What is your org chart? Talking about it with Nick Quah at iHeart Digital and Telling It Like a Podcast
This is Nick Quah’s area, and unfortunately, his flight from Idaho was snowed out. I did different things with varying degrees of success. Is it possible to ask the people who witnessed it? Big thanks to John Perotti, co-founder and CCO of Rococo Punch, and Kate Osborn, EVP of development at Kaleidoscope, for putting up with me. They gave great insight into how you get a premium narrative podcast made these days, especially when studios can opt for chat shows that are cheap to make with potentially high returns.
Nilay and Conal sat down with each other for a live interview. They covered a lot of ground, but one theme that kept coming up over and over again was iHeart’s strategy of letting places such as Spotify andAudible make plays for exclusive content.
People were shouting questions at me as I walked through the halls. It is crazy to see that your show is a series of note cards. One of these cards literally says, “What is your org chart?” That’s my whole brand.
I want to start in the first place. The company that you are in is called iHeart Digital and has a long history. It’s been a player in the audio space for a long time. You came to it through
. Why did you want to sell to iHeart?
In around 2008, I was the general manager of a company called HowStuffWorks.com, and we were acquired by Discovery Communications. Discovery bought our company because they were about to go public, and they wanted to have a really strong digital strategy. They made a good move to buy HowStuffWorks.com.
Our job was really simple. We were a small website trying to explain things in small articles. We were able to experiment with other kinds of content once we were inside Discovery, as we already had the air cover for a global media company.
We realized that maybe our greatest asset was the people who worked there. They were really good storytellers; they could take anything from air conditioning to artificial intelligence and tell a story about a topic. The idea was to soundproof some rooms and have people in them, and we did so with people like Josh and Chuck, co-hosting Stuff. You Should Know and several other shows.
The third thing they let us do was have a sales team. Stuff Media had three or four official sales people. iHeart has 1,300 salespeople in all 50 states and a number of other markets.
This was the number two machine. The medium of broadcast radio is still alive and well. Nine out of 10 Americans listen to radio on a monthly basis. That’s an insanely large but insanely accurate number. We wanted to shout out the things we were doing.
What Happened to the CEOs of iHeartMedia: When Do They Go Home? — Bob Pittman — About the Successes of Startups
We are in a position to leave from 2018 to 2028 in a matter of hours. Bob Pittman is the CEO of iHeartMedia. He founded MTV way back in the day, and he’s had a long career of being the CEO of several companies. He has a certain energy and vision about him, where he’s able to run large companies as if they were startups. When you talk to him in a room for 30 seconds, this is very noteworthy. That definitely helps, so we jumped in.
A lot of the startup CEOs I talk to are acquired by big companies. This is a common situation in the tech world. Is it true that the things you’re describing don’t always happen? The culture is not preserved; the nimbleness is not preserved. Attaching a large sales team to a startup is usually sideways. Is it just Bob Pittman being like, “Chaos reigns. Is it a startup, or was it something you did?
The iHeart Podcast Network: Digital Media Radio, Podcasting, Live Events, Social Media, Skype, and Podcasting. What Do We Want to Say About It?
This one was definitely not a joke. Our podcast division, the iHeart Podcast Network, was seeing explosive growth, and I thought we were doing a good job. Also, the medium was exploding. At iHeart we wanted to make it easier for investors, audiences, researchers and analysts to see the value of the company.
You can talk about how well your company is doing inside the divisions and businesses by putting them under different operating segments in your company. The way to do that was to create two segments in our company.
One is called the multi-platform group. It comprises broadcast radio, live events, and a few other things. The other is an audio group. That comprises all of our social media assets, all of our websites, a huge streaming business, a lot of the innovative tech work we do — like how we launched iHeartLand in Roblox and Fortnite — and podcasting. I was made the chief executive of the digital audio group after running the podcasts division for two or three years. It gave us the opportunity to talk to the market more freely about how well we were doing, and this in particular, is how well this segment is growing.
There is a lot of movement between these segments. One thousand or so of the sellers that I mentioned sit in the multi-platform group, and they certainly sell all the assets we have. We have this mantra at the company that “Any seller can sell anything any day of the week wherever they live and work,” and that has rung pretty true. Over the last few years, that has driven most of the growth at the company.
