iHeart Tunes In, but will Global?

iHeartMedia is the biggest US radio operator – nearly a thousand radio stations, a well marketed app – iHeartRadio, and a strong podcast network. It’s also one of the big players in podcast consolidation, having snaffled up Voxnest, Triton and Spreaker.

As a big player, if run well, all these parts make the sum stronger. Cross-promotion, talent and technology all working together, giving them a strong competitive advantage.

The promo tie-ups of all your different activities are relatively easy to do. Some good media planning can generate real dividends, and if the tech stack’s good, it isn’t that hard to do. What’s more complicated, but potentially very profitable, is where you can use your large work force to help grow the business in new areas.

That’s why I was taken with their announcement last week that they’ve done a deal with TuneIn “the world’s leading live streaming audio service”.

Radio’s relationship with TuneIn is a little troubled, with some vacillation between them being ‘the enemy’ vs ‘a useful distribution platform’.

Many public broadcasters (including the BBC) have pulled their streams from the service, pushing for a direct relationship through their more controlled platform (like BBC Sounds). The Beeb is one of few organisations that can alter the gravity of listener behaviour, but I know many commercial operators who every so often come close to pushing the button and taking their streaming football home too.

In the US, iHeart’s stations have been off-air on TuneIn for a number of years as their focus has been growing their successful iHeartRadio app. The new announcement with TuneIn lists three key parts:

  • iHeartMedia’s 850+ Leading Digital Stations Nationwide Will Now be Available on TuneIn

  • iHeartMedia Will Become TuneIn’s Premier Local Ad Sales Representation Partner

  • TuneIn Taps Triton Digital to Monetize TuneIn’s Local Inventory, Helping Advertisers Reach New Audiences at Scale

It’s hard not to look at the deal to think that point 1 only happened because TuneIn agreed to points 2 and 3.

It’s potentially a great deal for TuneIn, solving a number of their problems. The app has a decent amount of inventory (it runs an ad before it plays streams from stations in its directory) but has found it difficult to sell its spots; particularly locally where US commercial radio remains strong.

The deal with iHeart solves that problem for them by outsourcing it to their massive sales force of nearly 2,000 ad execs.

For iHeart, they get more inventory for their teams to sell, as well as enhancing their digital operations. It’s also good news for Triton – iHeart’s digital ad network – as it connects up more of their advertising customers with TuneIn’s users.

With any deal, the devil is of course in the detail, but it’s definitely a sound strategy.

UK

iHeart’s predecessor – Clear Channel – had international ambitions, they were investors in Jazz FM at one point, and had the Outdoor company, also called Clear Channel. That remains here, but it’s been long since sold off by the radio group.

This time around it’s a UK company (well, er, a British-influenced off-shore one) that has its eye on the mothership. I talked earlier in the year about the family behind Global buying 8.8% of iHeartMedia – much to the surprise of iHeart’s management.

iHeart had a ‘poison pill’ in operation at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant their board had to approve any shareholder going over a 9.9% shareholding. They were worried about someone swooping in and taking advantage of any market downturn. This since expired earlier this year, leaving them open to potential targets.

Global, themselves, also have some regulatory hoops to hurdle. They’ve written to the FCC to get pre-approval to go up to 49.9% ownership. That was in April, but the FCC seems to have put their request to public consultation. No smoke has risen yet to tell us what they think.

iHeart’s response to the consultation suggested the FCC limit Global’s ownership to 9.9%. Global feel that they’re just using the FCC to re-create their own expired poison pill. They said, in response:

“granting approval at the 49.99% level will allow the Commission to maintain neutrality in a potential disagreement between a company and its shareholders, while serving the foreign investment goals that iHeart itself has touted.”

It’ll be interesting to see how or if these “potential disagreements” are resolved.

What is for sure is that iHeart’s developments, including this new TuneIn deal, fit very nicely with Global’s digital audio ambitions with DAX, as well as both being dominant in live radio and the two companies growing strength in podcasting. Together they would be quite the global audio company.

iHeartMedia’s looking more attractive to everyone

Your radio station bores me

I don’t wish to be rude, but I think your radio station is pretty boring.

I can be pretty broad with that comment because there’s very little on-air at the moment that makes me excited as a listener and especially very little that would encourage me to change radio station more permanently.

Perhaps my miserableness comes from the fact I’ve just finished my (er, 5th?) re-read of The Nation’s Favourite by Simon Garfield. Easily the best book about radio. It follows Radio 1 when Matthew Bannister came in and shook it up – and all hell broke lose. It covers the end of the dinosaur DJs (DLT etc), the Chris Evans/Jo Wiley/Pete Tongs joining through to the early days of Moyles.

