Six months into 2019, what new do we know about the state of podcasting? » Nieman Journalism Lab

Welcome to Scorching Pod, a publication about podcasts. That is concern 217, dated July 9, 2019.

A midyear check-in. I really feel like I’ve been somnambulant. How is it already July? The previous half-year slipped by like a breeze, and I’m nonetheless processing the two huge information occasions which have defined the yr in podcasting thus far: Spotify’s large buys into podcasting and Luminary’s bungled rollout, the latter of which has begun to carry the weight of a parable.

Both are difficult stories with infinite implications, however additionally they occur to be the sorts of tales with consequences that may only develop into really apparent in the sluggish, trickling combination — bit by bit after which unexpectedly, like tankers in the ocean. Or climate change, I suppose. Which is why, at this point into the yr, I continue to fixate on something and every thing related to those two tentpole developments. My repetitive return to those subjects may strike some as dead-horse whacking, however I’m sticking with my gut. Few tales strike me as more essential in podcastland, at the very least for now.

First, though, let’s kick off this check-in the means we all the time do: with the huge knowledge points I maintain taped to the nook of my desk:

Viewers measurement: 90 million U.S. monthly listeners (or 32 % of the US inhabitants 12 and older), in response to the newest Infinite Dial report from Edison and Triton Digital, which provides the business its clearest number to beat. That was a sizable leap up from 57 million final yr and the largest leap in month-to-month listenership thus far.

Promoting: Podcast advert revenue was $479.1 million in 2018, in line with the IAB/PwC’s research on the matter, now in its third yr. That’s up from 2017’s estimate of $313.9 million, and the report tasks revenues to prime $1 billion in 2021. As all the time, it’s value noting that the research primarily draws from the self-reporting of 22 podcast corporations, which is to say I view the number greatest interpreted as the flooring.

At this level I often record a 3rd knowledge point: the number of iTunes (now firmly Apple Podcasts) downloads and streams as publicly disclosed by Apple at the finish of annually. The idea being, of course, that Apple Podcasts continues to drive the majority of all podcast listening, and subsequently serves as a very good sizing benchmark. I’m unsure how properly that assumption holds up anymore, although we can’t say anything for certain until we get a reliable third-party research or a competing platform (specifically Spotify) begins putting out comparable quantity flexes. For now, although, I’m content material to retire this metric during these check-ins to acknowledge the probable reducing centrality of the Apple Podcast downloads/streams knowledge within our framing benchmarks. The occasions, they’re a-changin’, as ought to we.

Okay! With those numbers laid out, listed here are the two huge questions I’m taking with me from the first half of 2019:

1. Do we truly know what Spotify is meant to develop into?

Given the depth surrounding its acquisitions and subsequent bulletins, it’s tempting to assume that we know so much — even an excessive amount of — about what the Swedish audio streaming platform aspires to seem like in the future. However I don’t assume that’s the case. In truth, I’d enterprise to say we know next to nothing.

We know the strikes: the acquisition of content material studios Gimlet Media and Parcast; the different acquisition of social audio app-turned-easy internet hosting platform Anchor; the hiring of TV veteran Liz Gateley as head of artistic improvement for podcasts; the redesigned UX that positions podcasting on par with music; the testing of podcast playlists; the content offers (the Obamas, et al.); the aspirational messaging of turning into an all-consuming audio platform. But as Spotify officials talked about onstage at the Scorching Pod Summit back in February, there wasn’t really a master plan in place that drove these first acquisitions, at the least not then. Moderately, there’s a basic aim and a willingness to make bold bets in its path.

It remains unclear whether or not that’s changed. What we have, although, is a muck of particulars to type by way of. How will Gimlet Media and Parcast relate to Spotify, and to one another? Will they be stored silos with their very own P&L sheets (for some cause, I doubt it), or will they be instantly built-in into the higher machine? How will Gateley’s machinations — which I assume consists of additional dealmaking, expertise signings, and new venture improvement — issue into all the things? Who gets priority, each within the group and, more concretely, inside the context of the app’s consumer experience? How will third-party publishers be handled, and relatedly, how will Anchor be deployed? If it becomes a multi-sided market, how will the incentives work? Who has power, and who will get to make selections?