Where is the Tension? How does the radio and audio-visual distributions divide where you are? What do you think? How do you decide where to place your podcast?
You could say that you have a division full of older distribution and a division full of newer distribution, if that’s what I wanted to say. Some of the newer distributions have shown themselves, like podcasts and Roblox. You could say that you have two different divisions: one that is declining and another that is growing at a faster rate. Is there any tension there at all?
It often is. You walk into a holdco in New York and you’ll say, “I know we’re going to talk about podcasting today. By the way, if you love digital audio, and we all do…”
The easiest example for me is Charlamagne tha God hosting a show called The Breakfast Club out of Tribeca every morning. This show is also a podcast where we capture the file, distribute it as an on-demand thing, and then it drives upwards of 15 to 20 million downloads a month. He also co-owns a company with us called The Black Effect, that he 51 percent owns. It has a lot of things under it, and it alone drives a lot of downloads. This constructiveness is visible across the two segments.
There is very little competition and they do it for themselves. It has been the opposite of what we were told, and that is the reason we have succeeded. In my opinion, I don’t think we would be where we are as an industry otherwise. I wouldn’t be where I am as a podcast network without the help of the broadcast radio guys and not just the sales team.
When I speak to creatives or creative executives, one of the themes we often talk about is that your distribution shapes what you make. I can let you know what you get if you describe the constraints of any distribution platform. YouTube is a good example of this. We all know what a YouTube video is, because YouTube has designed the constraints of the platform to produce that thing.
There are very distinct constraints to radio and audio-visual media. You’re saying, “Oh, there’s a seamless back and forth,” but surely you must see, “Oh, okay. I make this on this distribution. This is what the audience wants. Terrestrial radio distribution is a thing that we’re all very familiar with. Where’s the tension there?
Podcasts: When Podcasts Hit the Reverse-Engineering Pitfall: How Podcasting Has Been Brought to Radio Marketing
It is a good point and question. It is a pitfall of digital media from the beginning. Search engine marketing is a version of what you are talking about. You start to reverse-engineer all the content you make because that works best on such-and-such platform. There was a time in 2010 when we all realized that the same thing. It was like, “The best video is this length, and you have to open it and close it.”
When you reverse-engineer what an asset should be for a platform, you kill creativity and true innovation. You almost definitely kill true creativity when you hit that moment. Podcasting — not to your question, but as a side answer — has bucked that a lot to date. It has fought back against the notion that there will be two ad breaks in a 28-minute episode. It’s actually a lot of different things. It can be a true crime limited series of eight to 10 episodes that are 30 minutes long, or it can be a “stuff to blow your mind” episode with just two guys talking for three hours. Both are completely okay and actually really perform well. It hasn’t yet hit this moment of reverse-engineering from the platforms it’s on.
I think there’s a creative freedom to it that allures a lot of people, but it doesn’t have the mass reach of broadcast radio yet. The allure backwards to radio is that you have true mass-reach audiences, which I think brings them back.
Are you going to stop using the radio? Are you programming across to the radio, saying, “We’re going to run ads for our podcast on the radio, and you’re going to come listen to it”?
“We have about 70-ish shows in the iHeart Podcast Network that drive over 1 million monthly downloads or more,” Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia’s digital audio group, said. “The only reason we have that number is because of broadcast radio marketing.”
No. We’ll tag all of our spots on air with, “Listen wherever you get podcasts.” We’ll say our own app, but then we’ll say other apps too. We are a widely distributed company.
This is a split, right? On the other side of the business, you own the distribution. You program the radio stations that you own. Bob Pittman can buy Stuff Media and say, “You know what? We are going to build the podcast business by giving Will Ferrell advice until you are sick of it, because we control that inventory and distribution.
Do you worry that you don’t have the same control? I mean, aside from the iHeartPodcasts app, obviously. You can put TheVerge.com on the home screen of your phone. Like I told you, we all have the same problems. The iHeartPodcasts app is not the only one with a lot of different players, a lot of different controls, and different monetization schedules. Does that worry you?
If you’re a creator on YouTube, it’s a terrific platform and incredibly creative, but you don’t own your fan base. This is obvious at this point. By now, we all get it. In podcasting, it is fundamentally different. If I choose, I can plug myRSS feed into a distribution app and people will subscribe to it. They are mine.
