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The year in audio

The year in audio

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Hot Pod’s year-in-review

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

We’re nearly there. 2022. These are times of deep uncertainty, so I’m glad I can offer you something you can depend on: a Hot Pod issue. I do what I can. Today, we have a light news roundup and some bullet points on trends to remember about the year. Both Aria and I published columns about a specific throughline from the year. Mine is about how all the investment in audio over the past 12 months was in service of capturing our ears’ unaccounted for attention, and Aria wrote about the year in which podcasters were highly represented on TV. You can read Aria’s here and mine here. Now, let’s get to the rest.  


First, the news, which we’re going to get through quickly, so you can savor that sweet, sweet end-of-year content. 

iHeart shares year-end numbers around the Black Effect Network

Let’s time travel back to September 2021. At that time, iHeartMedia teamed up with Charlamagne Tha God to launch the Black Effect Network, a network run by Black leaders with the goal of reaching Black audiences. Today, the iHeart Digital Audio Group exclusively shared details on the network’s past year or so with Hot Pod, as well as on its Latinx-focused network My Cultura, which launched in May.

Among the details: iHeart says 23 percent of its monthly podcast listeners, across all networks, are Black, up from 19 percent the year prior, and 21 percent are Hispanic, up from 18 percent in 2020. (The demographic data comes from Triton, the team says.) More specifically around the Black Effect Network, the team says ​​39 percent of all Black listeners to the iHeartPodcast Network listen to shows from the offshoot, which now includes 27 titles. Conal Byrne, CEO at iHeart Digital Audio Group, says the network accounts for more than 15 million downloads per month, as defined by the IAB.

“We spent a great deal of investment and energy last year” on these two new networks, Byrne says, and the resulting numbers are “validation” the efforts are worthwhile. “I think what changed for us about the Black Effect was creating this atmosphere of longer tail creators being able to jump into podcasting, so not necessarily, quote unquote, just Questlove or Jada Pinkett Smith, but also people like Jess Hilarious.”

I know all of y’all reading this have lots of feeling about data, so have at it and let me know what you think. I’m always happy to see more representation in podcasting, and if it helps introduce a more diverse audience to the medium? That’s great, too. A lovely note to wrap this one up.

Sorry, but I just have to point out Spotify’s “Pod City” 

The Los Angeles Times covered Spotify’s new, sprawling campus and casually dropped what is seemingly its internal name: “Pod City.” This is not a joke! Pod City comprises only one section of the new campus, which supports 600 employees, has 18 podcast studios, a theater, an indoor stage, and “places for musicians to tinker with vintage instruments.” All right!

Nick profiles How Long Gone

Another shoutout for our friend Nick Quah over at Vulture (and one with a Spotify angle). He profiled How Long Gone, a show y’all know I’m also snacking on. For the numbers-oriented folks, hosts Chris Black and Jason Stewart say the show averages 30,000 downloads per episode. (They’re also primarily sponsored by Spotify’s Anchor.) The Financial Times profiled them, too, last week, under the angle of “podcasts capitalizing on friendships.” I think we can officially pronounce How Long Gone mainstream. Done!

Global, which operates ad exchange DAX, acquires hosting platform Captivate

Global, a media and entertainment group, announced its acquisition of the hosting platform Captivate yesterday. The release says Captivate hosts 14,000 shows and that the platform will directly integrate with Global’s DAX ad exchange. The idea clearly will be to make a bigger play for programmatic podcast ads by allowing these hosted shows to pull from that exchange for monetization. Programmatic keeps on comin’.

And now, on to our year-end content and a reminder that we’ll be back Tuesday with our predictions for 2022. We have to see where we went before we know where we’re going, however.