Primary questions. What’s not so primary, though, is the complexity of how all these questions will match collectively as a system that handles a gentle movement of tasks massive and small shifting forward. An instantaneous check case: On the subject of the Obamas deal, presumably a very useful asset, who in the firm will get to take the lead on that?

All these detail items may be further sorted, I feel, beneath a larger umbrella query: What can be the organizing precept? We will broadly discern the specific outcomes which might be desired. From a business perspective, it’s primarily whatever helps the platform get hold of more users, convert more into subscribers, and maintain everyone on the service for longer.

However what might be the applicable artistic strategy that’ll get them to those ends? Does this mean creating more varieties of content for extra varieties of individuals — not in contrast to, say, what HBO is now apparently being made to do beneath AT&T’s company possession? Or does this mean one thing extra targeted — to have the concept of a “Spotify Original Podcast” imply a selected thing with a selected brand id, à la Pixar? (My guess: They’ll first attempt for each, then they’ll development in the direction of the former.) It’s all pure potential power right now, by which I mean anybody can principally say anything about Spotify’s plans and I’ll be like, yeah, completely, cool. However I’m excited for twelve months from now, after the honeymoon is over, when the actual work of marriage has begun.

2. What is going to individuals pay for?

The quick classes from Luminary’s messy rollout have been pretty simple. Chiefly: None of that is going to return straightforward, particularly if you’re strolling into a group, cast with robust ideological roots, with an enormous sack of cash trying to make some modifications. It behooves one to understand the full context and incentive system of stated group, interact in proper outreach, forge significant coalitions. Solely then can one start to do all the disruptive things one aspires to do; in Luminary’s case, that’s the already tempestuous work of dealmaking, curating a robust portfolio, build a product expertise that’s truly better than the options (and preferably, one that’s not buggy on launch), and market the crap out of the entire banana.

But I additionally assume the bigger lesson we ought to take from Luminary, as an archetype of the emergent paid-podcast subscription platform mannequin, revolves round the question of value — what it’s, exactly, that folks will probably be prepared to pay for. This can be a drawback being explored breathlessly all over the place else in the media enterprise too, from information organizations (where things don’t look too fairly) to main media conglomerates trying to play catchup with Netflix (look, in the event that they’ve received Hiro Murai directing the Station Eleven adaptation, I’m paying for WarnerMedia’s streaming service for a minimum of a month). And so it goes as nicely here in podcastland.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you by now, however I haven’t discovered Luminary’s answer to that question all that compelling just but. The startup’s messaging out of the gate was a mix of “don’t you hate ads” (see: the Signal Bunny fiasco) and “we’ve got premium stuff,” with the interpretation of “premium” being some mix of superstar power, a handful of not-quite-blue-chip podcast belongings, a small spread of native high-upside podcast-talent which may have needed more time as free options in to further improve their stock value, and some aspect tasks from publishers that continue to do most of their business on the open ecosystem. It’s not that any of these portfolio items are actively dangerous; the truth is, most of them are decent-to-quite-good. They only don’t collectively type any id. Ask me what a Luminary Unique is supposed to be and I’ll be damned if I might inform you. (I also needs to add that this critique doesn’t solely apply to Luminary; it applies equally to Stitcher Premium too. And I really like Headlong!)

It’s value restating that the energy of a artistic id — à la Pixar or pre-AT&T HBO — is only one of the many causes that someone may select to pay for a content material subscription. Yes, exclusivity is perhaps one other, which I think was part of Luminary’s considering, although the proposition is much less potent in the face of infinite free options. A monitor report of creating buzzy culture-driving hits might be one other, though no one in podcasts seems to have exhibited that edge just yet. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I nonetheless very a lot consider in topic specificity — e.g., I’d like extra sports podcast content material in my life, subsequently I might spend money on a service that might constantly meet my wants on that entrance.