If I pull my RSS feed out of the distribution app, it will hurt my audience because they won’t see it anymore. I still have control of the pipe. My brand goes away if I stop making or distributing content on my channel. It’s gone. I could try to make them switch to a different platform in order to keep that audience relationship going. It is possible to that extent, but it’s hard to convert to a new platform. It would be similar to being able to leave your channel.
I will say one more thing. It has made speaking with creators easier, because you can rest assured that they will ask how we are going to distribute. Will Ferrell, let’s hang for a second. He’s like, “I want to get as much audience as possible. I write content. I think it’s going to be good, and I want to put it in front of many people.” There’s no asterisk on the answer back to him. Yes, we do too. That is really very simple. We did distribute it on broadcast radio. The Ron Burgundy Podcast was distributed as a show on late Sunday night on broadcast radio too. There is nothing weird about the goal or ulterior motive.
I get it, it’s about my competitors. But I also think it fundamentally tripped up a little as a business model. It encouraged them to do mega deals. If a creator is good, you might want to pay for that. It tripped up because of the exclusive distribution models that were good for streaming services because they solved problems. In this one, I couldn’t identify the problem that it was solving, and therefore I think the industry tripped up on it.
I want to come to exclusives and to consolidation. You have sat out a bunch of stuff, you have sat out subscription, but I just want to sit with distribution for one more second. The money from each of these pipes has different characteristics. Money that you might be getting from overserving the audience or putting on a show for them doesn’t necessarily result in the same return. If you just run the audio on the site, it is likely a different return based on how that ad model works. Do you see your distribution endpoints as being the most lucrative one and the less lucrative one?
All of the distribution points that we distribute to today through RSS feeds are equal to us in terms of the money we make, because that’s just how RSS feeds work.
The i-Heart Media Radio Podcasting Digital Ceo-Conal Byrne: Getting the Most Out of Facebook
Facebook’s interest has grown and waned and grown a bit on podcasts. We’ve all seen this, so I’m not saying anything privileged. They have spent the last 10 years trying to understand what they are as a platform, whether it is the metaverse or just doubling down on making newsfeed better. There have been moments in the last five to ten years where Facebook has shown real interest in audio, and then they’ve backed off the two or three times that has happened, so I’m not sure.
i-heart is an old company, it’s a radio company, and it was built in a particular way. Radio is more ruthless than podcasting. As long as we can get some of them to come in, some of them will convert and stay.
A lot of digital media types are talked to by me. Most of them are like, “Facebook won’t give us the time of day. Google won’t give us the time of day.” You think you have some leverage over the platforms? When you talk to these people, is that how it goes? Do you even talk to them, or are you just like, “Screw it, take my RSS feed”?
I Heart Media Radio Podcasting Digital Ceo Conal Byrne: Ten Years Later, I Was Then. How Do You Wanna Stop Worrying?
Yeah. They’re all like, “Oh, thank God he said that.” I don’t pretend to know what’s in their heads. They seem to be in love with the medium just like we are. Ten years ago, I fell in love with this medium. They want to do the right thing by the medium, that is important.
I do. I have not the same concern when I wrote my text-based articles for How StuffWorks.com 20 years ago, or when I was at Discovery Communications. You were always worried about it. But I’m always at the beck and call of the platforms I distribute on to a crazy, existential extent. I don’t have anything to concern myself with in podcasting.
I Heart Media Radio Podcasting: Digital Ceo-Conal Byrne. Can I Get It Out There? How I Wanna Be?
Perhaps it’s because there is nothing broken in the distribution and monetization model today. It is close to perfect, but nothing is perfect. The distribution model is free. There is an ad load that is light. You have a content type that is the highest quality in the world, I would argue, out of any content getting made today, except maybe TV, which is pretty good right now — but we are right there next to it. I struggle to see something broken with this.
Oh, it’s right here. It is happening. I am building up to it. No, for real. We talked about platform companies. Have you had conversations with Spotify about making stuff exclusive?
No. I will test anything. I don’t think there is a reason. To put it simply, we have a platform. We have an app of our own. I can do exclusive or windowed testing there. We’ve dabbled in subscription channels on Apple Podcasts, just because I had creators who came to us and said, “I’d like to try this.” We are very proud of this. We are a good partner with creators. We tried it. It’s not a huge focus for us. I don’t see the problem that I’d be fixing if I keep repeating it.
iHeart Digital, What is it? What is the org chart question for a semiconductor startup? A question for the CEO at the CEO level
I know. The suspense for the org chart question is what it is. It sounds like you have things figured out, that you have confidence in your business. How did you arrange iHeart Digital? What do you think the structure should be to make this work?
