Hello podheads, here’s issue #48. Also, decided to change the frequency of the newsletter to fortnightly. But I’ll start publishing short updates throughout the week on important developments and dissect it with additional info in the “Fortnightly round-up.” Thank you for all your support.
Apple vs. Spotify
Voxnest published the Apple vs Spotify report for August. Spotify continues to steamroller its way through Europe. Since the last report in June, Spotify has now emerged as the dominant podcast listening app in Portugal and Bulgaria, while Apple reclaimed Romania. Spotify is also currently the dominant app in Algeria.
Here’s an interesting L.A. Times profile of Dawn Ostroff, the chief content officer of Spotify. Here’s an interesting excerpt from the piece:
Ostroff said she’s looking for content that is “really going to be loud” so it brings in the largest amount of users to sign up and spend more time listening to it.
“The amount of content that we can make is endless,” Ostroff said. “Seeing how many of the existing talent in the Hollywood community and the news community are interested in migrating toward this new medium, it really makes it a lot easier.”
Spotify in numbers
A breakup of Spotify’s userbase by geography.
A short take
The Ringer is launching a new podcast called The Hottest Take exclusively on Spotify. The show will be under 10 mins and will be hosted by Bill Simmons and others from the network.
Spotify wants a piece of the sports podcasts action. It has hired Amy Hudson, former head of sports media partnerships at Facebook and David Rhodes, the former president of CBS News to develop original sports content.
Spotify will be competing with the likes of The Ringer, ESPN, SB Nation, Barstool, and The Athletic, among others. Sports podcasts are seeing some increased action off-late.
The subscription-based sports media site recently said that it hopes to have 120 podcasts by the year-end. Last week it also announced a new daily sports news podcast called The Lead, in partnership with Wondery Media.
Mather and his co-founder Adam Hansmann started the site on the premise that sports fans would pay to read original reporting about their favorite teams. It began in Chicago in 2016 and now has more than 400 reporters and editors covering more than 270 teams in nearly 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the English Premier League. - Bloomberg
A couple of months ago ESPN also announced a new daily sports news podcast. Last week the sports broadcaster also disclosed that its 35 podcasts now reach over 7.1 million listeners.
Recently, Erika Nardini, the CEO of Barstool Sports, disclosed that podcasts contribute to over 35% of the company’s revenues.
It now has more than 30 and ranks as the No. 6 largest U.S. podcast publisher with 6.75 million unique listeners in July 2019 — putting it ahead of rivals including ESPN, according to Podtrac.
According to a report in the WSJ, The Ringer, founded by Bill Simmons, is profitable.
The Ringer’s podcast ad sales topped $15 million in 2018 (and accounted for most of its revenue); its podcast network brings in around 35 million downloads across 28 shows; Simmons says the company is profitable.
So, Spotify has its task cut out, to say the least. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against these entrenched players.
The music streaming giant acquired SoundBetter, the music marketplace that connects musicians with audio and music professionals.
SoundBetter already has more than 180,000 registered users in 176 countries and 14,000 cities across the globe. The acquisition reinforces the deep connection between Spotify and the broader music industry, as SoundBetter makes it easy for labels and artists to source a wide array of music services.
Spotify has been looking for ways to directly work with Artists. Last year, it made quite a splash when it announced that it was working on allowing artists to upload their music on Spotify directly only shut down the program in June. This acquisition seems like a roundabout way to achieve the goal.
Also read: Spotify is now a music-making marketplace, as it buys New York-based SoundBetter
Podcasts and print
The past decade has been increasingly brutal for publishers, both print and online. The rise of the internet and the increasing domination of the duopoly of Google and Facebook have made life incredibly hard for publishers. The end result? A host of closures, consolidation, uneasy alliances, harebrained and desperate experiments and a whole host of other calamities.
An increasing bet by publishers, both ad-supported and subscription oriented off-late has been on podcasts. French publisher Le Monde, according to this Digiday piece, is seeing some success in using podcasts to drive subscriptions.
According to the publisher, 19% of the users who listened to the podcast have read at least one article of the original written series, others have subscribed to Le Monde. Delcambre couldn’t share exact numbers but said these articles were some of the most successful at converting subscribers this year.
More interestingly, two of the three podcasts have been funded by Spotify and are exclusive to the platform.
Over the years, some publishers have increasingly grown their podcasts operations. The Economist, Financial Times, NYT, The Guardian, among others have been trying to leverage podcasts to drive subscriptions and donations in the case of The Guardian.
Here’s what Alastair Mackie, the Financial Times's head of audio for commercial had to say a while ago:
“The majority of listeners to our current podcasts are not subscribers, but they are taking the time to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day on FT content,” said Alastair Mackie, head of audio for commercial at the Financial Times. “One of the challenges subscriptions businesses have is to engage people to the point where they convert. So to have a fertile hunting ground [for conversions] of highly engaged people, many of whom listen to 70-80 percent of the podcasts, is good. You’ll see a lot more of us trying to refine that. There is a big opportunity in using it to drive subscriptions.”
Tom Standage, head of digital strategy and deputy editor at The Economist
The goal with “The Intelligence” is to broaden The Economist’s reach among podcast listeners who will then go on to subscribe.
Leveraging podcasts to drive subscriptions is a whole new ballgame than generating ad revenues from them. Vox Media, NYT, and Slate have been hugely successful in generating ad revenues from podcasts. Will keep tracking developments in this space.
Licensing music to be used on podcasts has been devilishly difficult and using music by throwing caution to the wind has been a risky proposition, to say the least. While nothing came of podcasts using music on podcasts without licensing in the early days of podcasting, the risk of legal action is a clear and present danger. Last year, Universal Music and a bunch of other records sued PokerNews Podcast for unlawful use of music on its episodes.
