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Tracking: January 24, 2019

Update on podcast ads on Spotify and Pandora, Patreon said to be reaching $1 billion in creator payouts, the podcast interview circuit, Serial Productions' project pipeline, and more.

(1) When I wrote about Spotify last week, among the questions I raised revolved around the nature of the podcast advertising experience on that platform. “Will Spotify’s podcast advertising experiences actually be any good? Will those spots sound exactly like the advertising spots they have now for non-Spotify Premium subscribers?” I wrote. Also: “Speaking of Premium: Will you hear ads on podcasts if you’re a Premium member?”

Spotify, along with rival streaming platform Pandora, view their existing expertise in digital audio expertise as a major point of strategic strength in their incursions into podcasting, though frankly, it’s probably going to be the point of most friction and confusion. It’s a little bit like an American thinking they can integrate into British culture pretty well because they speak the same language. Some genuine adaptation has to happen.

Setting my hacky analogy aside (sorry), I think we have some traces of an answer from this Ad Age article, which published yesterday.

Here’s the key paragraph:

Historically, most audio ads have been “baked in,” meaning they live within the podcast forever. But Pandora, Spotify and the industry overall are moving toward providing advertisers the ability to target listeners in programmatic fashion while also delivering the sort of measurement brand marketers demand. Yet programmatic for podcasts is still in its infancy, and Pandora and Spotify declined to share specifics about their podcast targeting capabilities. Both did say that users will always get ads when streaming podcasts regardless of whether they listen through a paid subscription or an ad-supported model.

It isn’t… the cleanest answer, but I interpreted this as: whether or not you’re a Spotify Premium or Pandora Premium subscriber, you’re going to get programmatically deployed podcast ads. Which, frankly, kinda sucks, and would make me question the actual worth of a Premium subscription in that situation, if my primary use case of those platforms was for podcasts. (But then again, my primary use case for Spotify and Pandora is to listen to music, with podcasts being secondary, so maybe the assessment comes out such that the trade-offs are worth it.) Maybe I’m just being a whiny little consumer, but my sense is that a better model would be to not distribute podcast ads to premium subscribers, and adopt a payout system — something already adopted for music labels and musicians — for podcast publishers that are able to drive listens from premium subscribers.

But I imagine it’s all early days in the thinking on these fronts, so maybe, probably, we’ll see this change, or we’ll get more clarification. So I’d hang tight if I were you.

(2) Speaking of payouts, here’s a handy dandy press push: Patreon is said to be on track to reach $1 billion in total payments to creators. This press push happens in the wake of notable podcast publishers, including Sam Harris, leaving the platform after accusing it of “exhibiting political bias” for kicking off several fringe users.

I don’t really have a take on this, other than: those publishers have a right to do so, Patreon has a right to do what they did, and what we’re probably going to see are emerging infrastructural clusters based around ideological affinities. We saw a little bit of this already, I think, with the whole fringe-internet-users flocking to stuff like Gab after accusing mainstream social platforms of liberal bias. That Gab trend didn’t really take off — or if it did, please correct me — but I think the difference here is the potential of money: there’s a significant difference, I think, when the heart of a cluster is a way of making money as opposed to a way of simply communicating. (Not unlike, perhaps, there is a difference between how Jack Dorsey approaches solving problems on Square versus Twitter, because the former handles money, and the latter handles speech. Which remind me: if you’re not reading Casey Newton’s newsletter, you’re missing out on some good brain fruit.)

(3) Speaking of Jack Dorsey and Sam Harris: the Twitter/Square CEO has been on a huge press push lately, and it’s pretty fascinating that the campaign seems fairly podcast heavy. In addition to doing text interviews (is that the right term these days?) with HuffPost and Rolling Stone, Dorsey has also done podcast interviews with Bill Simmons and Sam Harris (which has yet to be published). I’ve heard some analysis on the whole podcast angle being an expression of the dude going straight to the people or something, but the thing that’s really struck me is the split in tone between the HuffPost/Rolling Stone text interviews and the Simmons podcast interview. I’m not quite at a point where the thinking is something like: the perspective of the interviewer is more naturally muted in a podcast interview— for what it’s worth, I just don’t think that’s true, and the biggest counterpoint to that is Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast — but there’s a structurally “gotcha” nature that’s more embedded in the design of the text interviews. Maybe it’s a cultural, not structural, thing. Anyway, something I’m mulling over.

(4) Corporate Development Watch 2k19: Bloomberg reports that “iHeartMedia Inc. [has] gained court approval for a plan that would cut about $10 billion of debt and allow it to emerge from bankruptcy within the first half of this year.” Conspiracy theory Nick Quah remembers this NY Post report that: “Liberty Media angling to snag post-bankruptcy iHeartMedia.” Fun fact: did you know that John Malone, the libertarian chairman of Liberty Media, went to high school in New Haven, where I live? The things you learn in a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

(5) The Economist’s new daily podcast, called The Intelligence, will apparently feature a support team of eight editors and producers, according to Journalism.co.uk. And before you ask: no, I don’t think there’s a daily news podcast bubble… quite yet.

(6) Julie Snyder, co-creator of the Serial podcast and one of the OG producers on This American Life, was interviewed on the Longform podcast this week, and aside from just being a fantastic listen for broad life and career reasons, there’s some interesting discussion about projects in the pipeline.

Here’s the key chunk, which starts around the 51 minute mark, and please note that I took some liberties with the streamlining:

Snyder: Now, I’m working on a smaller project about public education, and I’m doing that with Chana Joffe-Walt… It’ll be a standalone thing, because it’ll be five episodes. It’s kind of long, but not as long as a Serial, but longer than a This American Life thing. I think we might put that one down the Serial feed… we don’t have to talk about business, but this is a business question, and we might do it that way… At the same time, Sarah [Koenig] is looking into two stories that she’s been interested in for a while, but also, we’re a little killing time we’re waiting for Dana [Chivvis] to be finished for a story she’s been doing for This American Life so she can come back, because Sarah and Dana have an idea for a TV show. So they’re going to take, I don’t know, six months to see if they can find a way to make the thing work… That’s a little hard, because that’s going to six months of not making Season 4 of Serial.

So here’s what I kinda love about the quote: for me, this is probably what the best version of running your own production shop looks like. Juggling different potential projects, a bunch of different people working on different things, having a bunch of different outputs. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t incredibly hard or anxiety producing. And it also isn’t to say that it’s the vision for everybody. Anyway, that’s not the news hook, the news hook is that we might end up seeing some interesting down the Serial feed, and that a proper follow-up to Serial could be a while.

(Also: it’s none of my business, but I think should probably just run the five-parter through the This American Life feed as a digital special, not the Serial feed.)

Again, I recommend listening to the whole thing. There are some other details in there that supernerds, like myself, might find interesting: in particular, the fact that Serial Productions, which operates as an entity under a broader This American Life umbrella, was started from the surplus budget from This American Life. Shit like that. I like shit like that.