After which there are all the causes for smaller sustainability-seeking operations, principally the entire “I’d pay so-and-so dollars a month because I want to support this publisher” worth proposition. You know, very similar to how some very nice individuals select to pay $7 per 30 days to help the continued manufacturing from a publication about podcasts. *cough*

The nexus of paid worth and podcasting will get more fascinating, I feel, once you attempt to squish Spotify into the equation. Spotify, of course, is already a platform rich with paying subscribers. It practices a freemium mannequin, which provides paid subscribers an ad-free experience and access to extra consumption features. At this level, the firm hasn’t talked a lot about pushing arduous into exclusive podcast content material, but I mean, come on, does a bear crap in the woods? It’s going to occur. And when it does — properly, doesn’t it appear that they might principally have the business Luminary and Stitcher Premium need to have? Plus they’ve already cleared the elementary hurdle: giving individuals a cause to pay and getting enough of them to construct a formidable base. Hell, this race may already be over.

Anyway, that’s it on the check-in front. Oh, I’ll toss in yet one more thing: my Greatest of the Yr (So Far) listing for Vulture. Okay, let’s transfer on.

Man Raz to step away from the TED Radio Hour (plus star energy in podcasting). This got here in just before the long weekend: Guy Raz, the wildly industrious purveyor of marvel and enthusiasm, shall be stepping away from the TED Radio Hour as host and editorial director at the end of this yr. In a press release, NPR, which co-produces the well-liked “podcast about ideas” with TED, announced that they may soon be kicking off a national search — “looking inside NPR and across the media landscape” — for a new host. The present is claimed to be one of NPR’s most downloaded podcasts, and it is at present aired by greater than 600 public radio stations. Raz will proceed working with NPR on How I Constructed This and Wow in the World.

I reckon Raz is probably one of the few battle-tested skills in this business. By which I imply, he’s one of the only a few people who has a monitor report of driving audiences for new podcast tasks, many times. He’s had an fascinating path: Now 44, he spent most of his skilled profession at NPR, the place he began out as an intern on All Issues Thought-about and rose up via the ranks over the subsequent 20 years, with pit stops as a correspondent for CNN and as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. In 2013, he turned host and editorial director of the TED Radio Hour, which might turn out to be the start line for Raz’s adventures in empire constructing. He would go on to launch two other tasks, How I Constructed This, the wildly common enterprise interview podcast, and Wow In The World, NPR’s first foray into youngsters’ programming. Final yr, he was hooked up to a Spotify exclusive challenge, a music interview present referred to as The Rewind.

If we’re retaining on model with TED, one massive concept this makes me assume about: Have we had a correct dialog about star power in podcasting yet? Particularly, “star power” as a show improvement mechanism where a specific talent, native to podcasting, could be plopped into a challenge and have the identify foreign money of that expertise truly imply one thing on a cloth audience conversion degree. I feel we’ve seen this very not often to date; the most up-to-date instance I can assume of 99% Invisible’s Avery Trufelman being recruited to host a new Vox Media property, Nice Attempt. Frankly, I in all probability wouldn’t have rushed to test it out if Trufelman wasn’t hooked up to the challenge.

Anyway, it seems like star energy in podcasting has largely interpreted as far as an importing technique: “Let’s pay Celebrity So-and-So with not that much experience behind the mic a million dollars to make a podcast and maybe attract their fans.” With few exceptions — the Conan O’Brien crossover, particularly, turned out fairly properly — I don’t assume that has actually labored out. I’m fairly convinced there’s more value to be discovered cultivating that foreign money inside the group.

Right here’s a thought exercise: In the event you had to make an inventory of podcast skills you’d really feel snug betting an excellent portion in your private bank account on, how long would that listing be? I mean, don’t truly guess your life savings on podcasting, of course, however hypothetically? Me, I feel I have…15, perhaps 16 individuals? Six, if we’re talking about ones who aren’t already making gobs of money?

Anyway, more power to Raz, who will presumably use his newly freed-up time to make much more podcasts. And for what it’s value, I hope NPR documents its search for a new TED Radio Hour host. That is the stuff of actuality programming.