The book’s great because it charts a rollercoaster time for the station (and its competitors). No one is entirely in control – DJs, management, the newspapers – they all have a chunk of influence and created a very memorable time. If you work in the sector and under 35, you’re probably too young to have seen radio like that.

Today, the radio ‘product’ is much better, there’s about ten times more choice, and lots of formats to choose from. It’s also much slicker as nearly 50 years of competitive commercial radio has taught people a thing or two. It’s also on a much better financial footing. Global, Bauer and Wireless’ radio divisions do pretty well financially (consolidation has resulted in lots of cost savings) and the BBC’s stations are well funded (if you’re a BBC person who disagrees, give me a day to explain a commercial operation and let’s see if you still have the same view).

Consolidation has also meant that competition has moved from stations competing with each other, to groups competing, with operators using station launches and formats to tackle and blunt competition.

The result is a positioning battle, but no individual station ever putting its head over the parapet. Scratching my head, there seems to be few examples of anyone doing much to get press attention or drives much talkability. There’s little or no stunting, no DJ’s said anything outrageous, or even particularly moving. The idea of well storylined ideas over a week or two seems to be non-existent or so weak it hasn’t registered. And I look more than most.

The only exception is Greg James ‘locked in a camper van challenge’ designed to introduce the excellent Vick and Jordan to the audience as they get ready to launch their drivetime show. It was very enjoyable and executed well and generated a little local press too as well as having a nice launch on the One Show. However, it is the third time they’ve done a variation on escape rooms.

I don’t know whether this lack of get up and go is talent driven (have the right people been hired?) or a production issue (have young production teams been taught to make market-moving radio?).

Maybe we just had a good run of talent in the 90s? Chris Evans, Sara Cox, Zoe Ball, Chris Moyles, Johnny Vaughan did stuff, said things that captured imaginations (and headlines). The fact that they’re still on the air says something about their talent, but also the potency of their act from their younger days. There doesn’t seem to be many hosts that could, or are given the chance, to create striking radio.

I think sometime’s there’s a view that the growth in digital media means its almost impossible to cut through and so just being consistent is the best option. I think that’s bollocks.

Over in Australia, Kyle and Jackie O, a raucous pairing who’ve been around for ever, but constantly update their act and focus – are still all over media. They get the Prime Minister talking about whether he pooed himself and can capture the press’s imagination when Kyle endorses getting vaxxed. They are always at the centre of a story.

Trending

I saw Piers Morgan was trending again today. This time he was saying that if you don’t get a Gold medal, what’s the point? Basically Bronze and Silver are for losers.

After this tweet (off the back of a stream of the Olympics being a bit rubbish this year) he doubled down on the Bronze is rubbish stuff and rode the responses.

This would be a great radio bit. One presenter making the statement, the team disagreeing, it running over a couple of days and the presenter having to ‘give in’ and do a forfeit as the medals rack up etc. A great opportunity to have stories from families, olympians on the line etc. It would likely (as Piers knew) generate coverage and social media talk up etc.

I’m not saying that you need to be a shock jock, but having something to say – a position – does at least prompt discussion and helps define you, when you sit in a crowded media market.

Contesting

The other thing I’m surprised about is how contesting is used by radio stations at the moment.

There’s a certain alchemy to doing a competition right. Is it an hours builder (getting people to listen longer) or is a reach builder (attracting new people over)? I guess the more recent addition is whether it’s a revenue builder (through premium rate phone lines). It’s difficult to do all three well.

The balance with all contesting is generating passive entertainment value. There’s always going to be a small percentage who call in, but there’s far more people playing at home. ‘Secret sound’ worked so well over the years because it has lots of passive entertainment value. Families enjoy playing it in the car and don’t need to ring in to get any value out of it. Variations on a thousand pound minute do the same. Big station wide games like ‘The Fugitive’ are an entertaining listens as well. Often great contests make you cheer for the winner – a person you’ve never met. Bad contesting listeners just find annoying.

I’m a little dumb struck when I hear the same contest played across a number of different stations or brands. It ends up meaning the competition has to be lowest common denominator ‘remember the amount’ etc, so there’s little brand salience, and then due to Ofcom rules the execution of the winner is done by a generic presenter, or I kid you not, a robot sounding voice. Surely, why bother? Okay, you may think a big cash prize will keep those premium calls coming in, but at what real price? It’s almost an anti-tactic to grow any audience.

There’s no reason, of course, that a great well-executed contest, that’s truly of the brand can’t get those two quids rolling in on the phones – but to genericise to such a degree? I’m not sure that helps your positioning in the market and seems such a waste of a great opportunity.

Grumps

Hey, maybe I’ve just written this at a bad time. Coming out of COVID is tough. We’re just entering the dead period of the Summer. There’s been no RAJAR. Sales has been hard. The team have been at home.

