Welcome back. Welcome to your Tuesday Hot Pod. Today, we’re catching up on all sorts of big industry moves, firings from Spotify, and talking about what makes a podcast a hit. Let’s go there.
But first, an exciting announcement: On Air Fest last week announced its personal return with plans to take over Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel on February 25 and 26. However, here’s the bigger news for us: Hot Pod Summit Returns February 24 as part of the festival. For the new folks here, Hot Pod Summit is an invite-only industry conference where we’ll discuss the topics of the moment, interview big names in the space, and network broadly with the people you want to get to know. We’ll have more to share in the coming weeks about how to submit tickets and what we think about programming. If there’s anything you think we should discuss, feel free to get in touch! I hope we can all gather and meet up IRL. Fingers crossed!
Also a little housekeeping note that Aria will be taking over next week’s full set of issues – I’ll be out of the (home) office, hopefully basking in the sunlight. The schedule doesn’t change, you only get bonus Aria time.
Now on to the news.
SCOOP: Spotify Disbands and Fires Its Spotify Studios Team
This morning I published a scoop on The edge that Spotify is closing its eponymous podcast studio – Spotify Studios – and firing part of the team. You can read all the details here, but the thing to note, or at least what struck me, is how often we hear about Spotify’s podcasting efforts, but rarely about this team in particular. Internally they are called Studio 4 and I have only found one public reference with this name. That seems to be the crux of what went wrong here. A former employee tells me the leadership was constantly shuffling back and forth, with multiple bosses taking charge in just a few years, and while the team worked on some highly regarded shows such as Wind of change, successes were given away to the other acquired studios, such as in this case Gimlet, who took over the partnership with Pineapple Street Studios to co-produce Welcome to your fantasy.
I don’t necessarily read this news as a deeper indication that Spotify’s podcasting dreams are falling apart, but more that it is maintaining a cluttered business structure. Spotify hasn’t told me why it’s making this change, but in an internal note to staff, Julie McNamara, head of US studios and video, said it would help the company “go faster and make more significant progress and be more effective.” facilitate collaboration within our organization.”
This leaves only the acquired networks – Gimlet, Parcast and The Ringer – to run Spotify’s podcast production, which seems… feasible? But more makes me wonder why Spotify couldn’t effectively build and manage its own in-house podcast team. Anyway, if you have thoughts, you know how to reach me. (erm, see my open DMs.)
EXCLUSIVE: a bunch of podcasts come together to promote democracy
Podcasts unite for democracy. A group of shows, hosts and networks, including many you know, such as Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia, The Sporkful, Avery Trufelman and Dan Le Batard, join forces to protect and advance election security and other pro-democracy issues. The podcasts will promote RepresentUs, whose goal is to “pass strong state and local laws that fix our broken elections and end political bribery,” and they’ve all committed to doing so through their shows. and platforms until 2022.
The coalition came together thanks to Jody Avirgan of 30 for 30 and Thirty-fiveEight, who was already involved with the non-profit, non-partisan group RepresentUs. Speaking to me, he says this moment is “critical” and that podcasts provide a strong platform to publicize things like gerrymandering and voter rights.
“The coalition launches as threats to American democracy escalate,” the group’s website says. “States are depriving their citizens of their rights, whether it’s gerrymandering polling districts, passing laws that make it harder to vote, or restructuring the way they organize elections to the will of the people. to avoid. And many of our leaders seem to reject the concept of inclusive democracy altogether.”
It is more about promoting ideas and issues than any specific political party or candidate.
Avirgan says podcasters are supposed to use unsold ad inventory for these PSAs, and it’s all on a voluntary basis; there are no hard number targets. Instead, he wants to “create a conversation” and hopes more shows will get involved. If you want to learn more about how to do this, he created a Google form here.
Slate and Forever Dog team up for ad sales
Slate and Forever Dog today announced that they will partner up to sell ads on Forever Dog shows, including Race Chaser and After the island. They can also collaborate on new programming. I was wondering what’s going on with Forever Dog, an independent comedy network, after several bigger shows left the network, including Las Culturistas and Find treatment. Joseph Cilio, the CEO and co-founder of the network, tells me that he attributes the changes to “time” and the expanding careers of the hosts, but that this partnership will allow the team to to scale – our favorite word – and focus on creating podcast IP.
“We had to scale up,” he says. “Scaling costs a lot of money in many different ways, and I thought, let’s partner with this great company that wants to work with us, and they can do ad sales. We will continue to do IP development, engage in IP development, and engage in effectively bringing that IP to market.”
Where are the podcast hits, Bloomberg asks?
The Twitter-oriented podcasting contingent lit up yesterday in response to a Bloomberg piece headlined: “Podcasting hasn’t produced a new hit in years.” The story cites Edison Research’s top 50 podcasts list and points out that none of the top 10 shows debuted in the past two years, and all are on average seven years old. The writer, Lucas Shaw, touches on all the pain points: more podcasts are being released than ever, making it harder to get noticed; discovery errors; and a lack of investment in marketing. That’s all true and something the industry is constantly talking about. (And if you’re investing millions, when can we expect something for it?)
But the core problem people take with the story is what is defined as a “hit.” Do you have to be the biggest show in the world to qualify? Personally, I look for shows that are financially viable. I’m thinking of a program like red scare that brings in over $53K a month and was launched in 2018, or even Hinge, which launched that same year and charges $5,500 per attendee at the upcoming conference. (To be honest, I have no idea how that event sells, but that sticker price!) Neither made the top 10, but both presumably make a lot of money, or at least enough to justify hiring a producer.
At the same time, I wonder what investments in podcasting will look like in the future. Yes, Spotify presumably wants to find the next Joe Rogan in a sea of Anchor creators, but I also suspect its ad tech goals are just as lofty. If it can happen programmatically in all shows that aren’t in the top 10 – although some also because of the licensing agreements – does it have to own the number one podcast?
I’ve heard from ad buyers that Rogan is the bait for Spotify’s ad network. If you want to sponsor that show, you have to buy ads on the rest of the network as well. Perhaps that flavor is enough to interest ad buyers, and if Rogan doesn’t renew, Spotify probably hopes ad buyers will return just for the massive inventory, not the unique hit. Basically, should you be the creator of the hits, or should you just represent their sales?
However, I am also writing this after I just published the piece about the layoffs at Spotify. Mismanagement, or even blindly pursuing a place in the industry without a clear plan, may seem to be a problem. Even if the company sought a hit, could they position themselves to make it happen?
Audie Cornish launches a new podcast and hosts a CNN Plus show
To close the loop from last week’s discussion, Audie Cornish, the former All together host, announced this week that she will host a new CNN Plus show, as well as a new podcast. No other details have been provided, so stay tuned for more. And for those who missed it, here’s my story from last week about NPR’s high-profile revenue.
That’s all for this week, folks. There’s a lot of news that we haven’t gotten around to, so we’ll probably have some long news on Thursday as well. If you would like to upgrade your subscription for both the Thursday and Friday newsletters, you can do so here. Bye!