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Wondery raises $5M in Series A

Plus: ABC debuts Zach Braff's "Alex, Inc", follow-up on the BBC, and more on the daily podcast as front page

Wondery raises $5M in Series A funding. The news went public yesterday, and it sees a fundraising round led by Greycroft’s Alan Patricof (investor in Axios, The Skimm, and Newscred), Lerer Hippeau (investor in Axios, Food52, BuzzFeed, etc.), and Advancit Capital (Maker Studios, Headspace). Other participants in the round include: BAM Ventures, Water Tower Ventures, Fox Networks Group, BDMI, Michael Kassan, and Stanley Shuman.

The Los Angeles-based podcast network, as you might know, is led by former Fox Internatio nal Channels CEO Hernan Lopez, and has moved pretty quickly since its founding in early 2016 to pull together a network of shows for a solid sellable baseline of downloads.In February, Wondery brought in 19M global unique downloads across 61 shows, per Podtrac. It found its first major hit with Dirty John (a collaboration with the LA Times) last year, whose IP the company eventually sold to two TV studios to develop two separate television projects: a scripted drama anthology at Bravo, and an unscripted series at Oxygen. Both Bravo and Oxygen are properties of NBC Universal. According to the Hollywood Reporter write-up on the fundraise, Wondery has since optioned three other podcasts in its networks, including Sword & Scale and Tides of History.

For your reference, here’s a list of the other noteworthy podcast company fundraising rounds from the past six months:

  • Gimlet Media’s $20M Series B raise last fall, on top of its $6M Series A raise in December 2015. Recode notes that investors value the company at $55 million pre-money.
  • Acast’s $19.5M Series B raise in September 2017, with plans to IPO in the Swedish stock market.
  • HowStuffWorks’s $15M Series A raise in August 2017, led by the Raine Group.
  • Anchor’s $10M Series A raise in September 2017 to further “democratize podcasting.”
  • Art19’s $7.5M Series A raise in August/September 2017.

This all comes on top of Cadence13/DGital Media‘s receipt of investment from and a strategic partnership with the broadcasting giant Entercom, in which the company took in $9.7 million for a 45% stake. That took place in August.

Man, this newsletter got all Wall Street Journal all of a sudden.

Anyway, Wondery tells me that the new money will be used to build out more shows and to spend more on marketing. Time to buy out three billboards outside of… I dunno, West Hollywood.

Follow-up on the BBC Podcast Commissioner news. Two quick links on this one

(1) From the British daily The Times: “BBC accused of dominating podcast market.” I mean, it’s not wrong, but also, what else would you expect?

(2) Acast is apparently producing quarterly Audio Intelligence Reports now, and the most recent edition found that “23% of the UK’s population had listened to at least one in the last month.”

Follow-up on “The Daily is the new Front Page.” Something I was mulling about after sending out the newsletter this week. I think the idea of the daily news podcast as “new front page” doesn’t apply to two productions: The Outline World Dispatch and Vox’s Today, Explained. The former feels a lot more like a magazine in-let, or something that is super reminiscent of Vice News Tonight on HBO; it’s a daily news show, yes, but has more a documentarian’s approach to newsiness. Which is to say, it doesn’t feel like it’s particularly essential on a given day, but rather, interesting and authoritative on its own terms.

A similar flavor pervades Today, Explained, which, a few weeks in, I find really plays within a whole different value system due to its evening commute-targeting schedule. Again, Today, Explained feels a little less essential to me than The Daily or Up First, because by the end of the day, I’m tired, dude. But the production’s choice to really buy into Sean Rameswaram’s naturally laid-back and fun-loving personality suggests a different analog model: Late night television in 2018. They’re engaged in similar fights: to be comforting at the end of a long day, to be alive to the day’s events (sans Jimmy Fallon, of course), and to be able to communicate news items in a way that remains compelling within those contexts.

Alex, Inc. debuts. Caught the premiere last night, and I’m… still processing. The early reviews aren’t great (Vulture, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter), and the pilot’s ratings were so-so. (The Hollywood Reporter: “The freshman comedy earned a 1.1 rating among adults 18-49 and was just shy of 4.5 million viewers. It’s a decent enough start for a new sitcom.”)

Obviously, you should watch out for the trend across the season, and the big question is whether Alex, Inc. will survive its debut run and earn a second season renewal. We’ll see.

Like I said, I’m still processing. Network family sitcoms really aren’t my thing — or sitcoms in general, with the very strong exception of The Good Place, which, really, is actually Lost doused in cotton candy — but I will say I had an uncanny valley reaction to the first episode. The question I’m playing with: “What does this mean for the bigger picture?” And I think I’ll explore that in the lead item for next week’s newsletter, barring any breaking news in-between.