I don’t know that we’ll have a big reveal. Uta Knablein is our chief product officer. The engineering team is the back end of all of our digital products. We obviously have a podcast team, run by the president of the iHeart Podcast Network, Will Pearson. He’s fantastic. He came from MentalFloss.com 20 years ago.
Yeah. He founded it in a Duke University dorm room, and now he’s found his way into podcasting. So he had a similar trajectory, and he’s a wonderful guy. Carter Brokaw is the head of our digital revenue sales team.
I end on this team because it’s very important, we have our business affairs team. We have partnerships with a lot of creators and distribution platforms. On your electronic programming guide, there are streaming channels for iHeartRadio. We also co-own a company with Will Ferrell. Our business affairs team is busy and playing a role in our growth. That’s loosely how it’s org’d out.
I am always curious and that is the reason I ask that question all the time. I think every CEO has but one tool, and it’s shuffling the org chart to solve problems. Sometimes they just shuffle it to create change. I know you do. Everyone does it. We think that podcasting is in its infancy 100 times in this room and the other rooms, over the course of the day. You are describing a mature company. A company that has figured out a lot of things is called a company that has a lot of action. It is like life. A Hollywood studio at its peak has a bunch of studios and a roomful of accountants doing billing on syndication across companies. Do you think the industry is mature enough to be like, “Actually, what you all need is a business affairs group”?
Introducing TikToks into the Podcast Industry: How Podtrac Inflates Mobile Game Downloads from iHeartLand
They’re all looking for internships. The oldest is 17 years old. He’s going to start this journey now of trying to get into college. I will say it this way. How did you choose what you were going to do? I said, “All I can tell you is,” and this is where he rolls his eyes, “is that the job I have, the industry I work in, didn’t exist when I went to college. I did not have digital media when I went to college. So I said, “All I can tell you is just have your aperture be wide open, man. New things should be open to the industry. I was like, “You know, like the blockchain!”
Is it possible that our age is enough to have all of the things a business should have? Yes, of course we are. We’ve earned this. Everybody in this room has worked damn hard for the last 20 years to get to this point. For sure, we deserve and need it.
I have to ask about your numbers after you mentioned them. Notable Verge traitor Ashley Carman, who is in this room somewhere, wrote a great
at Bloomberg about Podtrac and how you might be inflating those numbers with mobile game downloads using the Jun Group. Are you doing that?
No. We used a company called Jun Group. We’ve talked with Ashley a lot about this. Jun Group is a vendor that drives marketing for podcast companies that is targeting mostly gamers, whether those are gamers playing Subway Surfer or people who overindex for the metaverse. Jun Group has been tested by us over the years. I think our stats were something like never more than 1 percent, 2 percent, 2.5 percent of our downloads in any given month.
We were especially interested in it because we were going to be launching a map called iHeartLand which was an island in the popular game,Fortnite. We were especially interested in, “If we got gamers into our podcast network, could we then bring them into these live shows in iHeartLand?” We no longer use it.
You can market your shows with your massive terrestrial network and now a massive podcasts network. Everyone else in this room is like, “We have to make TikToks because that is the future of all podcast marketing.” Sorry, I’m making TikToks. Go follow
Decoder on TikTok
, it’s great. Are you open to video? Is this something that you would like to do?
Yeah. They’re killing it right now. Our marketing team spends most of their time thinking about how to put house ads and then maybe 5 percent of their time on paid marketing. Paid marketing is still helpful, but like 95 percent of that is Facebook marketing for a specific show if it wants to hit a very specific demographic. Ninety-five percent. I think I’m being conservative about how much time is spent on how to run billions of ads a month.
I will talk you through why. Some of this is obvious. Like you said, yes, targeting is getting harder for digital social media platforms. In some part, because of what Apple’s moves are, but it’s getting harder. The quality of the online ad marketplace is going down. These are things that aren’t true. The tried and true way of selling things over the last 10, 20 years has gotten harder if you are a marketer. We’re starting to use words like “cohorts” instead of “one-to-one targeting.” It’s not as effective as it could be.
