Happy Thursday, everyone. We’re getting close to the holiday break. I can sense it. That, and the COVID anxiety. I bought three at-home test packs in a panic-induced shopping spree and can say I’m feeling good about my decision, honestly! That’s just where we’re at this week 🙂
Today’s a shorter one because I’m reporting a couple stories before the end of the year that I hope you’ll get to read soon. Before we get to it, though, I want you to have a sense of what to expect from this newsletter over the next couple weeks: Tomorrow, Aria is here as usual. Tuesday, we’ll run a combo news / year-in-review issue, and Thursday, we’ll likely skip unless something major breaks or there’s a bunch of pertinent news. We’re off next Friday for Christmas Eve, but we’ll be back again Tuesday with our predictions for 2022 in audio. Then we’ll likely skip the Insiders again that week before coming back after the holidays.
As I always say, I appreciate your reading and support, and this week, I especially appreciated you adding to the conversation on the podcast promo code story. We have fun. All right, let’s jump in.
Podcast lawsuit mania
We have three lawsuit stories this week. The first: SiriusXM was sued over failing to provide podcast transcripts for deaf people. My colleague Kim Lyons reports that the lawsuit, which comes from the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and the Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), claims Sirius, along with Pandora and Stitcher, fail to provide captioning and transcripts for “the vast majority” of their podcasts, in alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York state law. (You can read the full complaint at the bottom of the linked story.) This suit is, obviously, hyper-focused on Sirius and its various platforms and, interestingly, doesn’t mention Apple or Spotify, both of which also don’t widely offer transcripts. We got an answer on that, which did make me smile a little only because of the phrase “bad podcast provider.”
In an emailed statement to The Verge, Christina Brandt-Young of DRA said: “We can’t sue every bad podcast provider in a single lawsuit and had to start somewhere, but it is important to deaf and hard of hearing users that transcripts be provided across all podcast platforms. It’s deeply concerning to us that even when the authors of podcasts make their transcripts available elsewhere (like some podcasts from The New York Times), SiriusXM, Stitcher, and Pandora don’t provide them through their services, making our clients work twice as hard to get the same information everyone else gets.”
This all really does raise the question: where ARE the transcripts? Spotify said it’d start auto-transcribing some exclusive and original shows in May, and since then, yes, you can find some transcripts but definitely not all. I’ve pointed this out before, and I’ll point it out again. The team doesn’t auto-transcribe Joe Rogan’s show, its biggest podcast star. Same with Reply All, Heavyweight, and Bill Simmons’ show. The Watch from The Ringer, however, does have a transcript. Random. Meanwhile, Amazon Music also started transcribing shows in November but, again, only for select partner programs and its own Wondery or Amazon Music shows. Apple Podcasts hasn’t announced any broad transcript feature, although it does appear to be somewhat transcribing episodes and programs for search purposes. Why don’t we see transcriptions on every app, whether from the tech provider themselves or a designated place where podcasters can upload them themselves? My best guess is auto-transcription work is unreliable and inaccurate, which, sure — but platforms could put it on the shows to upload something. Or at least attempt to transcribe them? I’m curious for takes if you have ‘em. In the meantime, we’ll watch this lawsuit progress and whether it results in Sirius or any of its competitors making moves.
The next lawsuit: The Shrink Next Door. An ex-Bloomberg reporter has sued Bloomberg over allegedly withholding profits from the Apple TV Plus adaptation of his podcast series. The Washington Post has the full story about Joe Nocera, the reporter, who is technically alleging a breach of contract. Per the piece, Nocera’s contract entitled him to split all revenue, 50-50, from the TV show with Bloomberg. He also reportedly was promised 100 percent of Bloomberg’s half of the option price, which came out to $125K. The lawsuit claims that when Nocera went asking for his money, Bloomberg said journalists “weren’t entitled to a share of advertising revenue generated by an adaptation and that none would be included in his agreement,” the Post writes.