Perhaps I’ve missed loads of stuff? If so, leave it in the comments.

Leave a comment

Maybe the good stuff’s ready to go in September. I hope so.

Have we stopped fighting for audience?

British Podcast Awards Wrap Up

On Saturday it was the ceremony for the British Podcast Awards. This year we did it live as a massive outdoor festival in Brockwell Park. This is the fifth year of the Awards and it’s been an interesting journey from deciding in a pub with Matt Hill that maybe we should put on some awards for podcasting, to standing in a park with a team of 70 making busy preparations, as I looked up hoping for no rain.

There wasn’t any rain, which was fortunate as 650 people showed up to celebrate a sector that’s seen huge growth.

We decided to do the Awards mainly because no one else was, and we felt it would be a good way for the general public to discover new podcasts. Even then we knew that everyone loves a good list.

Part of the reason no one had created an awards is that the sector is incredibly broad. On one side there’s people who have always done audio – both people and radio broadcasters, then there’s those that do different media and have adapted – print publications, telly. There’s then people who want to extend what they already do and see podcasting as a medium that would be helpful. You see a huge range of companies and charities doing this. Then there’s those who have a story to tell, or just want to be heard. Taken together, these are not a bunch of people who would otherwise meet up.

However, from whichever end they come from, all of these people do now share something – from devising a show to producing it, and then going on to market it and grow an audience. Also as a relatively new medium, there really aren’t that many experts. The rules are still being written, so it’s a journey that people are pretty much taking together. It also helps that there’s lots of growth – in who’s tuning in for the first time – and how much time they’re spending listening.

For the Awards it creates an amazing atmosphere when you bring these people together – there isn’t much other media, where everyone is generally happy for the winners!

Matt Hill and I often talk about the Awards being a ‘big tent’, so it was good for everyone to actually be under one this year. We have huge support from across the sector to help us put on the event. It exists to reward excellence and to spread the word about shows, so sponsor funding ensures we’re able to do that. What’s also been brilliant is how may of our partners are able to help multiply our activity by using their own reach and channels.

Our headline partner, Amazon Music, is new for this year, reflecting their entry into the market with a great podcast listening experience online and in-app, but also content creation through their Wondery acquisition and their ad-tech involvement by buying Art19. They’ve worked with us to use their social channels to promote our nominees, creating assets for them and supporting with above the line spend too. We’re over the moon to matchmake some these opportunities and hope these new relationships will be even more fruitful in the future.

Apple and Spotify also support our winners with BPA branded promotions on their apps and services. Being a winner, or nominee, is a great hook to tell people that your podcast’s special – so we know that branded playlists and landing pages on these services really help discovery.

BBC Sounds has continued to support the Listeners’ Choice award and our weekly recommendations newsletter. Listeners’ Choice is our public vote, and hugely popular – over 140,000 people voted this year. We also designed it to be a promotional mechanism. Post-vote listeners can tweet their choices, including listening links – driving awareness and sample of shows. My colleague David Madelin’s built the tech that does the listening (with Podfollow) and a very clever and secure voting system that copes with the big peaks we see when an influencer drops that Instagram Story swipe-up.

We also work with the excellent Carver PR to get the news of our winners out there. It was great to see a talk-up on The One Show on Friday, an interview with our chair of judges Dr Rangan in the Telegraph on Saturday and some great post-awards mentions in The Sun, Mirror, MailOnline, Hello and loads of regionals and trade press too.

As you can imagine I get a Google News alert every time the British Podcast Awards is mentioned. It’s terrific to see how many shows use a nomination, and any flavour of win, to promote their show, tour or other activity. If it’s driving discovery or providing context to help people press play on something new – we’re over the moon.

To hit those aims of providing discovery and rewarding excellent work, what’s developed is a real machine, that gets added to each year. I’m really proud of the operation and there’s lots of people involved that I can’t name all of them here. Thanks to Carver PR that help us with celebrities and public relations, Create Productions who did the massive job of building the event and managing the show, Josh Divney who makes the brilliant social videos and Jamie Lee who ensured all the social media worked on the day. Holding it all together on stage were our excellent hosts Poppy Jay, Jordan North and William Hanson. Obviously our sponsors are pretty key to the whole thing happening too, so thank you to them.

The Awards is a great thing to be involved in, especially when it’s more than a party and works to help grow recognition and reach of UK podcasts. Speaking of which, you can see our terrific winners here. Go find your new favourite show.

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Putting on a podcast party

Regulating the media

I’ve just finished a few books that look at the challenges broadcasters have faced – The Remarkable Tale of Radio 1 by Robert Sellers and Maggie Brown’s Channel 4: A History: from Big Brother to The Great British Bake Off (the sequel to the equally excellent A Licence to be Different – The Story of Channel 4 which covers the channel’s early years).