The trust issues are real on social media, and we have neglected to discuss them. Folks trusting social media less, influencers having less success on social media because of that, and therefore marketers being like, “I don’t know what to do with this. I used to use it as my go-to tool but now it is not.
Audio has come along as a result of that. In fact, it was always there, but now it has exploded. All of the attention now is on audio. Because you have this new platform that’s incredibly cool, and lots of great creators using it, and it’s 80 million Americans a week. Audio is a third of the media we consume. For a second, think about that. We ran a third-party research study two years ago with WARC. Only audio is a third of the media we consume. By the way, 75 percent of that third is broadcast radio. It’s a massive amount of the stuff we take in and that we call the media.
I’ll end on this. Marketing is a third of all the things that people take in. How much do I spend on audio marketing? They usually have a number between nine and 10 percent of their investment. It’s just a disconnect.
Yeah. If you love digital audio and you want real reach, there is no way to get real reach in digital audio. As much as I would love this to be the case, there is no way to get real reach in digital audio unless you contend with and purchase broadcast radio.
i Heart built a product called smart audio that was really cool in an effort to help with this. They take our panel listening to the iHeart radio app and look at it by location and the shows they are listening to on air. They can target digitally when it’s digitally infused with data. Nine out of 10 American adults are informed with a digital listening panel each month.
I only say this to you because that’s how we do that sale. We’re like, “Hey, you should buy podcasting. You should buy something like streaming. The reach extender is in this picture. You won’t have the reach you need if you don’t do this. Maybe one day you will, but not today.” Yes, we do that all the time.
The Times of the Ad Downturn: How Direct Response Brands (Apple, Twitter, and Facebook) Have Changed Their Advertising Strategy?
The companies I look at have the targeting capabilities. Apple is chaos, but the rest of the tech companies are hurting. Do you feel the pinch of the ad downturn?
The answer is that we are growing. The longer answer is that we are not in a normal economy. We’re all watching metrics daily — inflation rates, interest rates, unemployment rates, the Ukrainian war. We need certain things to calm down and other things to end. I think marketers in this moment are actually not turning down in advertising as much as you’d expect. Most of the people in power at marketing companies were in the position when the last major downturn happened and when the current one hit.
I don’t think this is wishful thinking. I think it’s real. I believe they know how stopping marketing can have a long-term effect. With a strange economy, there’s more of a prioritization of continuing marketing because there is more of a sense that it could be better if the memory of COVID-19 wasn’t so fresh.
I think there is more to it for influencer marketing. It kind of never went away, but now we’re back to this again. It is possible that the tools of targeting get harder, so people are just cycling back to their old ways of telling stories. This benefits from the practice of being a journalist. The whole podcast industry is the most amazing, best storytellers to hit media in a long time and we benefit from there being more attention on the market.
It has made direct response brands lives a little harder because there is a lot of competition for their best kept secrets. We’ve actually noticed in the last two or three months that it’s a very timely question for us at our businesses, because I feel like we’ve moved off the direct response business too fast. I think it is still a very successful business. Ad results, Veritone, and Oxford road are all great ad agencies that work for performance marketing companies. We are paying more attention to it in the last two or three months and we are making that more of a focus. We moved off too fast. I think it’s a good business to focus on. It is also how we ended up here.
Yes, usually. Is everything direct response at the end of the day? Yeah, you’re right. It’s redemption codes and URL codes. Those guys were the first to make use of the podcasting platform because it was the only type of marketer that didn’t need your data.
What Is The Distraction About Subscriptions: The Role of the Media in the Discovery of New Physics, and How We Are Using It
I don’t know. I don’t know that it needs innovation. It’s worked for them for 10, 15 years. I think we can do all the innovating with different kinds of marketers from bigger brands, bigger budgets, and maybe long-term, multi-year campaigns.
When we launched a company like The Black Effect with Charlamagne, we had huge annual sponsors that were deeply ingrained in that company. We were working to make change happen. The direct response folks are allowed to innovate in their own ways, and that is okay with me. You might think it is crazy, but the extent to which you are innovation by iterating many different reads, at many different lengths, and different placements across a show, is surprising. I know that sounds like, “eh, it’s kind of boring.” I want to be a part of that multi-billion dollar business, it is not for them.
