Issue 282,  published November 10, 2020

Tracking: November 10, 2020

News, broadly…

  • Pushkin Industries announced a new sales and production partnership with iHeartMedia yesterday. They were previously repped by Cadence13, now owned by Entercom.
  • Jane Coaston, a senior politics reporter at Vox who was also a panelist on The Weeds, is moving to New York Times Opinion where she has been named host of The Argument.
  • Decoder with Nilay Patel, the successor to Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, launches today.
  • Haley O’Shaughnessy, formerly of The Ringer, is joining Blue Wire Podcasts, a sports podcast startup that raised $1.2 million in seed funding earlier this year, where she’ll launch a new NBA podcast, among other things. Her departure from The Ringer was originally announced at around the same time as Jason Concepcion, marking a boomlet of intriguing podcast-related departures from The Ringer in recent days.
  • NPR’s podcast-to-radio pipeline deepens. From Current: “NPR will begin offering stations radio versions of its podcasts Code Switch and Throughline beginning next year.”
  • For the Columbia Journalism Review, Caroline Lester dives deep into the public media system’s recent reckoning with race, diversity, and equity.

A premium podcast plan for Spotify? Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves with this one.

On Friday, Andrew Wallenstein, president and chief media analyst at Variety’s intelligence platform, published a Twitter thread drawing attention to a survey that was served to him over the Spotify app recently, in which the company seems to be soliciting feedback on the idea of establishing a “premium podcast plan” on the platform. The survey specifically asks the recipient to visualize a service that stands separately from Spotify’s existing music-focused plan offerings.

The Verge spotted Wallenstein’s observation, spinning it out as a blog post that you can find here. When contacted, a Spotify spokesperson told The Verge that “the survey should not be taken as concrete product plans” — which is to say, don’t read too much into it.

And neither should you, frankly. At least, not yet. As a tech company, Spotify generally seems to like throwing experimental stuff at the wall, eagerly and constantly, with only some of those things being actualized in the end. This survey looks to me like a simple data-gathering process to roughly assess whether this is a viable option to explore, and so it remains to be seen whether it’ll shake out to be anything greater than that.

For what it’s worth, I think spinning out a premium podcast plan that’s separate from the current Spotify Premium would be a dumb idea. The power is in the bundle, and they’d be better off experimenting with integrating some premium podcast architecture into the preexisting Spotify Premium offering. Such a move would also set the company to directly face off with a fully bundled competitor like Audible. At this point, they are all well within each other’s space of competition.

For more analysis… I highly recommend this write-up by the dude Josh Benton over at Nieman Lab, who has some thoughts.

Friday Evening News Dump. Bloomberg with a scoop late Friday, as much of the country grew intimate with John King and Steve Kornacki: Apple and Sony Music have apparently held talks about possibly acquiring Wondery.

From the report:Apple and Sony are two of at least four companies that have discussed a deal with Wondery, according to one of the people. Though Spotify Technology SA has been the most aggressive buyer of podcasting companies over the last two years, the Swedish audio giant decided not to bid, said two people with knowledge of the talks. A deal is expected in coming months, but there’s no guarantee that the discussions won’t fall apart.

This comes about a month after another Bloomberg scoop that Wondery had hired financial advisers “to explore strategic options, including a potential sale,” with the company said to be eyeing between $200 million to $400 million for an acquisition.

The specifics of this development shouldn’t be terribly surprising. As I wrote in my initial analysis, Wondery is one of the very few buyable podcast companies operating at reliable scale, and you have to imagine that any media corporation or conglomerate with deep enough wallets would be interested in at least kicking the tires. As such, you should interpret this development (and the existence of this Bloomberg report more generally) as part and parcel of that exploratory process. That Spotify decided against pursuing a deal also shouldn’t be terribly surprising; I’d argue there is far too much overlap with Parcast already in-house.

What might be surprising, at least to some folks, is the presence of Apple among the reportedly interested parties. Here’s how you should think about this: a theoretical acquisition of Wondery by Apple would be less about Apple’s place in the podcast ecosystem and more about Apple’s broader media business, particularly with respect to Apple TV+.

After all, Wondery’s unique value proposition revolves around its distinct strength with the podcast intellectual property pipeline, and it’s safe to say that any media conglomerate with a video streamer — including Apple — could benefit from bringing a focused and cost-efficient IP generator into the fold.

Anyway, keep in mind: the fundamental question with this story isn’t about whether Wondery will get acquired, but whether the company will be bought at the price it wants. A smaller related question is whether potential acquirers put much weight on Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez’s current legal situation. He continues to face corruption charges around the 2015 FIFA scandal, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Speaking of which… From the Los Angeles Times: “Wondery CEO who built a podcasting powerhouse vows to fight federal corruption charges.”

In tomorrow’s Servant of Pod… Marc Smerling is on the show this week.

If you’ve spent any time at all over the last few years thinking about the sprawling history of crime and politics in Providence, Rhode Island, that’s probably because you’ve listened to the insanely popular Crimetown, which Smerling created with Zac Stuart-Pontier in partnership with Gimlet Media back in 2016. (Or maybe, you know, you’re from there.)

Smerling is also a true crime legend in general, as you might know, with a stacked resume that includes Capturing The Friedmans, Catfish, and of course, The Jinx. (“I killed them all, of course.”) His most recent projects are FX’s Wilderness of Error — which, by the way, I really enjoyed — and its companion podcast, Morally Indefensible. Both those efforts were made through his new production company, Truth Media.

In this interview, we talk about why he feels so drawn to podcasting, how he thinks about the vast popularity of the true crime genre in general, and what it was like to build a true crime podcast at Gimlet Media at a moment when both those things were still pretty young.

You can find Servant of Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or the great assortment of third-party podcast apps that are hooked up to the open publishing ecosystem. Desktop listening is also recommended. Share, leave a review, so on.

I run this thing.