Apple’s New Subscription Podcast Features

We’ve talked about it a fair amount here over the past few months – the rumoured plan for Apple to introduce pay-options for podcasts in Apple Podcasts, and, well, it’s finally here. At the top of yesterday’s Keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook dedicated 78 seconds to revealing the new features.

I mention the time partly to be mean, but also to point out the revenues of Apple’s hardware and services business are huge cash generators and no matter how important audio is to us, the big boys have much bigger fish to fry. What they’re introducing today in Apple Podcasts is eminently sensible, pretty well thought out and a great opportunity for some creators, but the reason it’s taken so long is that Apple have always had a better way to make a wheelbarrow load of dollars.

What’s spurred this on now? I imagine it’s the huge competition that they face in the audio space, and a need to reenforce podcast consumption on the iPhone and their other devices when Spotify is running amok in the sector.

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Facebook’s New Audio Features

The people behind eight paid-for subscription newsletters – Platformer, Culture Study, Newcomer, Hot Pod, Deez Links, Garbage Day, Galaxy Brain and Zero Day – have joined forces to collaborate on a Discord server – called Sidechannel.

Discord is basically Slack but for non-work things and started off life catering for gamers and streamers. It’s grown to 250million users who use it for a whole variety of things.

For the newsletter folks it’s an interesting member benefit. I’m a subscriber to Hot Pod and I now get exposed to a bunch of cool people chatting and sharing. It adds some friction if I feel I want to unsubscribe, if it does a good job, so has the potential to be positive for all concerned.

It’s first proper day was today and they kicked off with an interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Not a bad get!

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The Mood of the Nation

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh meant significant, instant changes, to the output of hundreds of radio stations and websites. With consumers used to choice and their favourites, many were surprised to be left without them on Friday afternoon.

‘Obit’ – the obituary policy – tends to get activated by most UK stations on the death of a category one royal (the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duke of Edinburgh) or that of the Prime Minister. The plan tends to be to cancel or regular programming and replace it with content suitable for the mood of the nation

Much of this is steeped in history – and for the days when there was only a handful of TV and radio stations, what all good citizens were glued to.

It went hand in hand with the monopoly driven analogue media world. The stations reflected the mood of the nation, that they themselves had probably created.

Today’s Obit genuflecting is perhaps more driven by a fear of what the Daily Mail will say, rather than what it should be, which is reflecting the tastes of listeners or viewers.

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Permission to Break Format

Commercial radio gets a lot of unfair criticism. I grew up professionally in it, so perhaps I always feel that chip on the shoulder.

Many of the things that are spoken about negatively are conversely the things that can make stations successful – tight music rotations, speed links and research-driven content policies.

Much of why these things work on the radio can often get misconstrued as unbreakable rules. Even people who work in the sector often do the things – but don’t understand why they’re there in the first place.

These tactics are just some that are used to achieve the strategy, they’re not a means to an end.

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Suddenly Losing Your Listeners

The pandemic has made us all change. And not just because of the length of our hair.

Whether it’s Zoom, using Amazon Prime, Disney+ or interacting more with the Smart Speaker, the pandemic has been an accelerant. None of these things existed because of Coronavirus, but their utility was certainly enhanced by it.

Indeed, I expect sans pandemic, the growth curves of all of these things would have been steady, but the last 12 months has probably meant they jumped ahead 12 quarters. Zoom made a $16m pre-tax profit in 2019 and a $660m one in 2020.

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Opening Super Followers’ Wallets

My mind is still pretty pre-occupied with thoughts about content, talent and subscription. I think this is a combination of Apple/Spotify’s upcoming subscription podcast thing, a really interesting post on ‘Sovereign Writers’ from Ben Thompson and some questions I was asked about this newsletter by Simon Owens on his Creator Collab Substack.

Talent has always been something that’s in-demand by media owners. Investing in talent generally comes from either supporting someone up and coming (and incurring the cost of money and time to get them where you want them to be) or by paying more for someone that has something that you would like. The general business analysis is whether that investment gives a better return than if you continue with an existing operation.

I’d probably argue that media operations (like all jobs) also have a lot of people who fulfil a function that other people, with some training, could also do. Not talentless, but not often part of the talent equation.

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Follow, Don’t Subscribe

James Cridland does not tend to overstate things or resort to clickbait for his must-read daily podcasting news email – Podnews. So, when he tweeted:

….it definitely resulted in an eyebrow raise.

The news was what could be seen as just a minor change in a podcasting app – but the repercussions are significant.

Apple Podcasts, which is still the core podcast consumption app, is changing the ‘subscribe button’ to a ‘follow button’.

This is the button that signals you want to receive every new episode of a show. It’s also what nearly every podcast in the world uses to encourage their listeners to subscribe to the show.

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Moving The Needle

Radioplayer yesterday announced a partnership with BMW.

In the press release is this line:

The partnership will see BMW Group using official broadcaster metadata from Radioplayer’s Worldwide Radioplayer API (WRAPI) to help create a brilliant radio interface.

It seems quite innocuous, but it’s something that’s hugely powerful.

Radio is the legacy occupant of the car. It’s been the key to in-car entertainment since 1924, when Kelly’s Motors in New South Wales, Australia installed the first car set. In the 1930s if you wanted an after-fit in your shiny new Ford Model A, you’d be paying $540 for the car, and another $130 for the radio.

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Bauer, Ireland and the digital future?

Bauer have got their cheque book out again, but this time they have abandoned our fine shores to bunk up with the Irish. They’ve acquired Communicorp Media, the owner of the two national commercial stations Today FM and Newstalk, Dublin’s 98FM, the two Spins and some digital assets too, all for a purported €100m (about £85m). Communicorp’s UK operation (FM stations that, in the main, licence Global’s brands) remains unaffected.

Ireland is an interesting market. Radio’s popular with consumers there, and the fact RTE has advertising too, means pretty much the whole population can be reached through radio – which makes a difference to its share of the country’s advertising Euros.

It’s also heavily regulated, with a limited number of FM radio stations and no real DAB roll-out. If you walk into a station there’s often 30 or 40 people there, with a strong news team and little networking or automation. RTE have national stations, but don’t provide the local competition that say, the BBC does in the UK.

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Spotify’s Podcasting Expansion

Yesterday’s StreamOn, a 90-minute presentation from Spotify extolled the virtues of its streaming audio world. Alongside digs at radio, music stores and the digital advertising market, Spotify positioned their platform as the perfect place for artists, podcasters, advertisers and listeners. Good news for all, except perhaps other middlemen.

The event covered a lot of ground – the expansion of its service to 80 more countries and 36 languages, HD audio, new advertising and promotional opportunities for music companies, more products for advertisers and a range of podcast initiatives, including a new Spotify Original podcast series with Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. I’ll be disappointed if neither does a Squarespace read.

On the podcasting front there’s a few interesting things for creators to think about.

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