Issue 189,  published December 11, 2018

The Three Most Interesting Podcast Companies

I did this segment before I took my brief sabbatical last fall, and I thought it came out great, so I’m doing it again. Here, I’d like to quickly highlight the three companies that struck me as the most interesting over the past twelve months. They aren’t necessarily the most successful or the biggest, but rather, they’ve been the most fun to think and/or talk about.

Cadence13. Has anybody looked at their portfolio lately? Consider the fact that Cadence13’s operations currently includes: partnerships with Crooked Media, Vox Media, goop, and Sports Illustrated; shows with James Andrew Miller, Tony Kornheiser, and Brian Koppelman; plus a newly minted deal with Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg’s Pushkin Industries. In my mind, Cadence13 looks exactly like what Panoply should have been if that Panoply didn’t end up going down a path that led it to double down on Megaphone and becoming a technology company.

KCRW. Once home to the late great Joe Frank, the Santa Monica public radio station has quietly becoming one of the most interesting publishers of unconventional and surprising independent-spirited podcasts. With an outstanding portfolio that includes Nocturne, Welcome to LA, Bodies, Here Be Monsters, Lost Notes, The Organist, Don’t @ Me with Justin Simien, and Celestial Blood/Sangre Celestial, KCRW appears to be realizing one of the podcasting’s most potent promises: to be used as a technology that gives life to a space for quirky, off-beat projects that simply wouldn’t find a home (or an audience) in most other places.

Audible. Okay, so this one’s a cheat, because Audible is obviously not a podcast company. But the Amazon subsidiary remains acutely relevant to everything that’s going on here in the podcast industry, even after pushing its original programming strategy away from podcast-style productions. Based on this New York Times report from June, Audible’s new original content strategy involves directly pursuing established authors, like Michael Lewis and Curtis Sittenfeld, to get them signed into audiobook-first deals. With this shift, Audible seems to be leaning more heavily into the preexisting nature of its core relationships with book publishing world and the book-buying audience; which is to say, the move plays more directly into the company’s core strengths as it continues down the broader path of taking more power away from the traditional gatekeepers of the book industry.

The question is whether this opens up any opportunities for podcast publishers and independent podcast studios. It remains to be seen whether Audible will be content with simply replicating the feel of basic audio-books around the originals that they acquire, but should their designs eventually expand beyond that… well, that could be quite interesting for this new on-demand audio universe.