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Our predictions for the next year in audio

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A look at 2022 in the podcasting industry

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Hello, hello. I hope you all had a nice holiday and are ready for another one. Last week we looked back on 2021, and this week, we’re looking forward to 2022. We have a couple quick news hits from last week to get through first, but then Aria and I will offer our predictions for the year to come. Off we go.

Project Brazen and Audiation ordered to release audio recorded for Fat Leonard

In a troubling precedent for journalism, a judge in San Diego ruled the podcast companies behind Fat Leonard, Project Brazen and Audiation, must share all recorded audio from their lead character, Leonard Glenn Francis — even audio that wasn’t included in the show’s final cut. The San Diego Union-Tribune has all the details, but essentially, the podcast tells the story of fraud and bribery within the US Navy. Six naval officers are currently accused of criminal bribery and are heading to trial in February. One of the officers’ legal team subpoenaed for the audio recordings, which they say might hold critical information for the defense, given that Francis is a key witness.

Per the paper, the judge said the “naval officers’ Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process and confrontation ‘are paramount’ and overshadow the podcast producers’ First Amendment rights to protect their sources and unpublished materials.” Instead of quietly submitting the audio to the lawyers, the companies instead released all 20 hours’ worth publicly on Dropbox.

“We disagree with this ruling and believe it sets a bad precedent for media freedom in the US,” tweeted Project Brazen co-founder Tom Wright. We here at Hot Pod agree.

Twitter Spaces reaches 2 million users

Last week, The New York Times published a story about the ongoing war between Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. Both are competing for show hosts and users, who have switched between the two platforms. The story also includes a couple number nuggets that are worth calling out: Spaces reached 2 million users in “recent months,” while Clubhouse says the app was downloaded 1.8 million times in November alone. The two apps are fighting and growing: that’s how we’re ending the year, and I’m sure it’s how we’ll continue to talk about the apps in 2022.

Automattic’s CEO wants to keep podcasting open

Protocol published a great profile last week of Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress and Tumblr, as well as the acquirer of Pocket Casts. The story mostly focuses on Mullenweg’s personal journey to this point and the ethos that drives him. For us, that also means the chance to piece together his vision for podcasting’s future, too, and how Pocket Casts fits into it.

“There is one thing that binds the many products under the Automattic umbrella together: a bet on and belief in the open web and open-source software,” writes David Pierce. “Most people will tell you it feels like the future of tech hangs in the balance. But the way Mullenweg sees it, open is still going to win. It’s not a matter of if, only when. And all he’s trying to do is help make it happen a little faster.”

A win for all the folks rallying against the closed platforms.

What happened to Dan Bongino’s threat to quit his radio show over a vaccine mandate?

We wrote here about podcaster and radio host Dan Bongino threatening to quit his show over Cumulus Media’s vaccine mandate. That was months ago, however, and Bongino is still on the air. What happened? The Washington Post pointed at the obvious thing — the lack of Bongino actually doing anything — and provided an update. People in the story call the whole thing a “stunt” while Bongino says he’s in an “ongoing fight” with the company and hasn’t quit because he needs to protect his staff’s jobs. Who’s surprised? (If you want even more Bongino content, The New Yorker published a profile of him yesterday.)

And now…

Welcome to the prediction party

Let’s get to the predictions. Both Aria and I wrote up what we expect to see and cover next year. We’re ready to be held accountable for these guesses, and I know we can count on you all to do so!

