Pocket Casts, widely considered to be one of the best mobile apps for podcast listening, has been acquired by a collective group that includes NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago, and This American Life. “This unprecedented collaboration furthers public radio’s leading role as an innovator in audio discovery and distribution, while ensuring the continued support and growth of one of the most popular listening platforms on the market,” the companies said in a press release announcing the news. That team of stations and podcast producers are responsible for some of the format’s biggest hits like This American Life (duh), Serial, Radiolab, and Planet Money.
Moving forward, Pocket Casts will operate as a joint venture between the new owners. Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic, who formed Shifty Jelly (Pocket Cast’s developer) in 2008, will have unspecified “leadership roles.” The existing staff and development team is staying put. Owen Grover, a veteran of iHeartRadio / Clear Channel, has been named as Pocket Cast’s CEO. NPR’s apps including NPR One will remain in development.
The acquisition price isn’t being disclosed. But the people behind Pocket Casts are insistent they chose this path not because of what the buyers paid, but because of who they are. “We have had acquisition offers in the past,” Ivanovic told The Verge by email. “We turned them down because the unique thing about this opportunity is the mission driven nature of these organizations. They want what’s best for the podcasting space, they want to build open systems that everyone can use.”
The move comes as more and more tech companies are trying to serve as the central destination for podcasts. Apple has its own hugely popular Podcasts app for iOS, Spotify is trying to get people listening to them inside its streaming music app, and Google also offers podcasts as part of Google Play Music. Separate from that, you’ve got excellent options like Overcast on iOS and other apps from smaller developers. Everyone’s got their favorite way of listening, which is why show hosts have basically taken to just saying something to the effect of “available wherever you get your podcasts.”
For those of us who’ve used and enjoyed Pocket Casts, this should be good news and points to a promising future. Some might have pause over content from Pocket Cast’s new owners potentially getting preferential treatment and visibility over other podcasts. But that scenario seems unlikely to me.
In a blog post that provides more insight on the deal, Ivanovic put it this way: “We’ll be moving faster, we’ll be more ambitious in the things we do and we’ll have some amazing insights from the top podcast producers in the world to help guide our future steps,” The app is beautifully designed, fast, and works wonderfully across iOS, Android, and the web for people with multiple devices running a mix of software. Thankfully it sounds like none of those things are going to be changing anytime soon.