Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about the podcast industry and related concerns. This is Issue Fifty-Six, published January 19, 2016.
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21st Century Fox invests in an upcoming podcast network, which finds a technology partner in Art19 — another provider of dynamic ad insertion.
What if our focus on social audio is misplaced? Some thoughts on another front in pod technology innovation.
Quick follow-up to the public radio exit spreadsheet.
Serial changes its publishing schedule.
More presidential election pods.
Classifieds are now at the bottom!
Show Business and Art19.
Last week, news broke that 21st Century Fox, one of the Murdoch empire's many tentacles, has invested in an upcoming podcast network called Wondery. The network is being headed up by one Hernan Lopez, who was previously the CEO of Fox International Channels until the corporation's globally-focused programming unit was restructured out of existence recently.
The size of Fox's investment is unclear, though you can draw your own conclusions from a Bloomberg report stating the network "has more than $1 million to work with," a sum that reportedly comes from both the investment and Lopez's own money. What, exactly, will make up Wondery's future content offerings is anybody's guess, with the Hollywood Reporter offering broad strokes that the network will "create and curate original, scripted, and unscripted programming." I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that "curate" is roughly a synonym for content acquisition, so if there are any podcasters out in the audience, ready your pitches.
One thing you should note about Wondery is its partnership with California-based tech company Art19, which Variety notes will help the network with "distribution infrastructure and dynamic ad insertion." Yep, dynamic ad insertion — it's a direct competitor to Acast, Panoply, and the solutions currently adopted by public radio stations like WNYC and WBEZ we commonly discuss in this column.
Long-time pod watchers would know that Art19 has been around for a while. (There's a handy Daily Dot article from 2012 that serves a great snapshot of the company at the time.) Art19 is responsible for powering pods like those coming out of the Feral Audio network — home of Harmontown! — and the DGital Media's Comedy Voices Network. A cursory look at their "News" page reveals that, like other hosting platforms, they've been on the hunt off the iTunes charts as much as anybody else.
The company was founded back in 2011, when it envisioned itself as an end-to-end services provider — from ad sales support to distribution. "When we first designed this company, we thought we had to do everything," Art19 co-founder Sean Carr told me. This was a function of there simply being not enough players attacking other problems in the space around the same time — which is to say, it's hard to hammer down on a specific problem when there's no ecosystem of effort to begin with.
In recent years, as more money and more companies flowed into the space, Art19 shifted towards focusing on being a technology company. It's core product involves publishing tools akin to Soundcloud and LibSyn, which will allow — as we've discussed — for dynamic ad insertion and ad serving technology reminiscent of AdsWizz. Eventually, the company plans to take on measurement and discovery. With regard to the former, Carr referred to a belief of shifting podcasting out of RSS feeds and into API connected services, and with the latter, he talked a bit about something his team is calling "Art19DB," or the IMDB for audio. There's quite a bit to this, but I'll let your imagination roam free here for now.
So that's Art19, a technology that I've long overlooked, and regretfully so. I have the distinct sense that, from where I sit anyway, we're going to quite a bit of them in the months to come.
But anyway, back to Wondery: what, exactly, are we seeing here? What's particularly interesting about Lopez is background in large-scaled entertainment media operations — this is certainly a man oriented towards growth and scale, and with considerable history in either department. But what does that mean for what we think about when we think about the current podcasting landscape? My gut feels like we're bound to see something closer to CBS Digital's Play.it network than a more bespoke operation like Gimlet or Radiotopia: a reliance on public personalities, talk radio formats, and higher content volumes; less a cultivation of new audio aesthetics, and more the adaptation of existing radio programming. Which may well be a good thing, as such a genre opens itself up to be an entry-point for a different kind of audience.
The Wondery website is scheduled to go live sometime this week. As for its shows, Variety notes that the company's goal is to roll out its first offering by spring, while Bloomberg pegs those plans closer to summer.
Other Fronts in Audio Innovation.