In retrospect the problems Radio 1 and Channel 4 faced were pretty prosaic – from being the challenger (to the pirates and BBC/ITV respectively) to being the challenged (the rise of commercial radio and the growth of multi-platform television). They were both trying to maintain as much of the status quo as possible – broadly audience share and revenue (for C4) – without having to change too much.

The government, though, loomed large across much of these network’s decision making. With the changing views of the changing politicians being the winds that buffeted them in different directions. Whilst there was some public good that came from this huffing and puffing it was often a lucky benefit, rather than at the core of government thinking.

Radio 1’s story is well documented. The re-positioning from the dinosaur DJs of the 80s to the Bannister-led youth operation. Much driven by the BBC’s worry that the station would be abolished or privatised if it didn’t re-engage with a youth audience. For Channel 4 it was being populist enough to generate the ratings that paid for it to continue to deliver its remit of challenging, different television. Big Brother and Bake Off ensuring they could afford to do Dispatches and Channel 4 News.

In both the Channel 4 books the regular desire for governments to look at privatising the channel is covered in depth. Successive investigations return to the same truth. C4 costs the public nothing, but by not being permitted to make programmes (or own the rights to them) it in-effect redistributes its billion pounds of advertising revenue each year to 400-odd companies, employing 20,000 people in the the independent TV sector. At the same time its remit to provide challenging programming from unheard voices keeps it different from other channels and provides public value. It’s a very clever model – no public cost (except its use of government spectrum – the value of which is declining as IP consumption increases) and plenty of public value (even if it has to co-exist between episodes of Countdown and How I Met Your Mother).

Any privatisation would re-direct a decent chunk of its ad money to shareholders and any new owner would want its remit revised so it could make more margin (probably by making its own programmes rather than use independent companies). It may generate a one-off £500m to £1bn for the treasury – but at what public cost?

The government pretends that it’s about ensuring its future in an age of Netflix, but with little agreement from anyone actually in the TV industry, it seems more likely that they’re merely interested in curtailing a channel that has no problem calling the Prime Minster a liar and replacing him with a melting block of ice in a debate.

It seems inconceivable that the government doesn’t have anything better to do at the moment than revisit privatisation, that it itself previously ruled out as recently as 2017.

Most governments have an unhealthy obsession with the media. Maybe Jay Leno’s quote that “politics is just show business for ugly people” rings too true. The current government though combine both the constant grumpiness of the party in power (that afflicts both Labour and Conservatives alike) with a desire (and glee) to engage in the culture wars.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture secretary, likes writing in The Telegraph. It’s perhaps not difficult to decode his thinking when he writes of GB News that “We need outlets and commentators who cover the range of the political spectrum” whilst on the BBC of course he says: “It’s time to ask big questions about the future of the BBC”. Both of these he writes for a paper where his comments are behind a paywall.

His colleague Priti Patel can combine accusing the England team of “gesture politics” for taking the knee whilst tweeting at the end of a winning streak:

Much of this stems from the current government’s desire to weaken public broadcasters that it sees as the enemy. The challenges to their regulation sits alongside their refusal to put up ministers to appear on Channel 4 News and the Today Programme (pre-pandemic). Of course when the pandemic struck they suddenly realised that all the public channels were essential to get their health messages across.

Post-pandemic that value seems to be forgotten and they’re back to trying to force partisan influence onto the regulatory boards – ex-government Communications Director Robbie Gibb to the BBC, and multiple attempts to sit Paul Dacre as the Chair of Ofcom. It’s hard to believe that either have the maintenance of public service broadcasting at their heart.

Commercial radio’s done pretty well out of the government as it’s generally gone along with its evidence that changing consumer behaviour necessitates a reduction in regulation. LBC and Talk Radio are also more aligned with conservative thinking than their TV counterparts – and definitely have no trouble attracting conservative politicians.

This alignment will suit the sector well as the digital radio review leaves aside knotty topics like FM switchover in favour of arguments of prominence on UK radio on audio platforms provided by US companies into Britain.

A word of warning though, as we know these political winds do change and sitting on regulated spectrum means views can alter. Radio groups (including the BBC) could be stung at some point for fees to use broadcast spectrum (spectrum pricing) and the question on how local news is delivered by radio in the future probably still has to be resolved too. Don’t forget all politicians are local ones.

Historically those not taking public money or using public spectrum are free from government interference. So commercial radio may see the growth of their IP output as a get out of regulation free card. However, with announcements about regulating Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video, it shows that very little can get in the way of ministers desires to fiddle with what comes out of your TV or speaker.

