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Tracking: February 28, 2019

Pandora Stories, theSkimm's daily news podcast, Audioboom raises again.

(1) Pandora has announced the launch of a new feature called “Pandora Stories”, which will allow creators to include voice tracks in music playlists as a way of telling stories. It comes as an addition to Pandora’s ‘Artist Marketing Platform’, a suite of free tools aimed at helping musicians promote their work, and allows authors to pull any music track on the platform into a playlist. The first examples released are dominated by musicians, with ‘Stories’ by John Legend, Lauren Alaina and Perry Farrell, among others. Although the tool is open to all and free to use, it does come with some editorial oversight, because you must fill out a form to get access and Stories have to be approved before they will appear.

This move is partly about capitalising on Pandora’s access to music rights. “Podcasts can tell stories about music, but it’s difficult to include full songs, and regular playlists have songs but lack personal context from the artists behind them,” reads a statement from Jeff Zuchowski, Pandora’s VP of Artist Marketing and Industry Relations. It feels like a challenge to the other big music streaming platforms, Spotify and Apple Music, as an attempt at marrying an extensive music catalogue with spoken word to appeal to a podcast-focused segment of the audience. I can see the feature working mostly as a way for musicians to provide the equivalent of a “director’s commentary” on a movie — popping up between tracks to talk about process and share behind the scenes info. The popularity of podcasts like Song Exploder suggest that there’s plenty of demand for this in the music realm, and in their publicity material Pandora has hinted that they see more storytelling and critical applications for the feature beyond straight commentary.

However, what podcasts like Song Exploder, Switched on Pop, Dissect and others bring that is less likely to appear on these Stories (for now) is production and editing. There’s a big difference between an artist speaking unscripted anecdotes into a mic that then get scattered between tracks on a playlist and the kind of intricate, layer by layer analysis you get in a really well-produced podcast about music. I would consider this feature as offering something like the traditional guest sit-in on a music radio show, where an artist might be in the studio for an hour or so during a live broadcast and chat to the presenter about the making of their new album between songs (BBC Radio 2 does this a lot in the UK, Graham Norton is especially good at hosting them. Saturday morning cosy radio for the streaming generation isn’t such a terrible idea, imo.). Those sessions are often pleasant listening, and they’re a great way for artists to market themselves, but it’s a world away from how most podcasts come together.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that this will take off as a medium, attracting producers who can’t get standalone music shows made because of rights issues, and we’ll see some really high quality Pandora Stories in the future. This is more likely if Pandora doubles down on it as a way of taking the fight to competitors, and starts spending serious money on producing these. The Stories will be available to all Pandora users, by the way, but non-Premium users will have to view a 30-second ad to access them. My hunch is that this feature will be attractive to celebrities, especially musicians, who like the idea of being able to speak directly to fans without the intervention of an interviewer and who have a large enough profile to drive their audience towards a new format. I still think that supporting actual music podcasts, as Spotify did by picking up the third series of Dissect as an original, is a more bankable way of exploiting an existing music catalogue.

(2) Speaking of Spotify, post-acquisitions it looks like they’re already staffing up for a non-music content push. A job ad for a “Sports Lead” for Spotify Studios has been spotted, a role which has the remit of establishing “Spotify’s presence and voice in the [sports] category”. It’s a pretty senior position — they want 12+ years experience in sports broadcasting — and suggests that this could be one of the first genres where we start to see the new podcast spending applied directly to content.

(3) The morning newsletter-focused company The Skimm is the latest outfit to launch a daily podcast in partnership with Cadence13. The show will debut on March 4 and is to be called ‘Skimm This’, delivering a 10-minute digest of the day’s events to listeners every weekday evening. The announcement emphasises that it will be non-partisan and won’t just regurgitate headlines, instead focusing on providing “context and clarity” to four stories per episode.

For reference, The Skimm’s morning newsletter is reported to reach around 7 million subscribers with a 30 per cent open rate, and is aimed at millennial women. This isn’t their first podcast — they have a weekly interview show called Skimm’d from the Couch — but it is another non-newsletter launch since the outfit closed a $12m series C funding round last May.

(4) Audioboom has raised another £1.5m from investors, saying it will use the money to pay for more original content. Just under half of that amount came from Candy Ventures, the investment firm owned by property developer Nick Candy, who already has a 20 per cent stake in the business. He also helped to keep it afloat when the £141m reverse takeover of Triton Digital fell through last year.