I've been thinking a lot more about Amazon lately. Not in relation to Audible, mind you — although I do think a lot about that company, its subscription model, and its already robust audience penetration base — but rather, in what appears to be Jeff Bezos' plights of hardware fancy, specifically the Amazon Echo. In case you're unfamiliar with the thing, the Echo is a tubular object that's a sly cross between a wireless speaker and a voice-controlled computer. It's fairly futuristic in conceit; you verbally ask the Echo to describe the weather, to play your local public radio station, to make grocery lists. It's a non-traditional way to interface with the Internet; not through keyboard, mouse, and monitor, but through structured conversation.
I suppose you're wondering when, exactly, will I get to the point. Here it is: so far, the bulk of conversation about technological solutions to podcast discovery and expansion have largely revolved around conversations about social: audio virality (or lack thereof), Facebook's experiments with NPR, clipping and shareability (which seemed to dominate the This American Life audio hackathon last year). But what if audio shareability, which is a concern about the dynamics of how audio moves through the digital media ecosystem, is absolute peanuts compared to concerns about structures, availabilities/accessibilities, and hardware? After all, as we've talked about in the past, one of podcasting's major and unambiguous tipping points was Apple's decision to include the native Podcast app on the iPhone by default in the iOS8 update.
This is all not to say that I'm advocating we pull back from explorations in social audio. Rather, I think there are other, perhaps even better, fronts to pursue: re-examining the way in which we control and interface with audio in our mobile devices, expanding access points, thinking beyond headphones.
One more thing: in mid-2015, the company announced the launch of a $100 million fund to support innovations in artificial intelligence for the Echo. It's called the "Alexa Fund" (Alexa, by the way, is the Echo's version of the Apple AI avatar Siri), and the fund is principally concerned with natural language recognition. Interesting, no?
Serial Changes Its Publication Schedule.
Okay, you probably've heard this one already. But let's go through the motions: last Tuesday, the Serial team announced that "new episodes of Season Two will come out every other week, instead of once a week." Which is to say, it's switching to a bi-weekly schedule, unless of course, like Roman Mars, you take issue with the term "bi-weekly," given its imprecision. Me, I'm partial towards sheer Germanic literalism: "new episode of Season Two to be released every 14 days."
Anyway, when I first heard this news — initially through a rumor, then through the email from the Serial team — I wasn't really sure what I was looking at. Was this an expression of extreme confidence in its audience's capacity for patience, or was this some sort of editorial miscalculation?
The second season has so far struck me as more than a little frustrating. Not so much due to the reporting — indeed, the show's performance remains formally impeccable, and I'm prone to think that maybe, well, my frustration is a result of me maybe missing some sort of point. But I do have to say that there's something about this season that feels like the show is taking its audience, and all the goodwill it has mustered (perhaps accidentally) rolling off the first season, for granted. Perhaps it's the almost leisurely pace of the early episodes — despite the intense and painful pictures they paint — or perhaps its the absence of a clear central gambit that goes beyond psychological exploration. The show has signalled that the stakes, and the scope, will greatly expand at some point, and I'm looking forward to that point, but this decision to further stretch out the release schedule (for good journalistic reason, I'm sure) suggests an assumption that we would return. That we would continue caring over the long-term.
This is where I walk back on my own critique. I haven't fully processed my feelings on the show, and I'm very open to the possibility that my response may well be petty — perhaps overly... oh I don't know, consumeristic. So I'm going to come back to this in a few weeks with a longer, more thought-out reflection. In the meantime, let me know what you think, and I also highly recommend you check out the New York Times' write-up on the change — it touches, briefly, on the second season's lack of similar buzz, and on some numbers. (Five million streams on Pandora! What!)
Quick Follow-Up On The Public Radio Exodus Spreadsheet.
Okay, folks. So last week I started compiling a small spreadsheet listing out the people who have moved out of the public radio system into private work. I also crowdsourced submissions, because I knew that I'd always have gaps given that I'm generally scatter-brained.
I've limited the scope of the list to just include people who have moved from public radio to private podcasting, digital radio, or adjacent companies. I've also limited the sample to just include people in the North American public radio systems. Why? So the sample can be a lot more specific in the typology of person that I'm trying to capture, with fewer outlying factors that could well lead to motivational variances. Following this logic further, I also removed early-career folks, defined as having 0-2 years of experience.