AOB

This edition rounds off a whole year of the newsletter with just over 52 posts. Phew! If you do enjoy it, please do encourage others to subscribe by forwarding it on, or by popping a link on your social media of choice.

I’ve also been taking to Zoom to be interviewer or interviewee over the past couple of weeks:

The government just can’t stop getting involved

Facebook Gets Into Podcasting

Last week saw Facebook launch podcasts on its platform. Not that you’d notice if you were outside of the US.

The roll-out seems somewhat limited. US listeners are the only ones that can tune in, and participation for podcasters seems invite-only for the moment.

This means that even if your podcast episodes are pulled through and published they won’t show up in an international user’s newsfeed, or even on a Page if you visit it.

Whilst I can understand a slow roll-out to get the tech right, this isn’t something that really works for podcasters. You can’t really give it a shout-out if a load of your listeners can’t use it. It’s also frustrating for shows that want to take part but aren’t invited, or those that are international with a big US audience.

Facebook have even launched their own new tech podcast – Boz to the Future – which they flag up as being able to listen on Facebook, but you can’t. Or well, most people can’t. They even have to clumsily embed a page from hosting firm Buzzsprout on their promo blog. It doesn’t build confidence.

It’s not unusual, of course, for US companies to forget that they have an international audience (even though it’s where over 90% of the planet’s population live). I already bristle a little when I get a tweet from @ApplePodcasts, who only mention US shows and often link to promoted collections that won’t open outside of America. Handy!

Will it be successful?

I’m a little torn on whether Facebook will have a big impact on podcasting or whether it’ll just be a feature that fades away.

On the surface Facebook should be a massive opportunity. They have a huge, mainstream user base, the vast majority of which have probably never listened to a podcast. You would hope that for people who don’t know how to listen to a podcast, this would be a great training slope.

On the negative side, audio seems to appear on the platform as a long-form block, albeit one that can play in the background. I’m not sure people are likely to consume a long form piece of audio off the back of a scroll through their timeline. What you really want is a sort of save later/send to the podcast listening section. Indeed, at the moment there’s no centralised listening location in the app – though apparently that’s on the way.

The core challenge is that listeners want a single place to listen to their audio. To do this, having a good catalogue is essential. It’s taken Spotify a few years to get into this position and that’s with a pretty aggressive podcast-centric approach. Will Facebook have the wherewithal to push out to the community to get them to list shows?

Part of the trouble is they’re trying to force a Facebook-centric model onto the podcast community. To (eventually) list a show on Facebook it seems you have to attach a show to a Facebook Page. Which works if your brand is a single show, that has a Facebook page. What happens if you have multiple shows? You don’t seem to be able to list more than one RSS feed. And then, what about networks? Does the BBC have to create a Facebook page for each of their shows? And even if they do, those pages will have zero followers, which will likely affect the content surfacing algorithm.

So would you bother just so it’s available in Facebook search? Maybe – but you’re asking for a lot, from a lot of people. It would also help if Facebook hadn’t squandered much of the goodwill that media companies had given it over the last few years.

Like anything, success is in the execution. I’m yet to be persuaded Facebook will get the execution right. I guess we’ll see.

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AOB

One year of Times Radio.

Today, Times Radio celebrates a year of being on-air. Happy Birthday. I’ve been asked to interview the boss and some of his colleagues. Radio Academy members can watch live tomorrow. Register here.

British Podcast Awards

It’s just eleven days to go to the British Podcast Awards. We’re very excited about doing an actual in-person ceremony. It’ll be outside, well, under a massive tent, in Brockwell park. They say necessity is the mother of invention – and it’s certainly pushed us to put on quite a show. We’ve leaned into it, and created a mini-festival with bars, attractions, stalls and an amazing awards show too. If you fancy an afternoon with actual people, in a COVID safe environment of course, come along on the afternoon of Saturday 10th July. You can grab the last remaining tickets at the British Podcast Awards website.

But are they going to do a decent job?

Radio and Podcast Acquisitions

Last week there were some more audio acquisitions with Sony Music grabbing audio production company Somethin’ Else and Bauer adding the few Imagine stations to their portfolio.

On the radio consolidation front there isn’t a lot left to buy up. The majority of UK FM licences are owned by Bauer and Global, with the other two last remaining groups heavily aligned to one, or the other. Bauer provide advertising and services to the Nation Radio stations and Communicorp (other than a single station in Manchester) operate stations under brand licence from Global. In effect, both of these groups operate the local radio bit (local ads and programming) and everything else comes from their partner.