Is there a glass-walled conference rooms where they come up with funnier promo codes? I would like to go to that meeting. I have thought about it. We have a few minutes left. You mentioned that you had experimented with subscriptions. I have been listening to you in the past. You’ve been more or less anti-subscription. Why is that happening?
I just don’t see it fixing anything that’s broken. When I subscribed to the service 10 years ago, it made sense to me. The problem it was solving, the price point was undeniable, it made perfect sense to me. I can’t find a reason in the audio files.
I think creators are starting to see that subscription models come with exclusive or windowing of content. I don’t believe that there is a creator on the planet who would want to ruin their audience size for the sake of money. That is interesting. I think that’s creator psychology, like, “Actually, sometimes it’s more important for me to have a large listener pool than it is to have a big check.” I think that the press has done a good job recently of focusing on that.
The counterexample there is obviously
Joe Rogan at Spotify
. Huge exclusives, Spotify got whatever out of it, we don’t know how Joe Rogan feels about it. Then on the other side, you have MrBeast, who literally gives away money to start a hamburger chain that will make him a billionaire.
IHeart Media Radio: How to Market and Grow the Podcasts and Podcasts of Malcolm Gladwell, Shonda Rhimes, and Charlamagne tha God
Yes. When we sit with Malcolm Gladwell, Shonda Rhimes, Questlove, or Charlamagne tha God, our own radio DJ, the pitch is, “I assure you every single episode of what we make will be available to any listener, wherever they want to pick it up.”
That was my next question there. Do you offer rev shares to your creators? With subscription it works out, but with advertising it doesn’t.
I hate to answer it so vaguely. It is incredibly collaborative. A month or two after such-and-such advertiser has decided to take on the entire slate, they will not be surprised to learn that they hate that brand. It is not how it works. I think it is due to high attention at scale with partners that we have been able to maintain.
Gladwell has a large collection of shows. Our partnership with him is to monetize his shows better than he thinks he could himself, but to also co-produce a whole new slate of shows. We can make more revenue by adding iHeart marketing to it, because we grow the whole thing bigger. We do advertising models with Malcolm and the team. We will do standard, straight up, quick turn ads. We also have an original content series we make with IBM called Smart Talks with IBM. That is actually a fantastic show we make together. Everything in between.
The National Football League is very similar to it. They had a number of podcasts that they were making. We had a good relationship with the league. He was saying that he believes in the medium. I think it’s really cool. I do not know if we will get this right and we want to partner with someone really big. It’s a very similar model to Pushkin Industries. We pulled in their seven and eight podcasts with the promise that we would market and monetize them better. There are a lot of new stuff we are co- producing.
The Verge: A New Platform for the Discovery of New Compositions in the Internet and in the Podcast. The Revealing Big Money Players Network
We have talked about a lot of your shows, and we have talked about all of the new things you’re doing. iHeart does a lot of new things. There is always something new happening. I have a card that is labeled NFTs. I know how it went. How did the event go? Lightning round. Do you support up or down on NFTs?
Yeah, we did a great
Decoder episode with Chris Dixon
, the lead partner for that stuff at Andreessen Horowitz. It did not go well for him. Not good. That is where the money went.
You introduced a lot of new things. I was looking at your website when we started. A lot of people watch lots of rewatch and listen to all of the shows in the format. There are these formats that hit, the things you lead with, but then there is an enormous long tail of stuff. Because if you’re launching new stuff, you’ve built the archive, you built the library. Do you tend to the things that aren’t celebrity shows in the library? How do you make sure they get attention? How do you make sure they sustain?
I’ll give two answers. First of all, it is not mutually exclusive. Will and I started a company called Big Money Players. The reason we started this company was because I think he genuinely had a blast making The Ron Burgundy Podcast. I think more importantly, he saw the potential of the podcast medium to be a way for him to find, develop, and break new comedic talent in America.
This is an adage for people that have worked in video. “Fast, cheap, and good. You have the option to pick two. I think he realized that he doesn’t have to pick. I can get all three, all the time. This is very unique.” So we launched a company together.
My point is that he uses the company to find new comedy talent that is the long tail and that is why he answered this way. In the Big Money Players network, comedic talent like Langston Kerman or Carolina Barlow are right alongside folks like Bowen Yang, Nikki Glaser, or Eric André. That’s really cool, but it’s not mutually exclusive.