This piece on Billboard explores the complexities of using and licensing music for podcasts.
In most cases, using music in a podcast is more like obtaining a synch license for video than making individual songs available online. Producers need permission from the owners of the recording and the owners of the underlying composition — which is especially complicated if a song contains elements of another composition, as in a sample. "If a song incorporates a sample of another song, then the number of rights holders basically doubles," says Hrishikesh Hirway, creator and host of 5-year-old podcast Song Exploder. "We might not know, necessarily, how to get in touch with those people, or maybe you're dealing with an estate. That can get really tricky. Sometimes the burden of clearing a song proves to be too much."
Anyway, there was plenty of excitement in podcastland a couple of weeks ago when SoundExchange announced that it was partnering with PodcastMusic.com to making this whole process easy:
“The podcast industry is rapidly growing, and this collaboration will provide SoundExchange’s music creators – both labels and publishers – with an additional way to monetize their work by making their music available on Podcastmusic.com if they choose,” said Michael Huppe, President and CEO of SoundExchange. “Our collaboration with SourceAudio will make the process of licensing music simpler through a one-stop licensing marketplace.”
Nothing much has come of it yet. But Another startup now wants to take a stab at this.
Last week Soundstripe, the royalty-free music service announced that it raised $2 million from Craft Ventures, the outfit led by David Sacks, the founding COO of PayPal and co-founder/former CEO of Yammer, and Bill Lee, a founder, and investor.
This investment by Craft will allow Soundstripe to continue taking tangible steps that give creators the most agile and seamless means to bring content to the consumer while attracting a wider-reaching subscriber base,” said Travis Terrell, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Soundstripe. “Our goals are as ambitious as our users’, and we look forward to welcoming more subscribers as we look to expand into the growing podcast segment and international markets.”
YouTube for podcasts
Julia Alexander published a really interesting piece in The Verge on how podcasters are using YouTube to grow their podcasts. This also reminded me of this slide from a survey by Futuri Media and the University of Florida.
From The Canadian Podcast Listener 2019 study, which is also referenced in the article:
YouTube is indeed the leading platform for past year usage among monthly podcast listeners. More than 4-in-10 (43%) say they went to YouTube for podcasts in the past year, ahead of Apple Podcasts/iTunes at 34% and a strong showing from the new arrival, Spotify, at 23%.
Another interesting growth hack by these podcasters on YouTube:
To reach even bigger audiences, YouTubers have figured out that they can break their show into pieces and spread it across multiple channels. H3 Podcast, Cody Ko and Noel Miller’s Tiny Meat Gang, and The Joe Rogan Experience run as full-length episodes on their main podcast channel, but those episodes are then broken down into tiny individual cuts. These cuts, often referred to as clips or highlights, exist on a completely separate channel. They’re also arguably more important when it comes to using YouTube as a way to grow the podcast.
Apparently, these secondary channels are seeing more views than the main channel where the original content resides.
Rogan’s show is one of the longest on the platform, often going beyond three hours, and like H3, he operates a secondary channel that breaks out clips from each episode. The clips collectively have more views than the videos on his main account, despite the clips channel having several million fewer subscribers.
Entale, the interactive podcast app that lets users engage with links, maps, pictures, quotes, etc., while listening to a podcast has raised £2m from the oner of Daily Mail.
Descript, the podcast creation and editing tool has raised $15 million in Seris A funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint. Descript makes it easy to record, transcribe, and edit podcasts. Descript also acquired Lyrebird, an AI startup that was working on making content creation easy with features such as text-to-speech synthesis, etc.
Lyrebird will power a new feature on Descript called “Overdub.” It allows you to correct audio just by typing using AI technology. Here’s a blogpost with more details.
In a similar vein, Soundtap, which was acquired and re-launched by Spotify earlier this year also has a text-to-audio editing feature.
Pocket Casts, the popular podcast listening changed its business model last week. The company made the app, which required a one-time payment previously free for everyone. It also launched Pocket Casts Plus, a new subscription that offers desktop apps, cloud storage for creators & listeners, and more app customisation options for USD$0.99 per month (USD$10/year).
Post the change; it offered a 3-year Pocket Casts Plus subscription for all users but soon caught some backlash from paid users. Pocket Casts quickly moved to rectify the situation and offered a lifetime subscription of Pocket Casts Plus to all previous paid users. Owen Grover, the CEO of Pocket Casts in a blog post, wrote:
We made some pretty big changes this week, and we’ve heard your feedback loud and clear. Although we intended to demonstrate our appreciation to our most loyal users, we know many of you feel we missed the mark. With that in mind, today we’ve decided to provide any user who previously purchased our Web version with lifetime access to Pocket Casts Plus. This includes the Mac and Windows apps as well. No renewal, no monthly charge, no questions asked. This means Desktop App purchasers will also gain access to all of the Pocket Casts Plus features on their mobile devices.
Voices from India
Here’s issue #7 of Voices by Saif Omar.
Short Takes (Bytes)
“The Daily” Hits One Billion Downloads
Vox Media announced the launch of a Reset, a tech news podcast to be hosted by Arielle Duhaime-Ross. The show was announced way back in February when the publisher struck a multi-million partnership with Stitcher.
TV Review: ‘Limetown’ with Jessica Biel - Caroline Framke/Variety
Malcolm Gladwell on Talking to Strangers and how podcasting changed his approach to writing - Tyler Aquilina/Entertainment
Spotify’s Gimlet Podcasting Arm Sets Fall Fiction Slate, Led By ‘Motherhacker’ - Bruce Haring/Deadline