This leaves some Asian and Christian stations (on AM) alongside the last remaining mainstream FM stations – 2 x Jack FMs, Radio Jackie, Star Cambridge, More Radio, Isle of Wight Radio, Fosse, SIBC, KMFM, Radio Essex, Time 107.5. Radio Exe, Q Radio, Sunshine Radio, Silk 106.9 and Dee Radio. Collectively these stations have around 1% of the commercial radio market. Whilst some of these are ‘white space’ areas for completist radio groups – none of them will be big additions.

Indeed the main independent digital stations – the Jack ones, Fun Kids, Boom Radio, Chris Country and Mi-Soul probably has a greater market share than all the small FMers left, combined.

If Communicorp were to end up being taken over by Global and Nation by Bauer, they may save some money by running them more efficiently and not paying out some of the national sales money – but as they sell the national ads already, it would be unlikely to change the national ad share split between Global and Bauer.

News UK seem happy with their national digital stations – talkSPORT/2, talkRADIO, Virgin Radio and Times Radio and their FM stations in Ireland – but the only way for them to grow scale now is to grind it out in the battle for listeners. A corporate strategy shift could leave Wireless as the last remaining prize for the big two radio groups.

Somethin’ Else Sale

Over in podcast land, Sony Music have acquired the content company Somethin’ Else. SE have activities in social, TV and audio. They’re the biggest radio supplier to the BBC (from Rickie, Melvin and Charlie for Radio 1 to Gardeners’ Question Time for Radio 4) and have been strongly into podcasts, partnering with talent for shows like David Tennant Does a Podcast and Ian Wright’s People, creating branded shows for companies like Channel 4 and Netflix as well as commissioned work for outfits like Audible and the BBC.

They have a big audio team – it’s the majority of their 80 staff – and there’s strong relationships across the sector. They’re likely the biggest independent creator of professional audio in the country. Over the past few years they’ve also probably made the biggest effort at growing or partnering to build their own IP library – though a large amount of what they make has still been for other people.

I’ve always been a fan of their strategy – leverage the third party work to build resource that can also be put to work on your own material. But without a big cash injection, that’s always going to be difficult to really scale.

Looking at their accounts, a £400k profit in 2019, an accounting loss in 2020 due to exceptionals, though profits on their regular business activities of around £200k and unstated profits in the latest year up to March 2021, shows a company that’s been building out its capabilities whilst keeping the lights on and trying to move from being reliant on third party revenue to generating their own IP-derived incomes.

However, for companies like Somethin’ Else, it’s tough going – a few lost contracts here and there and some under-performing shows can make things tricky. Even with SE the largest audio operator, it’s not a massive profit generator – especially with such a large staff.

However, in some ways the deal with Sony could be seen as a bit of a reverse take-over. The Somethin’ Else team, with Steve Ackerman soon to be in New York, and Jez Nelson in London, take over all of Sony’s podcast activities, merging them with their own – all under the Sony Music banner. SE’s TV and Social arm, meanwhile, gets merged into Sony Music’s 4th Floor Creative division.

This gives the audio team a great opportunity to use Sony Music’s money and reach to aggressively build out what they started to do at SE. Historically the commission and branded work are useful for cash-flow – will that be such a focus with a new global parent? Why put a decent chunk of your efforts into making things for other people?

As I’ve touched on before, the big money hasn’t really hit UK companies because there isn’t much to buy. Not in the number of companies, but in the number who have scale. There aren’t many outlets who have a range of podcast hits. Now, Somethin’ Else had more than most, but still not that many in the grand scheme of things. What it did have, however, was a large and skilled audio team with a leadership who know the business of making high quality output at scale. That’s not a bad foundation for a (parent) company with podcast ambitions.

More audio ownership changes

GB News – Pretending For Real

It’s not often you get a month-long preview of a radio station before it launches, but we certainly have with GB News.

If you didn’t know, as well as launching as a TV channel, the new ‘news’ channel GB News is also going to be broadcasting on the radio too – they announced they’ve snagged a slot on Digital One.

There’s some confusion about whether it’s going to be a feed of the TV channel, or something more. My take is that whilst ‘the TV feed’ will make up a decent part of it, I’d expect there to be some radio specific programming in time too.

Running an audio feed from a telly channel isn’t something new. ITN did it, simulcasting the TV news channel they used to have, as does Bloomberg. Yes, there’s a bit of ‘as you can see’n that slips through, but for people who understand what it is they’re listening to, I don’t think it’ll be that much bother. For GB News it’ll also help that they’re very much a comment channel than a news one. It’ll probably fit the radio quite well.

I remained pretty intrigued by the whole operation. I feel it is a little like a hall of mirrors, with many of the announcements not massively connected to the reality of what it’s doing.

