton, a professional audience researcher, about the future of public radio, which you can find in its entirety on Current. Check it out! I have many thoughts on this, but I’ve already written too much. And if you have any thoughts, please write me!

Following up that platform conversation last week: Nieman Lab (a.k.a., that weird hippie website you’re reading this on right now) ran a great piece yesterday about programmatic ads on podcasts, the challenges they raise, and the opportunities they promise. It prominently features Panoply which, in case I haven’t mentioned already, is the company I work for — so here we have a plug for a Nieman Lab article by a newsletter housed in Nieman Lab written by a guy who works the company that’s featured in said article. Ethics is a flat circle, and who’s line is it, anyway?

Slate’s Joel Meyer heads over to WBEZ. My dawg. My bro. Why you be leaving? As reported by Robert Feder, the go-to guy for coverage on Chicago’s media beat: Joel Meyer, managing producer of Slate podcasts, is moving to WBEZ to be the executive producer, starting September 14.

I am, of course, devastated, as I’m a huge fan of his work and an even bigger fan of his preroll reads. But as his colleague, I’m even more devastated because he’s just such a gosh darn calming force in the office. I’m gonna miss ya, buddy; I’m sorry we didn’t get to hang out more.

Topics? Real talk, fellas. It’s week 2 of Hot Pod being housed on Nieman Lab, and I want to put it out that I’m very aware that my coverage of the space is, for better or worse, far from comprehensive. I’ve never meant for Hot Pod to be a holistic surveyor of the industry; I’ve only worked to hammer down on things that I find particularly interesting and, to my mind, indicative of the larger trends. But! I know that I’m a limited human being in terms of language and scope and depth, so if there’s anything you feel strongly about that I should pay more attention towards and cover, please let me know. Send me a note at hotpodnewsletter@gmail.com, and I’ll try my best.

All right. That’s about it for now. See you next week, ya nerds!

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