Notable things from this year, from both myself and Aria:

  • More accountability for audio job listings. Audio makers increasingly demanded that job postings list exact pay upfront to prevent applicants from accepting lowball offers and reinforcing that those prices are fair (a risk that’s heightened when communicating in private, without the watchful eye of peers). Way more numbers had already started to circulate in audio-industry listservs when, less than a week ago, a bill was passed to mandate salary disclosures for all job listings in NYC, where many media companies are based. Icing on the cake. -AB
  • Spanish-English podcasts made it big, with two major ones, La Brega and Anything for Selena, having a byline shared by Futuro Studios and a well-known public radio station. As Nick noted in Hot Pod at the start of the year, the studio (a new division within Futuro Media Group) chose to partner up in hopes of not needing to raise additional funds but still getting to produce and market ambitious shows with separate feeds for each language — and it seems to have worked. -AB
  • Subscriptions became a possibility for the industry’s future. Apple Podcasts made its biggest move in years with the launch of in-app, paid podcast subscriptions, effectively setting the industry up to move toward a different monetization model. Apple’s buy-in makes me think the broader listenership might start to accept paying for a podcast, too. Apple got us all to wear AirPods. Can it get us to pay for shows?  -AC

Enjoying this story? Hot Pod is a newsletter from The Verge that delivers news, analysis, and opinions on the audio industry written by Ashley Carman. The weekly Tuesday issue is free, and you can subscribe to two additional Hot Pod Insider newsletters per week for $7 / month or $70 / year.

  • Podcast unions negotiate. Unions at Parcast, The Ringer, and Gimlet, all notably under Spotify’s management, made moves starting late last year, with the latter two reaching agreements in April and the former still negotiating. As Ashley pointed out in the spring, the contracts that did come to be didn’t grant members the IP rights they were looking for, but they were still noteworthy for giving form to a field where reports of overwork and underpay are pretty damn common. Just this month, podcast workers at iHeartMedia also unionized, shouting out their recent predecessors. -AB
  • The line begins to blur between audiobooks and podcasts. Multiple moves in audiobooks happened this year — Spotify bought Findaway, an audiobook distributor and creator, and Pushkin Industries, which has led the way in supporting both audiobook and podcast production, continues to roll out audiobooks on private RSS feeds. Storytel, Europe’s subscription audiobook app, bought Audiobooks.com, giving it a foothold in the US. The lines continue to blur, as might the distribution models. Meanwhile, Audible got into podcasts last year. So, so fuzzy.  -AC
  • Joe Rogan officially became fodder for parodies. Everyone got the memo: enough people now know who Joe Rogan is that if you reference him, it’ll land. The comedian Tim Heidecker delivered an entire mock episode of The Joe Rogan Experience for those who like bits to go on forever, but the jokes, jabs, and references truly took all forms: a song about failed romantic prospects who were fans of Rogan’s; the various SNL mentions I made note of in my column; a quick crack in a video by the comedian Matt Buechele; and, of course, the ever-interesting choice of making “Hoe Rogan” one’s Twitter display name. -AB
  • Companies keep trying to take down the radio. We continued to see platforms aim for a slice of the radio pie. Spotify rolled out its Car Thing device more widely, designed to make it easier to stream from the car; Amazon Music launched a Car Mode, also designed for the same purpose; and Spotify also acquired Whooshkaa, software that helps turn live radio shows into on-demand podcasts. Clearly, the tech companies believe they need to not only speed up the potential death of radio through their own devices but also be in a place to make money off the programs that go on-demand. -AC
  • Everyone in Hollywood is into podcasts now. You knew this one was coming. Hot Pod broke the news on Quentin Tarantino’s new podcast project. J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot launched an audio department with Spotify. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment did the same with iHeart. Seth Rogen launched a show with SiriusXM and Earwolf. And those four bits of news were just recently. I don’t foresee this trend slowing down anytime soon, so perhaps we’ll have this same bullet point in 2022. But I’ll save that for my predictions. -AC

That’s it! You made it. Thank you for reading. We’re skipping Hot Pod Insider this week because of the holiday, but if you haven’t subscribed to that now, it might be a good time. I would suggest you give it as a gift, but honestly, I can’t see the whole extended fam being thrilled to find in-depth audio industry scoops in their inbox every week. However, you should treat yourself. Supply chain woe-free. Have a good holiday and talk next week!