Hello again. Welcome to your Mardi Hot Pod. Today we’re catching up with all kinds of big moves in the industry, layoffs at Spotify, and talking about what makes a podcast successful. Let’s go.
But first, an exciting announcement: On Air Fest announced its return in person last week with plans to take over the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn on February 25-26. Here is the biggest news for us though: The Hot Pod Summit returns on February 24 as part of the festival. For newcomers here, Hot Pod Summit is an invitation-only industry conference where we’ll discuss hot topics, interview big names in the space, and more broadly, network with the people you want to know. We’ll have more to share in the coming weeks on how you can submit tickets, as well as what we think of in terms of lineup. If you think there is something we should discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us! Hope we can all get IRL together and meet. Crossed fingers!
Also, a little maintenance note that Aria will take care of all of the issues for next week – I’ll be out of the office (at home), hoping to bask in the sun. Nothing in the schedule will change, you just get bonus Aria time.
Now let’s move on to the news.
SCOOP: Spotify dissolves and fires its Spotify Studios team
This morning I posted a scoop on The edge that Spotify is shutting down its eponymous podcast studio – Spotify Studios – and laying off 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 from this particular team. Internally, they’re called Studio 4, and I’ve only found one public reference of that name. This seems to be the crux of what went wrong here. A former employee tells me that the leadership stirred constantly, that several bosses were in charge in just a few years, and although the team worked on popular shows, like Winds of change, the successes were transferred to the other studios acquired, such as, in this case, Gimlet, who took over the partnership with Pineapple Street Studios to co-produce Welcome to your fantasy.
I’m not necessarily reading in this news a deeper indication of the collapse of Spotify’s podcasting dreams, but rather the fact that it maintains a messy corporate structure. Spotify didn’t explain to me why it was making the change, but in an internal staff memo Julie McNamara, head of studios and video in the United States, said it would help the company “go faster, to make greater progress and to facilitate more effective collaboration within our organization.
That leaves only his acquired networks – Gimlet, Parcast and The Ringer – to do Spotify’s podcast production, which seems… doable? But more so, I wonder why Spotify couldn’t effectively build and manage its own in-house podcast team. Anyway, if you have any ideas, you know how to reach me. (Uh, see my open DMs.)
EXCLUSIVE: Bunch of podcasts come together to promote democracy
Podcasts Unite for Democracy. A bunch of shows, hosts, and networks, many of which you know like Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia, The Sporkful, Avery Trufelman and Dan Le Batard join forces to protect and promote election security and other pro-democracy issues. The podcasts will promote RepresentUs, whose goals are to pass “powerful state and local laws that mend our broken elections and end political corruption,” and they all pledged to do so through their broadcasts and platforms until 2022.
The coalition came together thanks to Jody Avirgan of 30 for 30 and FiveThirtyEight, who was already involved with the non-profit, non-partisan group RepresentUs. He says in a conversation with me that this is a “critical” moment and that podcasts provide a solid platform to get the word out on issues such as gerrymandering and voter rights.
“The coalition is launching as threats to American democracy intensify,” the group’s website said. “States deprive their citizens of the right to vote, whether by destroying electoral districts, passing laws that make it more difficult to vote, or restructuring the way they administer elections in order to circumvent the will of the people. And many of our leaders seem to reject the concept of inclusive democracy altogether. “
It is more about promoting ideas and issues rather than a particular political party or candidate.
Avirgan says the idea is for podcasters to use an inventory of unsold ads for these PSAs and that this is all happening on a voluntary basis; there are no quantified targets. Instead, he wants to “create a conversation” and hopes other shows will be involved. If you want more details on how to do this, he created a Google form here.
Slate and Forever Dog team up to sell ads
Slate and Forever Dog announced today that they will work together to sell commercials on Forever Dog’s shows, which include Race hunter and After the island. They can also collaborate on new programming. I was wondering what was going on with Forever Dog, an independent comedy network, after several bigger shows left the network, including Bodybuilders and Seek treatment. Joseph Cilio, CEO and co-founder of the network, tells me that he attributes the changes to the ‘time’ and career expansion of the hosts, but that this partnership will allow the team to grow – our favorite word. – and to concentrate on the creation of IP podcast.
“We needed to evolve,” he says. “Scaling costs a lot of money in different ways, and I thought we had to partner with this awesome company that wants to partner with us and they can sell ads. We will continue to develop intellectual property, we will concern ourselves with the development of intellectual property, and we will concern ourselves with the effective commercialization of this intellectual property.
Where are the podcasting successes, Bloomberg asks
The Twitter-oriented podcasting contingent lit up yesterday in response to a Bloomberg track titled: “The podcast hasn’t produced a new hit in years.” The article quotes Edison Research’s Top 50 Podcast 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. Writer, Lucas Shaw, touches all the sore spots: more podcasts than ever are released, making it harder to stand out; discovery failures; and a lack of investment in marketing. All of this is true and the industry talks about it all the time. (And when you invest millions, when can we expect to see something in return?)
But the main problem that people have 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 am thinking of a program like Red fear which brings in over $ 53,000 per month and launched in 2018, or even Pivot, which launched the same year and charges $ 5,500 per attendee at their next conference. (To be fair, I have no idea how this event sells, but that sticker award!) Neither made it to the top 10 list, but the two, presumably, are making a lot of money, or at least enough to justify hiring a producer.
At the same time, I wonder what the investment in podcasting looks like going forward. Yes, Spotify probably wants to find the next Joe Rogan in a sea of Anchor’s creators, but I also suspect his ad tech goals are just as high. If he can get the programming to appear on any shows that don’t make the top 10 – although some of them too, due to his licensing agreements – does he need to own the number one podcast?
I’ve heard from ad buyers that Rogan is the bait of the Spotify ad network. If you want to sponsor this show, you need to buy ads from the rest of the network as well. Maybe this taste is enough to interest ad buyers, and if Rogan doesn’t renew, Spotify is likely hoping that ad buyers will come back just for massive inventory, not singular success. Basically do you have to be the creator of the hits or do you just have to represent their sales?
However, I’m also writing this after posting the Spotify layoffs article. Mismanagement, or even the indiscriminate pursuit of space in the industry without a clear plan, potentially appears to be a problem. Even if the company wanted to suddenly, could they position themselves to get there?
Audie Cornish to launch new podcast and host CNN Plus show
To come full circle in last week’s discussion, Audie Cornish, the former All things Considered host, announced this week that she will host a new CNN Plus show, as well as a new podcast. No further details were provided, so stay tuned for more. And for those of you who missed it, here’s my story from last week on NPR’s high-profile revenue.
That’s it for this week, folks. There’s a ton of news that we weren’t able to access, so we’ll likely have a long one on Thursday as well. If you want to upgrade your Thursday and Friday newsletter subscription, you can do so here. Bye!