Last week, we held Hot Pod Summit 2022, our invite-only event about the future of the podcast industry. It was a day of laughs, gasps, and jabs at all our favorite audio giants.
Ashley helmed nearly all the panels, and at the end of the day, she publicly shared that she’s beginning a new adventure. After more than six years at The Verge and many months in charge of Hot Pod (including weeks spent writing “test runs” before she officially started??), she’s now off to Bloomberg. Hot Pod will be getting someone new soon, but until then, we’re going to take things a little slower to get all our ducks in a row. And also allow our ducks to sleep. I am one of those ducks.
I’m going to be off until next week’s Insider issues, so our editor Jake Kastrenakes will be with you in the meantime.
One more thing: I wanted to thank all of you for being so kind to me this weekend. I’m pretty sure I told every person I spoke to how much I was sweating, but if I didn’t, now I am. I was nervous, and I’m grateful to the staff, volunteers, attendees, and speakers for giving me a sweet environment in which to feel all the things I felt.
Now, the Summit! I want to run through some of the concrete, business-y insights from the summit for folks who couldn’t be there. These are just a few of the day’s takeaways, though — the things our panelists talked about were representative of the walk they walk every day, running their own companies and building out fan perks to monetize their creations. Check them out, ask them questions, work with them! They’re doing a lot, and they’re not letting up.
Existing video platforms boost a pod’s footprint
AJ Feliciano, head of Rooster Teeth’s podcast network, called YouTube “a game of skill.” It’s a platform that podcasters can use to reach a new audience, he said, but only if they optimize their videos for discoverability. And the fact that YouTube’s algorithmic suggestions work for discoverability at all? It leads him to think that a similar setup should “absolutely” come to podcast platforms. (In that vein, TikTok isn’t too shabby, either: fellow panelist Marques Brownlee said that there’s a fan-made TikTok account for his podcast, and even though it’s not officially affiliated with him or his brand, some of the account’s videos have over 1 million views.)
It’s not a shortcoming that important steps are often inefficient — that’s showbiz, baby
Dan Granger, CEO and founder of Oxford Road, maintained that there’s overwhelming benefit to making ads that listeners perceive as personal and authentic; live reads just hit different than third-party spots inserted later on. Responding to an audience suggestion that shows do pre-recorded host-read ads, with the goal of making it easier to swap ads in and out but not compromise their candid quality, Granger called them “faked-ins” (instead of baked-ins) and said that, data-wise, they’re just not the same as true host reads. According to his experience in the ad world, they “never reach the amount of seamless magic.”
The content moderation people are asking for might not come; it might not even be the right thing to ask for
During the Q&A portion of our panel on content moderation, producer Keisha TK Dutes spoke to the experience of Black and BIPOC voices and media being stifled under the guise of content moderation. Then she posed an important question: will any changes actually come out of the recent backlash against discriminatory and harmful speech, considering many relevant figures have historically kept their platforms, especially in radio (and especially when they’re white men)? Panelist Owen Grover, CEO of TrueFire Studios, conceded that the outlook isn’t sunny, saying that ad sellers have continued to be able to find sponsors for dangerous content and that money has maintained the status quo. “Talk radio is the progenitor to this particular set of issues,” he said. Further, panel moderator Casey Newton pointed out the elephant in the room: that the biggest “content moderation” story of the moment — Joe Rogan — actually requires something deeper than moderation. It isn’t happenstance, an uncomfortable accident, that Rogan and his words ended up on Spotify’s platform, and now, oops, he just has to be dealt with. The company paid him to be there.
And a few other notes:
- On a panel about running audio companies alongside Big Tech competitors, Juleyka Lantigua, CEO and founder of the production company LWC, drove home a point about professional development: it’s a personal commitment from an employee and requires the support of an employer to evolve in the industry. And, sometimes, growth might be best accessed in a new role at a new company. That’s not a bad thing for the industry, even though it can feel like a large (and sometimes personal) loss for a small team.
- Don Albright, co-founder of Tenderfoot TV, explained that it takes time — and chance — for the ownership of IP to yield a payout for creators: “You’ve gotta have 10 things out there working,” he said, both to help the odds work in your favor and to benefit financially on the off chance that something does get picked up. “Banking on funding payroll” with things like licensing fees? Dream on.
- And at the open-ended town hall, which rounded out the day, one question carried the whole dang session: are we really at a loss for podcast hits, with the days of culture-defining audio sensations behind us? TL;DR: nope. There are many ways to define the success of a show, and folks had many ways to express that — too many to name here. But hey, even if we do rely on old metrics, another Serial-style hit could still be right around the corner.
Okay yeah, I’m spent. Take such good care, babes.
Now, our aforementioned editor is going to run you through some news this morning, as well as for the next few to follow.
Hi all, Jake here. I’m usually behind the scenes, but I’ve got you covered for news today.
What if a news podcast could update throughout the day?
There’s a new company, with some new tech, helping launch a new podcast. Lots of interesting things to cover here:
- Spooler is a new podcast tech company led by some major names in the audio space. That includes James O. Boggs, former head of Apple Podcasts; Andy Bowers, co-founder of Slate Audio and Megaphone; Dan Benjamin, founder of Fireside.fm; and Kerry Donahue, former executive producer at WNYC. Also, Henry Blodget is involved somehow?
- The company’s tech allows podcasters to continually update a show. A news show could publish in the morning and then, throughout the day, add new segments, update earlier clips, or swap around the order of the broadcast.
- Each update will rebuild the podcast and replace the prior entry on RSS, Bowers told me via a spokesperson. So if you listen in the morning, you could download the show again and skip ahead to hear what happened later in the day.
- Listeners will get a better experience through a custom player that lets listeners browse segment by segment. Right now, this only exists on the web.
- Insider is the first to use the tech, launching a news show called The Refresh (get it?). The show will publish weekdays with live updates between 7AM and 1PM ET.
This is a clever idea and opens up some fascinating new possibilities for podcasters. That said, my immediate read is that this seems like a lot of work for both podcasters and listeners. Producers need to be on hand to continually record and build out the episodes throughout the day. And listeners need to be mindful of when they last tuned in to make sure they don’t miss out on anything.
Still, with the caliber of names involved, I’m paying attention.
Pandora <3s SoundCloud
Pandora continues to deepen its ties to SoundCloud with the launch of a new station — Digicore by SoundCloud — that’ll be focused on “music from a young, diverse, internet-inspired generation.” Tracks will be picked by SoundCloud’s music team, with most songs coming from at-home producers who are largely unsigned, Erika Montes, VP of artist development and relations, tells me via a spokesperson.
It’s the latest sign of deepening ties between SiriusXM (which owns Pandora) and SoundCloud (which SiriusXM invested $75 million into in 2020). Pandora’s first SoundCloud station, The Lookout by SoundCloud, launched last year based on the hip-hop show of the same name that airs on SiriusXM. The companies are promising more collaborations throughout 2022.
iHeart lets you “talk back” to hosts
A new feature in the iHeartRadio app lets listeners record and send 30-second voice memos to hosts, who can theoretically then use those clips live on air just moments after receiving them. This sounds fun and deeply chaotic — but how many of yall are using this app? iHeart reported having 150 million “registered” users last May, but it didn’t provide numbers on active users.
Saturday Night Live suggests white guys cool it with all the podcasts
In case you were wondering how mainstream the issue of “white guys saying dumb stuff on podcasts” has become, look no further than this John Mulaney sketch from this weekend’s SNL.
That’s all for now — catch you Insiders on Thursday.