Some readers took umbrage with my statement last week that everybody charted in the spreadsheet "was white." Setting aside the fact that the observation was made in relation to an early version of the list which chiefly covered high-profile players typically covered in this newsletter, the newly focused and expanded spreadsheet bumps the percentage of non-white folks to around 13% (or 6 out of 46). Yes, indeed, this is a function of the whiteness of public radio in general.
Right, so. I'm going to dig a little deeper into spreadsheet over the course of this week, and will draw out some stuff by next issue. In the meantime, keep submitting names if you're interested.
More Presidential Elections Pods.
On the last edition of Hot Pod, I talked a bit about a suite of relatively new journalistic podcasts that were topically pegged to the current 2016 presidential election cycle. Well, I guess I was on to something, because the past week saw the Huffington Post and Bloomberg Politics launching election-related — or election-adjacent — shows of their own. The new HuffPo show is called "Candidate Confessional," and it will feature interviews with politicians who've ran for office, presidential and otherwise, but ultimately lost. (Among the interviewed: one Michelle Bachmann, in case you're somehow nostalgic for 2012.) For more information about the pod, here's Poynter with a write-up.
The two new Bloomberg Politics pods are called "Masters in Politics" and "Culture Caucus," and they're due to be published on a bi-weekly basis. Interestingly, they extend Bloomberg's already long list of existing pods, which I never knew existed until I started digging into this item a few days ago. Where did these come from?? I have no idea how much of a listenership all those pods have, but as with most things related to Bloomberg Media, I've stopped trying to understand how any of it works because there's too much money and sometimes the media business makes no sense (#NYValues). In any case, the official Bloomberg announcement post mentioned that the pods are available on the Bloomberg Terminal in addition to iTunes and Soundcloud, which I guess is as exclusive a distribution point as you're ever going to get. So that's something to think about.
"WNYC is leading public radio's transition to public podcasting." (CJR)
Did you hear? Audible bought a historic church in New Jersey and will be converting it into new office space. Oo boy. (NJ.com)
Vulture, New York Magazine's entertainment site, partners with Earwolf to develop a podcast element for its upcoming festival. (Vulture)
First glimpses at the Apple TV's new Podcast App. (9 to 5 Mac)
"How CBS is trying to get big-name advertisers into podcasts" (Digiday)
All listings are written by me, unless in "scare quotes."
Lapels pins aren't just for 2016 presidential candidates and the Illuminati. Weirdo Weapons wants you to know there's a sweet lapel pin for pod lovers, and they're for sale. $7 plus shipping. (Link)
I'm not the best at being a young professional. (Or at being young, frankly). I'd probably benefit from checking out Joblogues, a weekly pod featuring two friends having candid conversations with young professionals from around the world. (Link)
Thinking about starting a pod? Of course you do. There are a bunch of hosting platforms, but only Blubrry chose to take out an ad here. It’s simple to use, and Wordpress-friendly. Get a free month with promo code: blubrry005. (Link)
The Podcast Host, an education resource/production service for pods, is looking for a new content creator! Like, content in general: written, pods, video — but mostly pods. I can barely write a sentence, so yikes. Digital media experience necessary. (Link)
"What's the best way to share your audio on Facebook? In this article, Omny Studio's Matt Saraceni tries to answer the question. TLDR: you can now easily generate a native video of your audio that will get a lot more Facebook views using Omny Studio." (Link)
Interested in taking out some space, list your job opening, advertise your mad skills? Hit me up for rates: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hey folks, Nick Quah here.
Just a quick note for now: I've somehow gotten terribly sick in the past 36 hours. As I type this, I'm hugging what appears to be a grey plastic container ordinarily used to store books, stationery, and assorted wooden materials. Worse still, I woke up this morning in New Haven — lord, New Haven — and if I'm able to pull my stomach together, I should be able to crawl to the Metro North to make it to work before too late. It's 8am.