Director’s commentary, however for podcasting [by Caroline Crampton]. We love a superb director’s commentary monitor in my home. I nonetheless purchase DVDs most of the time for the extras, and in terms of films I actually love, I typically play them while I’m writing with the commentary monitor getting into the background with the display dimmed so there’s no image. There’s something about the targeted power of the filmmaker’s voices analyzing their own work that I discover really conducive to productiveness. It’s a quirk. (Additionally: I will never recover from the proven fact that in the first few seconds of the commentary monitor for the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson pretends to evaluate her own “appearance” as the lady in the Columbia Footage title card. A highly formative piece of metafiction.)

There are lots of similarities between the basic film commentary monitor and your average pop culture podcast, superficial and in any other case. They often function individuals who know one another nicely and who’ve come collectively to talk about a film or TV present in extreme element. Banter and chemistry are as crucial to good commentary tracks as they’re to good culture podcasts, together with earnest and fulfilling tangents.

Above all, they’re primarily audio products. Most of the time you don’t actually need to have the ability to see the film beneath dialogue to be able to take pleasure in the dialog. Given this, it’s been irritating and somewhat baffling for me, as a fan of the basic commentary, that this format has been sluggish to make the leap to digital and streaming know-how. It feels obvious that platforms like Netflix and Amazon should have a “toggle commentary on/off” button — it may possibly’t be that difficult technologically, certainly? — however it’s yet to turn up as a widespread choice.

That’s to not say that they haven’t experimented with it a bit. On Netflix, there was a version of “House of Cards”‘ opening season that you could steam with commentary, though it’s not obtainable to play these days, and on Amazon Prime, you’ll be able to watch the first season of “Transparent” with commentary audio from creator Jill Soloway, although it’s a must to stream it as a separate title.

Now, it appears like Netflix is scratching this itch just a little deeper with the launch of Watching With, a podcast where each episode also can double as an alternate audio monitor for the film in question. The 2 episodes out up to now function director Kaytin Robinson discussing her movie Someone Nice, as well as director Nahnatchka Khan and producer/actor Randall Park talking about All the time Be My Perhaps. It’s a bit of a jerry-rigged answer — the present is accessible as regular by way of podcatchers, and host Jarett Wieselman just counts the listener/viewer down from three so that they press play at the similar time and subsequently have their picture synced up with the podcast’s audio.

Netflix, of course, isn’t by any means the first to make use of podcasts as a useful workaround for the inbuilt commentary monitor — from Simpsons show 4 Finger Discount to the experimental audio show Imaginary Recommendation to Rebecca Lavoie’s HGTV & Me, numerous podcast people have been enjoying with this development for a great while. Exhibits like The Ringer’s Binge Mode and your basic episode-by-episode TV recap podcasts sit in an adjacent area to the pure commentary podcast, as does an terrible lot of other popular culture podcast discussion and critique. (Sidenote: I might also put podcasts about podcasts, e.g. Before It Had a Theme, which covers This American Life episodes, in an adjacent category to all this. Did I point out that I really like all things meta?)

Lots of audio producers I’ve spoken to over the years have expressed curiosity in formal commentary accompaniments as a possible format for podcasting, but the situation of rights and permissions is usually what stops makers from testing out these waters. To make such podcast commentary extra understandable for listeners who aren’t enjoying the movie in front of them, or to assist sync it up when they’re, you’d ideally want to have the ability to play good chunks of the film’s audio — far beyond what’s often acceptable to qualify for truthful use — beneath dialogue. And that’s simply not one thing that’s sometimes attainable.

This, of course, is the place streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have a huge advantage over your average unbiased podcaster. Nowadays, they not solely license and distribute quite a bit of content — additionally they make their very own unique exhibits and movies, which are subsequently a lot easier to create further extras around, since there are not any possession negotiations required they usually already have quick access to the talent concerned. It’s no accident that the first two episodes of Watching With cover Netflix originals — it really works each from a rights level of view, however it also makes the podcast commentary a useful branded publicity extension for the works being discussed.

It’s this final facet that is sensible of the commentary podcast as half of Netflix’s budding orchestrations around audio as a advertising channel. (Nick lately wrote an summary of their podcasting endeavors up to now for Vulture, which you need to take a look at.) Netflix doesn’t look like making any strikes on turning into the “Netflix for podcasts” — that title which so many other current entrants into the business crave — and has as an alternative targeted on launching exhibits that goal to get viewers spending more time with the platform’s properties (and presumably strengthening their relationship with their Netflix account). This commentary-as-podcast show matches right into that, giving followers one other means of connecting with a Netflix unique.

