Issue 229,  published October 8, 2019

Tracking: October 8, 2019

Startup is back… and we’ll be paying close attention to this final mini-season, obviously. Partly because of what it’s meant to offer — an inside-look, albeit edited, into the Spotify acquisition of Gimlet — but also because of the fact that a good deal of people, within and beyond tech/investing communities, may view the mini-season’s narrative as a short-hand narrative for podcasting as a whole, depending on how things shake out.

Two quick things on the episode that came out last Friday:

(1) The observation made about the economic difficulties of what was traditionally Gimlet’s programming specialty — resource-intensive narrative shows that were often seasonal or limited-run — was one I highlighted as far back as last November, with the column “Reprocessing the Limited-Run Podcast Documentary.”

(2) Gimlet Media, historically speaking, is a prime source of discussion and group for many Hot Pod readers, and this past episode proved no different. Here’s a representative question that popped up in my inbox over the weekend: “So Gimlet was struggling with audiences and ad sales, and they sold for $230 million. What gives?” Great question, and I suppose we’ll just have to find out.

At this juncture, it was interesting to revisit my column on the acquisition from early February. Some of my assessments have turned out to not be the case — in particular, my tin-foil hat theory that Gimlet Creative held value for Spotify as a possible creative agency arm, and my working assumption that the company’s revenue had continued to rise and thus contributed to the value of the deal — but this notion still seems to hold true: “There’s also an apparent superficial logic behind [the deal]: Gimlet would give Spotify a buzzy portfolio of shows with which the platform can focus attention on and build a narrative around its podcast offerings.”

We’ll find out about that $230 million number — albeit processed through the company’s own lens — in due time, but I can’t help thinking about something a few folks kept reciting to me a while back: “This acquisition says more about Spotify than about Gimlet.”

Keep an eye: The Financial Times has an intriguing story up on the possibility of Apple building a “super-bundle of media content,” one that may combine its TV, music, games, and perhaps news offerings. Expressly relevant.

Pushkin Industries hires new VP of Content Development. Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg’s Podfund-backed venture has brought on Leital Molad, previously the executive producer of podcasts at Topic Studios, to lead development on new future projects. At Topic, Molad worked on a portfolio that includes Missing Richard Simmons, Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill, and John Cameron Mitchell’s Anthem: Homunculus. She starts October 21.

On a related note: by the end of this year, Pushkin will have rolled out nine podcasts in total, plus an audiobook. The company is also bringing on Emily Rostek as a producer focused on advertising experiences. Rostek, who joins from Gimlet, starts this week.

WBAI, the Brooklyn progressive non-commercial radio station, has shut down. Pacifica Foundation, which owns the station, cited financial issues as the reason. Here’s New York Amsterdam News with the report. I only wrote about WBAI once in the past, when the station brought Leonard Lopate back onto the airwaves after his dismissal from WNYC following an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior.

The British Podcast Awards launches a funding initiative. The venture, which they’re calling The BPA Fund, begins with a partnership with Wellcome. They have £50,000 to give out in grants of up to £5,000 for “health-focused features, episodes and short series that engages listeners in science and health research”, through a scheme named The Pulse Award. Applications are due 17 November.

Show Notes

  • Loud Speaker Studios and State Farm’s Color Full Lives, hosted by Angela Yee, Aminatou Sow, and Tonya Rapley, returned for a fifth season last week. According to Matt Raz, who produces the podcast, this project is one of the longest-running brand commitments to a branded podcast. Loud Speaker Studios, by the way, is the branded content arm of the Loud Speakers Network.
  • Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend returned this week.
  • WNYC Studios and Jad Abumrad’s highly-anticipated nine-part series, Dolly Parton’s America, will drop its first episode next Tuesday, October 15.
  • On a non-Dolly Parton note, WNYC is also launching a Brian Lehrer-led daily podcast meant to help listeners track the impeachment story. A newsletter-like playbook that’s fitting for the current age of daily podcasts: if you can’t go broad, be narrow and win a specific use-case.
  • Dan Gorenstein, former reporter at APM’s Marketplace, has a solo documentary on the US healthcare system out soon called Tradeoffs. Starts October 16. Acast is distributing, and Gorenstein is repped by CAA.
  • On October 22, Transmitter Media and Fatherly are launching a ten-part series called Finding Fred, which will focus on exploring the life of Fred Rogers. It’s made with cooperation from Fred Rogers Productions, and it will be distributed by iHeartMedia. Presumably timed against the upcoming Tom Hanks-starring sort-of biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I suppose this is as good a time as any to shout out the 2018 doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which ruled.
  • I continue to keep a close eye on Audible’s Originals initiative, which I’m fairly convinced remains very much relevant to the fortunes of the podcast industry writ large. In related news: the writer-journalist Anne Helen Petersen has a new Audible Original out furthering her work on millennial burnout.