Podstruck #1 / Week Ending 2.19.2021

News Numbers, Analysis, and Opinion

Welcome to This Week by Podstruck - a podcast industry newsletter that will highlight significant events with context, insight, opinion, and data points. We’ll be in subscriber’s inboxes each Monday morning. If you like what you find, please…

We’ve got bit of everything this first week with a couple of deals, some strategy and research and industry buzz, and some interesting closing notes.

Deals // iHeart$$Triton / Acast$$Radio Public

iHeartMedia made a bold move acquiring digital audio tech and ad powerhouse Triton Digital from E.W. Scripps for $230M (Podcast Business Journal).  Triton is iHeart’s third podcasting buy following on Stuff Media ($55M in 2018) and Voxnest ($50M in Q4 2020). Forbes has a good analysis of what the deal means to iHeart across it’s audio businesses. Integrated well, Triton can bring iHeart’s ad business real competitive leverage. The future will tell the strength of that integration and whether Triton can maintain its business with third parties including iHeart competitors.

This deal maintains the momentum toward consolidation among podcasting’s big players. The main ad ecosystem players - Spotify, iHeart and SiriusXM - are at scale and growing. iHeart’s podcasting unit is #1 by Unique Audience (29.1M), Global Downloads and Streams (254M), and Active Shows (539) (Podtrac, January 2021). 

With the deal, E.W.Scripps has completed their shedding of audio and podcasting assets selling Stitcher (including Midroll) to Sirius last June at an enormous profit.  Scripps did very well on this deal purchasing Triton for $150M in 2018 (InsideRadio). 

In a much smaller deal, Stockholm based Acast acquired Radio Public to improve its hosting platform and ad network. Radio Public will add creator tools to serve and attract more Acast hosted podcast creators.

Acast is well funded ($126.2M raised) and strong across the globe (hosting 20,000 shows attracting 60 million monthly listeners). One of Acast’s 20,000 shows, My Dad Wrote a Porno, has been downloaded over 280 million times and spawned an HBO special.

Radio Public will strengthen Acast in the US as Acasts strength lies outside the US - including hosting 70% of commercial podcasts in the UK, according to Wikipedia.


Megaphone (Spotify) announced a real time analytics tool that reports impressions, downloads, and engagement for publishers (Podcast Business Journal).  Spotify acquired Megaphone for $235 million just three months ago to boost its efforts in podcast streaming and ad insertion. With Megaphone and Anchor, Spotify has established a broad hosting footprint - adding data capabilities serves to extend leadership.

Video:  On a final tech note, Podnews’ Sounds Profitable interviews SiriusXM’s AdsWizz about their Audiomatic dynamic insertion product. Check it out if you’re into a real deep dive into their online tool.

Research and Strategy

On the heels of the iHeart/Triton deal, The Verge has a piece extolling the longer term competitive power of tech over exclusive content. While both are important, I’d flip the ticket. In digital media markets, over time, strong tech becomes a minimum competitive requirement and content becomes the difference maker.

This dynamic is playing out now in the SVOD OTT streaming market. Netflix started out with a big advantage in streaming tech. While others struggled, Netflix streaming was smooth, even over low bandwidth. Netflix early growth was driven by good tech, decent content, and little premium competition. Soon enough, Netflix recognized others would catch up and began to invest heavily in content. Netflix has spent multiple billions per year to license and create exclusive content - outspending even scaled media companies - and it has paid off.

Smooth streaming is now the norm among OTT video apps and UI/UX is good and improving. Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, Hulu, and the other main services are now competing primarily on content, and Netflix is still dominant.

In digital audio, the winners will all offer strong ad tech solutions and good streaming app UI/UX to listeners - such tech strength will be the minimum to compete. It will ultimately be exclusive content that attracts consumers, and consumers and exclusive audio content brands that attract advertisers.