Although I still have hopes that the built-in commentary monitor will still make the leap to streaming platforms as a default function, releasing them as podcasts is a canny first step. It comes with little-to-no improvement costs and operates as a useful advertising software, since the audio is accessible to these and not using a subscription. I’d be curious to see if the likes of Netflix will do one thing like loosen restrictions around outdoors podcasters utilizing their supplies to create commentary podcasts…though I understand that’s unlikely as a result of, properly, capitalism. Nonetheless, I stay in hope.

The long-tail information peg. When the first two of earthquakes hit Southern California last week, I immediately thought about two issues. The first was Kathryn Schulz’s “The Really Big One,” which I’ve reread every six months for the previous 4 years and which crosses my mind at the least as soon as every other week. The second was: “Man, that KPCC earthquake project was really well-timed.”

I’m referring, of course, to The Massive One: Your Survival Guide, KPCC’s service-journalism-meets-speculative-fiction challenge, revealed earlier this yr, that endeavors to help listeners in southern California and beyond with earthquake preparedness and give them a tangible sense of what to do if/when the huge one hits.

And nicely timed it was. “We did see a spike in downloads, and there we were again in the top charts in Apple,” Arwen Champion Nicks, who leads KPCC’s podcast staff, advised me over e mail. “What was great to see was how many people who had listened to it tweeting about it and recommending it to people.” Indeed, I noticed that last bit for myself. All throughout Twitter, in communities far outdoors podcasting, I spotted the podcast being passed round.

There’s a programming lesson in here somewhere. I feel it’s this: “Newsiness” as an editorial strategy tends to be associated with the bleeding edge, the infinite current: what’s occurring right now, what occurred in the final 24 hours, right here’s what it’s worthwhile to know immediately. The Huge One’s previous week suggests that technique could possibly be reinterpreted as a collection of forward-facing investments: Here’s what individuals may have to know in the near future. “What to do when the coastline catches up to your house,” “what to expect for your community when there’s a constitutional crisis,” “how to prepare for the next recession.”

Morbid food for thought.


  • T.J. Raphael, senior producer at Slate, is leaving to hitch the Sony-Davidson-Mayer enterprise, which still doesn’t have a name?
  • 1/ Some private information 🗣️ I am thrilled to announce that I’m joining @adamdavidson and @lrmayer in their three way partnership with @SonyMusicGlobal! Particulars on which might be right here. 👇

    — T. J. Raphael (@TJRaphael) July eight, 2019

  • Bill Irwin, Stitcher’s director of audience progress, is leaving the company to…nicely, the destination doesn’t look like officially disclosed simply but. (Don’t fear, I’ll get it.) I feel this can be a low-key necessary improvement — not quite a bit of individuals have held that job at a excessive degree.
  • Control ESPN. Connecticut’s best seems to be on the transfer, podcast-wise. Right here’s a Jody Avirgan tweet, with curiosity-piquing job postings for an upcoming flagship every day venture and editorial lead.
  • People, there are numerous cool podcast-y issues on the horizon at ESPN, which suggests there are some great jobs opening up too. Right here’s one to be the editorial lead on a new every day flagship present. Based mostly in NYC. Unfold the word!

    — Jody Avirgan (@jodyavirgan) July 8, 2019

  • Louie Media, the French podcast studio based by Mélissa Bounoua and Charlotte Pudlowski, has struck an exclusive partnership with Acast. Here’s the report from Pere La Fouine, in French.
  • Podfund has announced its second batch of content material investments.
  • From NPR: “Podcasts Are Providing A New Way Into Poetry.”
  • From TechCrunch: “Podimo raises €6M to become Europe’s ‘Netflix for podcasts.’”
  • This is peripherally fascinating. From The Verge: “Mozilla has started teasing an ad-free news subscription service, which, for $5 per month, would offer ad-free browsing, audio readouts, and cross-platform syncing of news articles from a number of websites.” Emphasis mine.