Issue 304,  published May 4, 2021

Tracking: May 4, 2021

First of all… I’m not sure if you’re listening to The Line, the Apple Original podcast led by Dan Taberski about the case of the Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, but I think it broke some news with its series conclusion that came out today.

If you haven’t checked out the show, you should do so. It’s stellar.

A curious wrinkle in the Apple Original podcast story. Apple TV+, the company’s streaming entertainment division, announced a new original podcast project last week: a Siegfried & Roy audio documentary series executive produced by the filmmaker Steven Leckart and At Will Media. What’s distinct about this production compared to The Line — which, again, is stellar — is the fact that it won’t be attached to a larger streaming video project slated for the Apple TV+ service. In other words, Apple TV+ is producing its first standalone original podcast.

What’s the significance of this development, given my prevailing interpretation that Apple’s original podcast projects seem largely meant to serve as marketing vessels for its various non-podcast services? Perhaps nothing all that much, as this Siegfried & Roy podcast would still perform the same function of driving greater awareness around the Apple TV+ brand as a storytelling business.

Still, I do get the sense it brings us closer to an arms race narrative between Apple and Spotify, albeit in a slight reconfigurated form. Spotify competes with Apple by directly integrating its publisher role into its platform distributor role. This may well be read as Apple decentralizing the competition: Apple TV+ competing with Spotify as a podcast publisher while Apple Podcasts competes with Spotify as a platform.

Sticking with Apple… The iOS 14.5 rollout last week has apparently caused some amount of chaos with the updated Apple Podcasts app experience. MacRumors has a good overview of the various messes. On a related note, I’ve heard from a fair number of people on the podcast-publishing side who experienced considerable issues with the platform last week, with some reporting extensive delays. It’s my understanding that things have cleared up somewhat since then, but it’s unclear to me if everything is fully back to normal.
Speaking of Spotify… Another round of Joe Rogan controversy last week, but this one comes with the novelty of an actual rebuke from White House officials. I thought Lucas Shaw’s take on the matter over at Bloomberg was basically spot on — headline: “When Joe Rogan offends you, Spotify profits from it” — and to frame things specifically, it’s not as if any of these Rogan-related controversies have resulted in any negative material outcomes for the company. Indeed, it seems quite the opposite. The Swedish audio-streaming giant reported quarterly earnings last week, and they posted subscriber gains, active user gains, podcast listening gains, and strong advertising recovery, some portion of which was attributed to Rogan.

Sticking to Spotify, but a separate story: Reply All posted an update last week, and among other things, the show noted that it will return on June 10.

Happy fifty years, NPR. Another dozen more, and you get to draw sweet, sweet social security.
This Week in Sports Betting. Two notable deals at the intersection of sports-betting companies and podcast publishers to clock from the past seven days:

  • Meadowlark, the new podcast-heavy media company led by ESPN vets Dan Le Batard and John Skipper, struck a distribution deal with DraftKings worth at least $50 million over the next three years, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Yesterday, The Ringer announced a new year-long partnership with FanDuel where the latter will serve as the exclusive sports-betting partner on all of The Ringer’s output, including podcasts, video, and its website, through to next February. This deepens FanDuel’s sponsorship of The Ringer, and the deal is said to be worth more than three times the online gambling operators’ previous investment in the digital media company, now owned by Spotify.

Both these developments take place amid a “sports betting content frenzy,” or so described by Axios’ Kendall Baker, which also includes The Action Network being sold to the Danish sports betting media group Better Collective, a deal that was announced yesterday.

New York Public Radio lays off 4% of its workforce. The cuts affect fourteen staffers: four from the newsroom, with the remaining ten spread across other departments. One of those laid off was John Del Signore, the editor-in-chief of Gothamist, which was acquired, along with its sister sites, by WNYC and two other public radio stations in 2018.

According to an internal memo by NYPR CEO Goli Sheikholeslami, the layoffs were one of several cost-saving measures to address the organization’s sizable deficit, driven in large part by the pandemic. Other measures include suspension of merit increases and significant reductions to performance-based bonus payouts for senior leadership and other eligible employees, plus temporary restrictions to employee benefits.

As part of its discussion of financial challenges, the memo noted that NYPR’s sponsorship revenue is down 27% from pre-pandemic levels. “We knew sponsorship revenue would take a hit, but we planned for the advertising market to begin rebounding in the second half of this fiscal year,” wrote Sheikholeslami. “That didn’t happen, and recapturing the lost revenue will not happen in one fiscal year.”

Also noted: The organization had a strong year for memberships, aided by a particularly heavy news cycle. But they’re not planning on sustaining the same level of membership revenues for what is expected to be a comparatively quiet year. A $8.9 million PPP loan also factors into the equation.

I run this thing.