Facebook will start hosting and monetizing podcasts

Facebook got into podcasts this past year by allowing hosts to distribute their RSS feeds on Pages, and next year, I believe the company will start hosting and monetizing shows — no RSS feed required. Of course, saying this will happen in 2022 requires Facebook prioritizing and building the functionality, and it’s unclear how invested it is in actually doing it. But I do believe hosting and monetization is Facebook’s ultimate goal in the space, so I anticipate seeing it happen at some point. -AC

More headline-making podcast appearances

While podcasts are increasingly a stop on celebrities’ press circuits, they remain the intimate medium they’ve always been: guards are lowered and conversations get real. Given this intersection, we’re likely to hear more and more high-profile people saying some pretty jarring things on tape. As a reminder, the next host of Jeopardy! was ultimately fired from his role because of horrendous things he’d said on a podcast years before, ostensibly emboldened by the casual setting. Just months after he was let go, another person who’d once had the stamp of approval from the educational TV show — football player Aaron Rodgers — traded his squeaky-clean public persona for praise of ivermectin, all over the course of 45 minutes on the podcast The Pat McAfee Show 2.0. We’re in for quite a ride as even more people try out the medium. -AB

There will be fewer exclusive show deals and more windowing

Spotify popularized the idea of shows going exclusive to one platform, but looking ahead, I foresee this trend fading out. If ad revenue is the primary goal for most of the big platforms, minimizing shows’ audiences by housing them in one place doesn’t make much sense. Instead, I expect to see more deals like the one between Amazon Music and SmartLess with one week of exclusivity, or Amazon Music and 9/12, which offered the entire, bingeable show on the app with only one episode per week released elsewhere. Now, a two-for-one prediction: I also expect more Spotify-exclusive deals will not re-sign. The big paycheck is nice, but it likely comes at the expense of reach and influence. -AC

Salaries become standardized (through solidarity)

When hiring for one-off audio positions, people continue to reference the rates and best practices made publicly available by the organization AIR, and I have a feeling folks will soon realize they want (read: need) standards for staff positions, too — especially as more of those positions are created. There aren’t many places to turn to for that information, though. I predict current salaried workers will soon act on that, and that at least part of it will be bold, public, and online, even if demystifying money by just talking about it has mostly been the domain of freelancers. -AB

A more built-out Spotify Wrapped for podcasts

Still only two slides dedicated to podcasts? I’ve gotta say, I expected more from a company that spent this whole year trying to prove it did more than music. -AB

Podcasts become a way to sell products, especially by influencers

You can already argue that podcasts are an important sales channel because of promo codes and direct response advertisers, but I imagine we might see affiliate revenue play a bigger role in 2022. Influencers could still launch shows with the primary intention of using them as a way to connect with fans, but increasingly, they may just want to sell more stuff. It could be their own product line or an affiliate partnership with a larger company. I suspect this is why Amazon is taking an interest in the space — podcasts move product, and Amazon has a lot of product to move. Plus, it runs a huge affiliate revenue business. -AC

More pro gamers launch podcasts and reach huge numbers

We talk a lot about Hollywood stars entering podcasting, but next year, I anticipate writing more about pro gamers hosting shows. We’re already seeing hints of this. QCODE’s Wood Elf Media produces Distractible from streamer Mark Fischbach (aka Markiplier), which apparently topped Joe Rogan on Spotify’s own charts. Gamers come with a built-in audience and, more so than influencers, are used to talking and having things to say, priming them for podcast fame. -AC

Luminary gets bought or shuts down

I had to make some kind of Luminary prediction, and I’m guessing the company either gets bought or shuts down. That’s it. Maybe it’ll thrive on its own, but it’s now entering its third year of existence, and something has to happen. -AC

Live social audio goes on-demand and becomes a hot zone for moderation discussions

If 2021 was the year every platform built or invested in live audio, I believe 2022 will be the year they instead focus on on-demand content. Both Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, as well as Spotify’s forgotten Greenroom, allow conversations to be recorded, and these replays will become essential to growing and maintaining the user bases. At the same time, I predict live audio’s reputation will tarnish as conversations run amok with misinformation, racism, threats of violence, and whatever else the internet is good at drumming up. -AC


Thanks for sticking with us this year. Pop some bottles and manifest those dreams for 2022. We’ll be back Thursday for our insiders with a special Aria edition, and for the rest of y’all, we’re here Tuesday with our usually scheduled programming.