What is the medium that we’re looking for in the future? The long-term relic story of a man speaking a dying language
The second thing we do is spend a lot of time focusing on every show that we have on our network. We try to organize them into slates that have EPs and producers on top of them. It’s back to the org chart a little bit with this.
I’ll give you an example of a show. A guy doing a show in Alaska, and he was one of about 20 to 30 people who spoke a dying language. He used his podcast as a way to capture that language and report on how a language dies off the face of the earth, never to come back. This relic is a limited series of recordings about this language and why it meant something to this guy. That is technically a long tail show. That got its own set of executive producers out of LA who shepherd the NextUp program. So it’s a bit of an answer, but hopefully it gives you a sense of how it’s never mutually exclusive for us. It’s not like, “I spent 95 percent of our time on Will Ferrell. Okay, I guess we have some calls to make at the end of the day to the long tail.” It’s either the same slate or one continuum.
Do you think that you’re moving the high-margin dollars into the longer tail? It’s probably cheaper to buy those shows, it might be cheaper to produce those shows. Is that math you are doing?
It’s not really. We have doubled down on our model of partnering with a creator, like Shonda Rhimes, who would like a long-term playground. Who wants to be able to try stuff a lot, make a few mistakes, get it righter and righter, and then hit something big — or two or three things. Standing back and watching how her and the Shondaland audio team work, it seems they want to use this medium to do two things so far. One is really good companion content to a lot of the shows they’re making for Netflix. That feels obvious to me. It has good content. The other is an audio drama. What is the audio drama today?
A small amount. I don’t have it candidly on a P&L anywhere. I don’t depend on it. I am not sure what we will get. Hollywood is a difficult, complicated industry, it’s nothing new to say that. So I don’t depend on it, but we have seen some traction there across 10, 12 shows getting optioned and it’s meaningful, with huge partners in Hollywood. It’s been fun, if nothing else.
Iheart Media Radio Podcasting (Digital Ceo Conal Byrne): I Don’t Want You to Know, I Can’t Tell You
I really just keep going back to this notion that it’s perfect the way it is. You have a medium. Do you know how hard it is to make a mass-reach medium, that 80 million Americans a week are like, “I’m going to do that today”? They do it for an hour a day. It isn’t like a low-engagement medium. That’s my only fear with video.
Stuff is one of our shows with video. They Don’t Want You to Know, and it’s awesome. You should subscribe to it. It’s three guys who are hilarious and fantastic. I’m not overly protective of the other 3,000 shows. They don’t need to be if they don’t want to be. They’re just audio podcasts and that’s awesome.” That is the way I think about it.
The Decoder Question: Where are you? Where do you stand? How do you decide what to do? Where to start? How to make decisions?
I want to wrap up with the Decoder question. I ask everybody. I feel like you have a strong conviction, so I might know how you’re going to answer this, but I do ask everybody what they think. You have to make a lot of decisions. You have had different types of careers, you have to make decisions in regards to structure and video. What is your framework for making decisions? How do you do it?
The Power of Simplicity: How to Avoid Overcomplicating and Overcomplicate in Meetings and in Competitions, and How to Keep It Simple
Humans have a predilection for overcomplicating things. They typically will do it for one of two reasons. They want to do a great job. They have this instinct to do good work, so they will try to over-perform and overcomplicate a task. They are covering up bad work. They’ll overcomplicate in order to camouflage something they probably shouldn’t have done. We will avoid simplicity almost all the time. Just simplicity. Be as simple as you can in your answers, in your approaches, in your strategies. Everything, I promise you, is simpler than you think.
The thing is more of a human thing. Most of the people who are acting strange, or acting badly were born out of fear. It’s not that they’re bad people. They’re just insecure. If you have that framework when you walk into every meeting — every creator meeting, every partner meeting, every competitor meeting — it changes your whole outlook.
The HotPod Summit: How Many of You Really Met at Work x Work and How Much of Your Contribution to Decoder on TikTok?
I have not mastered this, by the way. A friend told me about it a year or two ago. He said it and I was still like, Oh my God. That’s right.” We all do this. If there are principles that I try to remember once a week or so, it’s probably those three.