That’s the broad story in a few lines, and while this is messy drama that we all, of course, live for, it’s also squarely in our wheelhouse as more podcast companies work with reporters and producers with the explicit goal to turn shows into Hollywood adaptations. We’ve covered the ongoing struggle between unions and management over IP rights. Gimlet Media and The Ringer explicitly sought to negotiate over them but ended up with nothing in the contract. Meanwhile, iHeartMedia employees have also unionized, although the company has yet to recognize them, and Parcast continues to be in ongoing negotiations with Spotify. Will any of these two unions make headway on the IP issue? I imagine it’ll be a hard-pressed win, if so. That said, independent folks are also speaking up, not just about owning all the rights to their show but also the coveted RSS feed. For some backreading, I recommend this story I wrote about The Nod and the co-hosts’ struggle for show ownership. These negotiations, I imagine, are only going to become more contentious as more networks seek ways to reinvent and sell their programs.
Okay, final lawsuit: radio host and podcaster Dave Ramsey is being sued over allegedly firing an employee for taking COVID precautions. You’re reading that right — for taking COVID precautions, like wearing a mask in the office and wanting to work from home. The complaint claims Ramsey “terminated Plaintiff for taking scientifically prescribed precautions, as required by his sincerely held religious beliefs, in the COVID pandemic rather than relying on prayer alone to protect himself.” The New York Times has the full writeup, which includes more drama. For what it’s worth, Ramsey Solutions’ general counsel calls the claims “outlandish” and with “absolutely no merit.” This is one that I feel is pertinent because it involves a major name in audio but, granted, one we don’t cover too closely.
Wow, we’re over lawsuit hour now and can get into the last couple bits of news.
Spotify will offer star ratings for podcasts
Spotify is coming for Apple Podcasts’ star rating system with one of its own. The company announced today that it’s launching a five-star rating system. Listeners will be able to leave a rating after they listen to a show for at least 30 seconds, and the average rating will be displayed on the show’s landing page once at least 10 have been submitted. From the release: “By introducing ratings, we’re making it easier for listeners to decide when to try out a new podcast that might be their next favorite. Because podcast ratings will serve as the first chance to draw new listeners in, they have the potential to build instant interest.”
The company explicitly encourages podcasters to shout out Spotify and tell listeners to rate them there. I’d guess this is the primary motivator for Spotify here. The trope of “rate and review” on Apple Podcasts is silly but also a real driver for people to go to an app. If, instead, podcasters shouted out Spotify, maybe even just a few people would download the app or at least open it and figure out how to listen to a podcast there.
At the same time, gosh, reviews are a ticking time bomb. They do indeed offer a helpful first impression of a show but are also easy to game. I wrote a story two years ago about angry fans review bombing shows on Apple Podcasts. In a year, I could probably write the same about Spotify. Does that mean we shouldn’t have ratings? Probably not. But does it mean I hope Spotify has a good bot detection system or even one to detect broad harassment? Yes. Plus, will this factor into how it recommends shows? Even more questions.
Here are a couple bullet points on things happening that you should be aware of:
- Ten Percent Happier is launching a podcast studio under the leadership of Jen Poyant, formerly of WNYC Studios and Stable Genius Productions, as well as Kimmie Regler, formerly of Gimlet Media. The shows will “take a unique look into relatable wisdom and serve as another tent pole of support for the Ten Percent Happier audience.” The first show will be called Childproof, hosted by Yasmeen Khan, which explores stories of the foundational relationships between parents and children and how to learn the skills of mindful parenting.
- Wondery founder Hernan Lopez is starting a digital display company for NFTs. Nick Quah spotted this one – thanks, Nick — and yeah, props to Hernan for following the trends. I will say that before covering audio, I was very much on the digital art display beat for The Verge. RIP Electric Objects. They were ahead of their time! I will also say podcasts are hard, but physical hardware is also very difficult, so best of luck. Imagine having to contend with the supply chain. I could never.
That’s it today, folks. Aria is here tomorrow. Adios!