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The Daily’s founding producer, Theo Balcomb, is leaving the Times

Balcomb strikes out on her own

Photo by Christina Cala

Hello again, and thanks for reading Hot Pod. Today’s an unexpectedly busy one — with a scoop for us to get into. I’ll waste no time!

SCOOP: Theo Balcomb is leaving The New York Times

Theo Balcomb, the producer and co-creator of The Daily who’s widely acknowledged for propelling the show to success, is leaving The New York Times nearly five years after joining. Balcomb will launch her own independent business focused on producing and editing, she confirmed with Hot Pod. Her last day will be October 15th.

A quick summary of Balcomb’s very busy audio life: She started at NPR as an intern and rose the ranks to become the youngest supervising producer on All Things Considered. She joined the Times in 2016 as senior producer for a soon-to-be-launched, unnamed show, aka The Daily. Of course, The Daily went on to be a smashing success that reaches millions of people per day. In 2019, she was promoted to executive producer of The Daily and News, where she is today. All of which is to say: Congrats to Theo, and we’re excited to hear what she gets up to next!

Which leads to our next breaking news item...

The newest podcast app on the block: New York Times Audio

Bloomberg reports this morning that The New York Times is testing an audio-only app called New York Times Audio. The app will distribute the Times’ own podcasts, as well as licensed This American Life episodes and audio versions of news and magazine articles created through Audm, which the company acquired in 2020. These Audm stories will come not only from the Times but also from other publishers, including New York Magazine and Rolling Stone. (The Times’ audio content will still be broadly available — this isn’t an exclusives move yet.) Bloomberg says the app is still being viewed as an “experiment.”

Although the Times’ audio products are widely upheld as not only stellar pieces of work but also major hits, I’m not convinced this app will take off. We’ve seen the struggle new audio apps, like Luminary, have had when launching, even when they sign big names and recruit massive shows. It’s still not even clear whether Spotify has usurped Apple as the go-to podcasting app in the US, despite its mega-deals. Podcasting’s a crowded field, so I can only envision this Times effort succeeding if the team makes the exclusives play or offers some sort of bonus material through the app. We’ll see, though, and if you get a chance to sign up for this beta, please do pass along screenshots!

And finally: big New York Times audio week, but…

Caliphate subject admits to fabricating story

The primary subject of the TimesCaliphate podcast, Shehroze Chaudhry, has admitted to making up his story about life as a terrorist and executioner in Syria. Criminal charges against him have since been dropped. The Times wrote this news up, pointing out that a statement of facts in court claims Rukmini Callimachi, who hosted the show, pushed Chaudhry to share details on these killings. Callimachi denies this, however. You all know the story of Caliphate by now, but to sum it up: the show was widely praised, won a Peabody, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, but last year, the Times announced that it would review the show after it “fell short of standards.” In this latest write-up, a Times spokesperson says, “Since that time, we’ve introduced new practices to prevent similar lapses,” but it’s unclear what those fixes are.

Alright, that’s enough Times news for now.

Interaction’s the word

I published a report today about the interactive audio trend I’m seeing bubble up. Notably, Spotify launched a Q&A and polls feature for its Anchor podcasters, along with testing interactive ads, and Amazon has been spotted polling podcasters about their interest in polls, as well. There’s a lot more in the piece, which I encourage you all to read, but the big question for us is whether people want to tap a phone screen while listening to a podcast. Personally, I listen to my shows as an escape from the screen, so having to take it out of my bag to give a podcaster feedback doesn’t immediately appeal to me. Although, when I think about my favorite shows asking for my opinion, I can sort of see myself wanting to share. More than that, though, these features are just another way to lock both listeners and podcasters into a specific platform. Competition, I guess.

Facebook is one of the platforms attempting interaction in the form of comments, and it happens to have news for us this week...

Facebook gives an audio update, starts to expand podcast functionality globally; plus, a hint at its monetization goals

Yesterday, Facebook gave us a clearer timeline and updates on all its various audio features. Plus, we got firm confirmation the company plans to get into podcast monetization.

But first! The updates. Live Audio Rooms, Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor, are rolling out globally, including to Groups. Soundbites, its shareable audio clips feature, is also now coming to more people in the US over the coming weeks. And finally, in its section about podcasts, Facebook says it’s still siloing podcast functionality to the US, but critically, it notes: “We have a lot more to do here, and are excited to work alongside podcast creators to carry out our long-term vision in offering a holistic experience that brings together new distribution opportunities, discovery, monetization and social connection for podcasts in one place.”

The word that sticks out to me here is monetization. I suspected Facebook would be interested in not only distributing RSS-based podcasts on its platform but also potentially hosting and monetizing them. Facebook obviously doesn’t say that’s the plan explicitly in the above quote, but I have to imagine adding audio ads to its targeted ad marketplace is on the roadmap somewhere — it just makes sense! Also interesting here is Spotify has been attempting to recruit small businesses to its audio ad inventory (see its latest ad campaign), and Facebook has the clear leg up. Its ad business is fully built out across various apps and mediums, it has lots more data than Spotify (however you feel about that), a massive user base, and it could easily slot audio into its self-serve platform. How fast can Spotify move?

Although Facebook says it plans to roll out podcast functionality globally, it didn’t provide a rollout date. However, it might already be happening abroad, specifically in Argentina.

Per a tweet, Argentina-based podcasters are being asked to integrate their RSS feeds with Facebook. Maybe the global Facebook podcast push will be happening soon.

Meanwhile, in independent land, we have a couple updates from popular shows.

You’re Wrong About co-host leaves the show

You’re Wrong About, a podcast that reexamines media narratives around controversial figures and events, is losing a co-host. Michael Hobbes announced in yesterday’s 20-minute episode that he’s ready for a change. Sarah Marshall will continue the show, which has been a major success on Patreon with over 30,000 subscribers.

We’re all hearing about the big job changes — people quitting and trying new things mid-pandemic — and I imagine this is partially about that and partially about burnout. The independent creator world, even for successful folks, is an exhausting one. Michael still hosts his Maintenance Phase show about the problems with diet culture, so presumably, we’ll continue to hear his thoughts over there.

Alright, for our final one here, let’s get a look at another update on exclusives…

Last Podcast on the Left abandons Spotify, signs a three-year deal with Stitcher

Last Podcast on the Left, a successful independent show with over 15,000 Patreon subscribers, is goinag wide. The show went exclusive to Spotify in 2019, and today, SiriusXM and Stitcher announced the show will once again be RSS-based and available on all podcasting apps. This starts next year. Sirius/Stitcher will exclusively sell ads for the show, while Stitcher Premium subscribers can receive it ad-free. This marks the second major Spotify-exclusive show, after Joe Budden’s, to not re-up their contract with Spotify. I imagine we’re going to keep hearing more of this as the big-name contracts expire — a bad sign for Spotify.

Alright, that’s it. Wow. A marathon. Thanks, as always, for reading, and if you want more audio and podcasting news, subscribe for Hot Pod Insider. I’ll be back here Thursday with more.