Thanks to all of you for coming to the HotPod Summit. Thanks to the person who did the job, Ariel. Our partners at Work x Work. I think that is the end. Go make good decisions and follow Decoder on TikTok.
I hope you all had a great week! Hot Pod Summit was a lot of fun — it was great to meet so many of you in person and chat about some of the biggest issues in the industry.
We will have more on that below, but first, some acknowledgments. Big thanks to our partners at work x work and the whole They brought the event to the Wythe Hotel and they had a great time. Without the help of my coworkers, I wouldn’t have made it through this. We were so fortunate that the Decoder team were able to put on a live show at the summit. You can hear Nilay Patel’s interview with Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia’s digital audio group, right here.
A Hot Pod Summit Interview with Kai Chuk and Steve McLendon: Podcasting on YouTube and Podcasting at Penguin Random House Audio
And finally, thank you to our sponsors for the event: AdsWizz and Subtext. AdsWizz is a self-serve advertising platform for creating and running audio ads. Subtext is a text messaging platform designed to connect creators directly with their subscribers.
Love to break some news at Hot Pod Summit. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kai Chuk, head of podcasting at YouTube, and Steve McLendon, Google’s product lead for podcasting, and talk about their plans for the medium. The crux of it: podcasts will soon be available on YouTube Music in both the free and paid versions. It marks a major departure from YouTube’s video-first approach to podcasting so far.
“There’s a whole new cohort of users and creators who we haven’t really been optimizing for as well as we can,” said YouTube podcasting chief Kai Chuk. “That’s something that we do want to change.”
OnYouTube Music, there will be access to features they have come to expect from other platforms, like background listening, downloads, speed control, and the ability to switch between video and audio. McLendon also said the team is working on integrating RSS into the platform; at launch, though, the platform is essentially just enabling a better consumption experience for existing video podcasts. YouTube is larger than proper, with 2.5 billion users and 80 million subscribers. Searchability and reach are some of the factors that determine YouTube’s edge. Both Chuk and McLendon said that it doesn’t have to be an approach.
McLendon used his own experience as an example when he decided to listen to the audio version when he got home from work because he found a Kevin Systrom interview on YouTube while he was at his computer. Allowing consumers to hop from one to the other is going to be a priority. The user journey will be a part of the seamless ways we bridge some of those experiences.
I was excited to discover that audiobooks were part of the story as they got a big player with the purchase of Findaway. I spoke with Spotify’s head of audiobooks, Nir Zicherman, as well as author and podcaster Gretchen Rubin and Penguin Random House Audio’s senior vice president of production, Dan Zitt. With the whole pipeline represented — creator, publisher, and platform — we were able to examine how Spotify’s plans for shifting the business model of audiobooks could impact the industry.
Former Spotify content and advertising chief Dawn Ostroff mentioned at an investor event last year that audiobooks could be available for free, supported by advertising. Zicherman would not say whether Spotify would go down that path but only said that the model would be “interesting” (cryptic!). He also mentioned that Spotify is looking into a Netflix-style subscription option as well.
Rubin has another book out this spring and used ad-supported distribution for her own work. “On the one hand, a listener might really like advertising support, because then that means it’s free to them. That could bring more people to my job that wouldn’t normally get it. “On the other hand, we all know that if people are used to paying for something, you would rather them keep paying for it, rather than starting to give it to them for free. Because once people give something for free, it can be hard to reel that back.”
Zitt was also intrigued, if concerned, about what it could mean for the ability of creators to make a living. The menu of options in how people sell content is a good thing, since creators are being paid fairly for the content. The models that came and went were not beneficial for the artist, only for the platform.
Exploring Dark Sides of the Universe: How Perotti and Witness Docs Determine the Cost of a Limited-Random Narrative Podcast
How much does it cost to make a limited-run narrative podcast? “$250,000 is the floor to make truly good narrative, engaging content,” said Osborn. I would rather make less money than get more from the resources we have. And if the story requires travel or lengthy investigations, that will push the price tag up even higher.
Perotti explained how, when he went out pitching the show that became last year’s critically acclaimed series Welcome to Provincetown, he got no bites. He was able to finance the project until he got investment from Witness Docs. The risk was worth it. We own the feed because we did it that way. Not only do we own the feed, it’s going to be a television show, or at least it’s been optioned for television,” he said. I understand that it is a lottery ticket. But that’s value.”