Anchor CEO Michael Mignano discusses the company’s recent acquisition by Spotify, the future of podcasting, and whether Anchor could become the “YouTube for podcasts.” The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Ashley Carman talk to Mignano about the current difficulties the podcast industry faces along with possible solutions for discovery and questioning what to do with the RSS feed.
You can listen to their discussion in its entirety on The Vergecast right now. Below is a lightly edited excerpt from the interview.
Nilay Patel: We live in a world where technology just makes it easier to create every day. That’s what The Verge covers. Then you have to distribute some stuff, which is usually very difficult, and then you have to monetize some stuff, which is usually the hardest part of all to do in any kind of scale to make any kind of business happen along the way. I think most people kind of see how digital media generally works. It becomes very easy to make a video. YouTube captures the entire distribution market. They now control monetization of video for tons and tons of people. You guys haven’t captured that yet. There’s still Apple podcasts. You’re now on Spotify, which is a huge podcast distribution platform, and you’re talking about monetization, but there are a bunch of other companies kind of floating in that ecosystem. Is YouTube your model, or is it something else entirely?
Mike Mignano: So I think the insight we had when we were building Anchor was that the distribution of podcasts and audio is actually very, very different than the distribution of video or text.
My point is that the distribution of podcasts, unlike these other platforms like Twitter and YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram, is that the distribution of podcasts is fragmented, and it’s because of RSS. So the way podcasts work now is you have an RSS feed, and then the RSS feed can be consumed by a number of different players or consumption platforms. And so I think the insight that we realized is that we don’t need to control the consumption experience to provide a ton of value to creators. We can just help make hosting and distribution really, really easy.
So create the podcast either in your studio or on your phone, tap a button, and we’ll do the heavy lifting for you to get your podcast distributed everywhere. We’ll make the RSS feed. We’ll get it up on Apple Podcasts for you. We’ll get it up on Spotify for you. We’ll get it up on Overcast or whatever app your audience might be listening on. I think that has always been the thing that creators really wanted, especially new podcast creators. They just want to be heard. They want to be able to build their audience. And so if you can bridge that gap for them and make it easy to reach their listeners wherever they are, you’re doing a huge service to them. So for us, it’s been about solving that problem and getting the audio to everywhere people are listening.
I can do the YouTube comparison of you all day because it’s super easy. But YouTube doesn’t make Premiere. They don’t make iMovie. There’s a gap there.
Right, but there’s a gap there in audio that doesn’t exist in video and photos probably because of the devices. These devices have these baked-in cameras. Photo-taking is a very natural part of the experience when you get a smartphone. Audio hasn’t gotten there yet. There’s all this friction in between having an idea or thought in your head and putting it up on a platform. And I think that’s where Anchor has been successful. It’s like, “Hey, how do we bridge that gap for you and get that thought in your brain out?” It’s crazy to me that in 2019, the medium that is the easiest to generate in terms of talking is actually the hardest one to get out to the world. We’re sitting in a room with four huge microphones and headphones, yet we’re walking around with these phones that have microphones in them that are connected to the internet. That was always the gap that we wanted to bridge with Anchor. I feel like we’re making progress.
The reason I keep coming back to YouTube is because YouTube is huge. It has captured the entire video distribution market. The problems that they run into are very obvious problems for audio as well. Last week, YouTube said they were not going to monetize conspiracy theories or recommend them in the algorithm. A few months ago, Spotify stopped recommending R. Kelly songs. When you have this huge catalog of stuff and you’re democratizing creation and controlling distribution and monetization, there is now a pretty well-understood set of problems, if not a pretty well-understood set of solutions. Do you see yourself playing a part in managing those problems now, or are you focused on working to help create and send out to the platforms?
I don’t know. I think it’s hard to talk about what the future looks like from that perspective. I will tell you something that we have always been really encouraged by and honestly kind of pleasantly surprised by since the beginning of Anchor is how thoughtful people are and how sort of respectful we’ve found people to be in audio.
I don’t know what it is about voice versus, you know, video or text on the internet, but it seems like the conversation is more thoughtful and respectful, and I think people are just a little more mindful of what they’re saying. Maybe because they’re focusing on their words and nothing else.
We do have processes in place to take care of the obvious things that we don’t think should be out there around hate speech and racism and misogyny and all that stuff. But, again, we’ve been surprised and delighted by how thoughtful people are with the platform.