Issue 238,  published December 10, 2019

Tracking: December 10, 2019

My Favorite Murder’s Eight Figure Deal. This probably qualifies as the biggest development from last week. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that MFM creators Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark have struck a two-year deal worth “at least $10 million” with EW Scripps’ Stitcher that expands the duo’s already existing partnership with the podcast company. That partnership has largely taken the form of an imprint-style network called Exactly Right that launched in the fall of 2018.

Worth noting: the Journal report notes that the Exactly Right network is expected to make nearly $10 million in revenue this year, which is pretty important context for the deal size.

The MFM-Stitcher deal feels structurally closer to the way a movie studio would strike a multi-picture deal with a producer, as opposed to the way, say, SiriusXM struck a deal with Howard Stern to position him as the exclusive centerpiece for that business. (For one thing, the MFM-Stitcher does not entail platform exclusivity, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there ended up being some bonus content windowing involved with the Stitcher app.)

But there does seem to be some strategic parallel between the Stern-SiriusXM situation and the MFM-Stitcher deal, which in turn are of a piece with what we’ve been seeing through the rest of the podcast business, where the different major podcast distributors are striking major talent deals in search of… let’s call it a “crown jewel.” Spotify, of course, has the Obamas, while iHeartMedia has been furiously striking deals with just about any name that could grant them some amount of cultural currency, including Shonda Rimes and Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy. (Though, honestly, Stuff Media is probably their actual crown jewel, fundamentals-wise.)

I’m going to guess we’re going to see a lot of this type of thing moving forward.

Who’s Gonna Drive You Home. Brian McCullough, apparently. The host of the Techmeme Ride Home podcast — which I wrote about last March — is spinning out a standalone business focused on daily news briefing podcasts, called Ride Home Media, complete with an expansion into other verticals.

The company has raised $1 million in seed funding from Tiny Capital, a boutique tech investment and holdings company whose portfolio includes the podcast app Castro, which it acquired last November. I’m told that the raise was at a $3.8 million valuation. The newly reconstituted Ride Home Media is kicking off life with the launch of Celeb News Ride Home, which adds to a show portfolio that already includes an Elections News briefing podcast that McCullough launched in April. Here’s the announcement post from Tiny Capital’s Andrew Wilkinson, and here’s the Crunchbase report on the raise.

In case you’re wondering: the Techmeme association is a matter of branding. McCullough owns the podcast, and had licensed the Techmeme brand.

Anyway, I’m with the dude Joshua Benton on this one; seems like something that other types of media companies can copy.

Audio Journalism and the Pulitzers. ICYMI: last Thursday, the board of the much-esteemed journalism prize announced that it was adding an Audio Reporting category to its suite of awards. I wrote about the move for Vulture, highlighting the addition’s ~sign of the times~ nature and also pointing out its seeming peculiarity, given the fact that Columbia University, which administers the Pulitzers, also manages the du-Pont-Columbia award, generally considered to be the linear broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.

Two follow-up thoughts on this. Firstly, I think it’s entirely reasonable to interpret this development as something distinctly community-oriented. One could argue that this is the Pulitzers recognizing that its core journalism constituency — news organizations formerly identified as newspapers — has evolved in the structural nature of their work, having for the most part migrated to the internet as a species and expanding into other formats like web video, social media, and, well, podcasts. If the addition of the category results in the additional inclusion of other types of journalistic institutions previously unrecognized by the prize — like public radio stations — then that, in my mind, is all a net positive.

Secondly, I was initially sympathetic to some of the groans responding to the news, particularly the public radio-originated ones that went along the lines of “we were always here!” But I grew less so after some thought. In the press release announcing the category addition, Dana Canedy, the prize administrator, linked the decision to “the renaissance of audio journalism in recent years.” And look, that renaissance — which is very obviously real, by the way, I mean come on — wouldn’t have happened without everything that podcasting has afforded both public radio and new audio publishers alike. By virtue of providing an environment that was better for consumption and distribution, the on-demand nature of the technology allowed for the flourishing of the kind of audio journalism that would be logically recognized as contiguous with the other Pulitzer categories: deeper, longer-form, and complex, all of which contributes to an experience that would be significantly harder to understand if you turned on the radio and missed the first ten minutes.

So, yeah, maybe you were always here. But maybe you weren’t always what you could’ve been.

Picks and Roll. My top ten of the year list for Vulture rolled out last week, and for the most part, I feel pretty good about my picks. (I’m sure you have your own.) I mentioned this elsewhere, but I found the selection process significantly more difficult this time around compared to years past. This, I think, is due to the sheer volume of new stuff that’s being put out into the world nowadays, which I’ve come to see as the result of both the industry’s broader arc of growth and the public’s ever-increasing interest in the category. The ecosystem remains generally open (for now, anyway), so there’s still nothing stopping anybody from publishing, all of which adds up to precisely what we’re seeing: a vastly expanded volume of stuff.

Some of the new stuff is quite bad. Most are generally okay-to-good. (Personal opinion. Again, you have your own.) As a matter of personal philosophy, I don’t see the vastly expanded volume of mostly okay stuff as a bad thing, because it means that there’s more stuff for more people, and that more people are making stuff. I see that as broadly a good thing on the aggregate, even if many of those new things don’t typically end up becoming viable pieces of business.

For what it’s worth, when I sit down to make a list like this, I’m just trying to pull together a thread of shows that I really, unambiguously love. The larger hope is that the collective list would be able to express a decent story about the creative year in podcasting, or at least the creative year as I experienced it.

Not long ago, someone asked me if I felt that these so-called Boom Times (a.k.a. the “renaissance of audio”) have made it harder for me to love this stuff. Good question. I think the reality is that I continue to very much love the things I love; it’s just the modern conditions have made it increasingly harder to find those things. (Some haved argue that it’s made it harder for said loved things to exist. I still think the jury’s out on that.)

In her piece naming her television picks from the year, Slate’s Willa Paskin — whose podcast, Decoder Ring, is among the things I love — wrote in the preamble: “Despite there being an embarrassment of television, the amount of great stuff seems, to me, to be staying the same. The pie gets bigger, but the best slice doesn’t. Still, even regular pie is pretty good, so eat up, I guess: There’s a lot of it.” The same, I think, can be said about podcasts, even if the regular pie isn’t consistently as good.

Quibi is still a big ol’ question mark, but among the influencer-heavy projects that are coming to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s upcoming “short-form video app” is an adaptation of Gimlet’s The Nod. Here’s the New York Times piece on the matter. Was I the only one to not know that Quibi is a portmanteau of “Quick Bites”? And you thought “podcast” was bad.