The analogy is not perfect - the Podcasting industry is built on open platforms and has a history of free ubiquitous content. For better or worse, this will change as differentiating exclusives become common and branded distribution grows brand identity based on a well known podcasts. Spotify’s Joe Rogan deal, which will see Rogan disappear from iTunes and others, is the biggest example so far. The dynamic may play out slowly, but as ad dollars grow, not to mention the potential for consumer payment, investing in exclusive content will accelerate. Yes, most podcasts will still be available everywhere, and the long tail will be important. However, the top content layer will be determinative in the long run.

Via HotPod (paywall) - Kevin Cortez writes about “passive” podcasts; using the “Walking” podcast as an example and comparing it to the phenomenon of ASMR or Chill Music, and to videos like Virtual Japan’s walking tours on Youtube.  He also points to Lego’s “White Noise” playlist of Lego brick sounds, and Netflix’s “audio only” mode.  Is this an opportunity for podcasts? 

Why do people listen to passive audio? “Company,” focus while working, relaxation/meditation, exercise, and sleep are the obvious reasons. Expanding on the ambient theme, HotPod points to the many purposefully boring/sleep inducing podcasts. Also add that meditation apps like Calm offer ambient noise and nature soundtracks. 

Emarketer notes the resilience of Audio consumer timeshare in recent months.  After an early pandemic slump, digital audio's media share rebounded, growing 8.3% for the year to 1 hour 29 minutes per day/listener. Digital audio accounts for 11% of total consumer media time.  During the pandemic, growth in apps like Spotify along with smart speaker listening at home more than offset reduced commute and car time.  Emarketer predicts that time spent with digital audio will surpass traditional radio for the first time in 2021.

The Canadian Podcast Listener 2020 surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,618 monthly podcast listeners in October, 2020.  When it came to discovery, the top five ways Canadians found new Podcasts were:  1. On another Podcast (22%) 2. Word of Mouth (18%) 3. Social Media (14%) 4. Direct topic search (11%) 5 (tie). Mentioned in a Video (7%) and Mentioned on a website/blog (7%).  Radio came in at just 5%.  (h/t Podnews).

Data point of the week: What do people do while listening to Podcasts?

“Nothing Else” is the top answer? It reminds me of the scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry is incredulous that Jeff just sits on an airplane doing nothing but stare at the seat ahead for hours.  Reminder: don’t to be a focus group of one.

Interesting / Curious / Buzzing

That’s Hot: Paris Hilton’s new Podcast received full New York Times coverage.  Debuting Feb. 22, “This is Paris” is made in partnership with iHeart (now with more Triton!).  Hilton has 40 Million followers across her social media accounts; 16.8M on Twitter, 14M on Instagram, 10M on Facebook, 1.5M on YouTube, not to mention other apps.  Her personal show is just one of seven that Hilton’s production group has planned with iHeart over the next three years. 

“This is Paris” will be a traditional weekly 45 minute podcast augmented by short/micro-form  “Podposts” lasting 1-3 minutes and branded with her catchphrases. The “Podposts” will carry recommendations and other quick takes. 

The Times reports that iHeart is paying full production freight in the “multiples of millions.” I assume that includes production costs, a guaranteed minimum for team Paris, along with the stated joint ownership with a revenue split.

Paris Hilton is evolving her image. She set a new tone with her surprisingly engaging YouTube Original documentary “This is Paris”. In the film Hilton reveals the trauma of spending her teenage years in several “tough love” and “wilderness” boarding schools and draws the line between her “real” self and the “character” of her long lasting celebrity persona. 

Check out Rankers list of Celebrities with Podcasts (68 of them!).

Finally, Clubhouse is buzzing loudly throughout the audio and media world. There is plenty of sentiment in the “boring” corner, and also a lot in the “game changer” corner. I strongly believe the mainstreaming of live participatory audio is significant and will have impact. It will be big and free and it will be paywalled. It may be Clubhouse, or more likely Twitter Spaces, or whatever Facebook/Instagram puts out, but it will attract audience and dollars.

Closing Notes