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How Desus and Mero brought podcast quirkiness to late-night comedy

Plus, Pushkin and Acast do a little M&A

The 23rd Annual Webby Awards - Arrivals Photo by Noam Galai / Getty Images for Webby Awards

We’ve got a lot to dig into today, from mergers and acquisitions to breakups, both amicable and acrimonious. But first, I want to give a shout-out to my friend Karishma, who alerted me to the Desus and Mero drama blowing up on Twitter when I just wanted to bury my head in some copyright law. The second you look away is when it all goes down.

How Desus and Mero brought podcast quirkiness to late-night comedy

We learned Monday night that comedy duo Desus Nice and The Kid Mero are officially over, bringing their critically acclaimed talk show on Showtime to an end. Desus & Mero was one of the very few new late-night shows to break through during the streaming era, thanks in part to the pair’s ability to successfully translate the freewheeling style of podcasting into TV.

Desus and Mero, otherwise known as Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez, respectively, are arguably the biggest podcast-to-Hollywood crossovers in the industry. Before landing the Showtime series that would take them mainstream, they honed their rapport and built a loyal following with the podcasts Desus vs. Mero and Bodega Boys.

Recently, fans started to notice that something was off. Bodega Boys, which had been running since 2015, hasn’t had a new episode since November. More recently, Desus assured the “bodegahive” that “the art is coming back.” But last week, Mero had apparently commented on a Reddit post that it was over: “PODCAST DONE ENJOY THE BACK CATALOG MY PALS.” On Friday, Desus responded, tweeting, “the hive deserved better than this ending.”

Speculation over their status reached a fever pitch on Twitter on Monday evening, at which point Showtime confirmed the split. “Desus Nice and The Kid Mero will be pursuing separate creative endeavors moving forward,” Showtime told The Verge Monday evening. “Showtime’s late-night talk show Desus & Mero will not be returning for a fifth season. Its final episode aired Thursday, June 23.”

The show’s end is a blow for late-night comedy, which still hasn’t quite managed to adapt to the streaming era. Netflix shows hosted by Chelsea Handler and Hasan Minhaj failed to thrive. Even though established network shows run the gamut from substantive (Colbert) to lowest common denominator trash (Corden), they often fail to attract a younger audience that is looking for a host who isn’t a middle-aged white guy.

Desus & Mero brought something fresh to the genre. It’s become fashionable for new shows to follow the deep-dive model of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, but Desus & Mero held on to its podcast DNA, remaining inventive, casual, and hilarious. More impressive, it held onto that chatty feel even when it broke big, drawing guests like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former President Barack Obama.

The bright spot is that Desus & Mero can provide a blueprint for other comedians — and hopefully other network executives. Podcasts have lowered the barrier to entry for creators and given them room to experiment. In turn, that’s created a talent pool of diverse creators the media has long overlooked. Desus and Mero may be over, but the brand is strong.

Acast to acquire Podchaser for $34 million

Swedish podcast company Acast is making moves. A few weeks after announcing an ad rep deal with WTF with Marc Maron, the company disclosed its plan to acquire podcast database Podchaser for up to $34 million.

Thanks to a wealth of user reviews, Podchaser has data on 4.5 million podcasts, according to Acast. The company claims that data will help podcasters who use Acast as a creation tool make their shows more discoverable and advertisers better target audiences. After abandoning its podcast listening app this spring, Acast’s acquisition of Podchaser underscores that it sees its advertising business as the key to future success.

“Together we will unlock the vast opportunity that we know exists for open podcasting to not just have parity with the data held by closed, paywalled platforms, but to leap forward and surpass them,” Acast CEO Ross Adams said in a statement.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries acquires Transmitter Media

Pushkin Industries, the audio company founded by Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg, announced Monday that it has acquired podcast studio Transmitter Media. It’s the latest sign of Pushkin’s growth, which recently cut a first-look deal with indie entertainment brand A24 and got its first dedicated development executive.

Transmitter CEO Greta Cohn, an alum of WNYC and Earwolf, will stay on board and report to Weisberg, and Transmitter’s staff will make up a new production department at Pushkin.

While Pushkin is best known for its flagship podcasts like Gladwell’s Revisionist History and Against the Rules with Michael Lewis, Transmitter focuses on co-productions with outlets like CNN, TED, and Spotify’s Parcast. Its most notable show so far is Finding Fred, a series the studio made with iHeartMedia about Mr. Rogers, which was nominated for a Peabody Award.

“Their track record and reputation for bespoke production speak for themselves,” Weisberg said in a statement. “At Pushkin, Gretta will continue to lead an ambitious team of producers and manage their superb client work, while taking on a senior leadership role at our company.”

LiveOne will spin off PodcastOne as a separate public company

LiveOne, the parent company of Slacker Radio, will spin off its podcast business into a separate public entity, the company said Monday.

LiveOne (formerly LiveXLive) acquired PodcastOne in 2020. With talent like Adam Carolla and Jordan Harbinger, the company claims its podcasts get a combined 2.1 billion downloads a year and earned $9 million in revenue in the past quarter.

Following a recent financing round, LiveOne says that PodcastOne is valued at $60 million, meaning it is worth nearly two-thirds of the overall business. Slacker, meanwhile, may be in trouble due to a copyright lawsuit. Rights management organization SoundExchange, which collects recording royalties for artists, alleges that Slacker owes it royalties dating back to 2017, a year before it was acquired by LiveOne. The spinoff is yet another example of how messiness in the music industry pushes audio companies to invest in and rely on podcasting for growth.

That’s all for today! I’ll be back next week with what we can expect from audio earnings.