It’s almost impossible to build a channel of any real scale with a right of centre news commentary format. The regular news channels are poorly watched and they’re designed to appeal to everyone. They also occupy a role. When breaking news is needed people know where to turn. They’re also multi-platform news providers, with well-funded reporting across TV, the web and social. GB News doesn’t really have much reporting resource and will mainly take agency feeds, aided by a handful of reporters to provide colour from across the UK. The idea that GB News can occupy a news position is wishful thinking, and I’d assume they know that.

Yesterday, I had a good read of lots of the tweets about the channel. For the supporters as well as disappointment about the lighting and sound (which I assume will be fixed at some point) there were quite a few who felt starved of having a news bulletin at the top of the hour.

According to BARB the audience were male (57%), 65+ (52%) and upmarket (82% ABC1). It’s basically the Daily Telegraph on-air. Online, supporters tend to be anti-lockdown, vaccine-questioning (if not hesitant), pro-Brexit, anti-take a knee, anti-woke (though this mainly reads as a reboot of ‘political correctness gone mad’). There also seems to be a decent chunk of importing US political positions – ‘owning the libs’, BLM’s a terrorist organisation and such.

Creating a media product targeting this group isn’t a bad idea. This is an audience who cannot understand why their obviously correct views are not parroted on the mainstream media. The obvious answer being that there isn’t a huge silent majority, there’s just a much smaller subset of the population that share their views. Making a media product that pretends this view is representative is canny marketing to that group.

In the US much of Fox News’ success has come from radicalising the right-wing viewer and creating a raging soap opera that keeps them tuned in. Many of the Fox news team don’t believe what they’re peddling – they’ve just created a content offer and a target audience. It’s no surprise that Fox’s legal defence over some Tucker Carlson statements was that no reasonable viewer would believe what he was saying.

Of course, blended into the product concept are true believers and also corporate narratives. As Rutger Bregman memorably said to Tucker (in an unaired interview) that the Fox hosts are merely millionaires paid by billionaires – doing their bidding.

Andrew Neil’s positioning as an anti-establishment outsider is pretty hilarious for a man who edited the Sunday Times, helped launched Sky News, is involved in magazines like The Spectator and lives in the South of France! But it is a well-trodden route, see Donald ‘man of the people’ Trump.

The outsider audience is happy to project their hopes onto professional flag-wavers under the hope they’ll lead their revolution. The truth being that they have their own agenda, and riding on the back of the true believers is just handy for them.

Much has been made of the owners of GB News – all non UK folk who have an ideological and generally broader business reason (low-tax marketing, influence-peddling) motive.

No one is more aware of this than Dan Wootton, who has clearly seen Tucker Carlson’s act and has realised the benefits of taking on the persona. It’s hard not to think that Dan believes his success in showbiz reporting has never been rightly rewarded. He’s never been well-liked by the media and talking to those who’ve worked with him, his handle on the issues is somewhat thin.

However, 20 years at The Sun has certainly taught him something about angles and doubling down. He has very little to lose, and lots to gain, by becoming King of the silent majority and is not worried about trying to play the nuance that the clearly brighter Piers Morgan does.

This though, is likely to be what causes the problem for the channel.

Watching the opening night and Andrew Neil’s GB News manifesto, Jim Waterson nailed it pretty well:

If you’re in the pro-facts, soft right-wing camp of Andrew Neil, Alastair Stewart and Simon McCoy it will just get more and more uncomfortable sharing studio space with the professional trolls. Plus if you’re someone like Kirsty Gallacher with a hope to actually have a career after this, they’ll likely be a creeping worry as time moves on.

All the Fox News staffers know that they’re unemployable by any other channel, so they take the higher salaries for as long as they can. I’d imagine it’ll be the same with GB News. I just worry that many of the presenters haven’t realised this yet.

As a business though, there’s something in super-serving this Telegraph-esque audience with TV output alongside a likely optional subscription membership operation. That, allied with the corporate benefits is probably enough for the rich owners.

It also exists at the centre of a perfect rage-generating social media machine. The lovers and haters will fight constantly, revved up by constant new TV-derived clips. This, will keep the station talked about even if it lacks any real scale of audience. It just needs to keep the outrage up, whilst creaming off enough people to pay a tenner a month for total access to Dan Wootton and Andrew Neil. Well the GB News version of them anyway.

How to build a right-wing business

The Podcast Guessing Game

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I’ve had a busy time in podcasting land recently. We’ve been gearing up for the announcements of this year’s British Podcast Awards nominees and simultaneously planning a 24-hour podcasting conference with parts in Australia, Europe and North America – Podcast Day 24. There’s been a lot going on.

I was very happy to get the British Podcast Awards nominations announced. It whittled around 1600 entries down to about 130 nominees, through the hard work of nearly 200 judges. The list is a great mix of shows, small and large, famous and anonymous. There are nominees with 200 listens per episode and 200,000 per episode. The Awards has always been about discovery – and I love that there’s so many new shows to sample.

The Awards continues to grow in entries and interest, just as listening to podcasts grows too. Trying to get a handle on this growth of ‘interest’ is a challenge. I like looking at the tweet reach for our category videos. This year we did about 3m impressions, well over double what we managed last year. Interestingly in the UK, Twitter still seems to be the social driver, whilst in Australia (where we also operate awards) podcasting seems to have its social base in Instagram.

I’m also excited about the Awards ceremony. We’re building a mini-Festival site in Brockwell Park, with a very large tented stage, alongside bars and concessions. They’ll also be some stands from different podcasting companies too. It’s a very different kind of Awards show, initially driven by some guesswork over the pandemic, but if it goes well I could definitely see it being the more regular format. Nominees get first dibs on tickets, but we open it for everyone on Monday 7th June (join the waitlist and be reminded when this happens).

On the 7th we’re also holding our Podcast Day 24 conference. It kicks off in Australia with an in-person event, before a virtual event from 9am here in the UK for Europe and then post 5pm, North America picks up the baton.

Your virtual ticket lets you watch everything live (if you’re an insomniac) or you can pick and choose what you watch live and what you catch-up with afterwards.

As we were building the schedule, I was struck by some of the things that people had written in their Awards submissions. There were lots of “hey, we thought it was a good idea” and “I don’t know why it works, it just does” – these didn’t tend to be the show’s that got nominated.

What gets nominated? Generally it’s great ideas, that are executed well, with the demonstration of skill. Whether big or little, it’s often the shows that clearly think critically about what they do, that do well. They also tend to be the people who look around the market to find out why and how other shows were successful.

It’s a similar trait with great start-up founders. They’re focused on their own special product, but they’ve accumulated massive knowledge about the market to help increase the odds that their own products will do well.

In a sector that’s so competitive, I find it mad that often people in podcasting seem to take pride in doing little preparation or planning before starting their show. When the odds are already long, why would you do anything (or nothing) to make them even longer?

We’ve tried to fill the event with really useful insight into different elements of podcasting and from people with demonstrable success or from those that are key decision makers.

In the Europe leg, we’re hearing from podcast commissioners at Acast, Spotify and Munck plus getting insight from new independents like Message Heard, Mags Creative and Don’t Skip. As well as sessions on monetisation with people from Dax and Triton, we’re getting the team from Redhanded to give us their Patreon tips. They’re one of the most successful podcasts on the platform generating over $60k a month from listener donations.

There are speakers from traditional print operations – Telegraph, FT, Tortoise – as well as indie creators big and small – including Fearne Cotton, Dane Baptiste and The Receipts.

I’m also pleased to announce that Jonathan Wall, the Controller of BBC Sounds, has joined the line-up to give insight into how the platform’s been developing and growing.

If you’re serious about being successful in podcasting, or your company has it as a focus – Podcast Day 24 is probably the cheapest way to fill up you and your teams’ brains with knowledge and expertise. You can get your ticket here.

Building knowledge to build success

Content People Are Wasteful

Content creators, especially in the audio space, are hugely wasteful individuals. They spend all this time preparing, then executing, interesting, thoughtful or entertaining content and then after it’s been broadcast or downloaded, just move on to the next thing.

Content rarely gets repeated, re-contextualised or even archived. Indeed most never even sees the pixels of a Tweet or Facebook post. It is sent out into the great beyond never to be seen (or heard) again.

What a waste of time and effort.

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Scale and Distribution

In the telly world, a surprise merger between AT&T’s WarnerMedia (CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers, TBS, TNT, DC) and Discovery (Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, OWN, Eurosport). It’ll result in a business that turns over $52bn with profits of $14bn.

Both are pretty big, and have been focused on rolling out their own streaming platforms – HBO Max and Discovery+ – and trying to compete with Netflix (revenue $25bn), Disney+ (Disney revenue $65bn) and more.

The deal is the result of AT&T realising that media is hard (and want to concentrate on telecoms) and Discovery’s desire to have more scale to compete.

Consumer behaviour is shifting and the TV companies are having to adapt their corporate structures and strategies to keep up.

Disney’s focus on Disney+ has meant killing off many of their broadcast kids channels and axing profitable third-party licensing deals. Netflix has enjoyed much success, with content paid for with debt – they’ve borrowed $16bn to ensure you’ve got something new to watch. It announced at the beginning of the year that it finally had enough subscribers – 200m of them – to pay for its content (and the loan interest) out of its cashflow. Their borrowing gamble seemed to pay off.

Of course for all of the streaming businesses the core elements are owning both the content and the distribution. As many of them have found licensing material is only good whilst the deal lasts.

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