Anchor 3.0

Anchor, the fascinating broadcast app, released “Version 3.0” yesterday and pivoted away from a mobile only, short form, “Snapchat for audio” experience and into podcast hosting.

Creating and sustaining a new consumer format is incredibly hard (see Bumpers, Rolltape, 60db) so pivoting to creator tools is both interesting but also predictable.

There were a couple of things buried in Tech Crunch’s coverage that jumped out at me:

1) Adding a keyboard and mouse experience.

The web version offers a more advanced editor with the ability to upload audio files from your computer and re-use recordings from your Anchor history.

The phone is a great capture device but any creator more serious than a total beginner needs a better editing experience than can be made on a 5” screen.

2) No Anchor videos.

Anchor videos, which turns audio into shareable, video clips (which will be re-added to the new app in a later release)

Those Anchor videos were also a curious product that I couldn’t quite place into a larger strategy. It seemed like quite a few podcast creators used them (although if they were that popular Anchor probably wouldn’t have removed them in v3.0) but since you couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to any podcast in Anchor, it just directed listeners away from Anchor and on to other podcast players.

3) Free hosting. This feels like a double edged sword – yes offering free services will pull in new users but I can’t help wondering how serious and how long term a creator’s ambition is if they won’t pony up $10 a month for hosting? I could argue that money coming out of your pocket every month is quite an incentive to keep on cranking out content.

All this has me pondering, is this a $10M opportunity?

Does Podcasting Need a New Format?

While VR podcasts are a way off, adding a visual layer to podcasting is an area that’s heating up. We’ve seen product experiments last month with Spotlight from Spotify and last week The Guardian revealed a show called StrangeBird that adds images to a documentary podcast. Spotlight feels much like watching a portrait video while The Guardian takes a less interruptive approach - no video, but timed stills with a small audio cue to tell the listener that there is a new thing to look at. Try StrangeBird here.

If you’re an indie creator wanting to experiment with more visuals, you might think you’re out of luck. Spotify only works with big publishers to create Spotlight (Buzzfeed, Cheddar and Gimlet Media) and The Guardian’s offering is all made in-house. But Marco Arment has also released a system for adding visuals to podcasts. His Forecast MP3 encoder, makes it easy for creators to mark cue points in a podcast and insert images and links that will appear to the listener in his Overcast player. Note that this all uses existing protocols (chapter markers are just an under-used part of the ID3 spec) and doesn’t need any proprietary tech to create so any creator can use this right now to add synced visuals to their podcast. If you know of any examples of shows using this in Overcast to good effect, please send them in (contact details at the top of this very page).

Do Podcasts Need More Visuals?

I’m not yet convinced that adding video or time synced images to podcasts actually improves the experience for the listener.

Once you add moving images to a podcast, you have moved the experience from being additive (“I love to listen while I… commute/clean/walk the dog”) to being immersive (“I’ll sit on my couch and consume this episode”) and now you are competing for attention with the likes of YouTube and Netflix. Which feels like a fight you don’t want to be in.

The experience of StrangeBird is deliberately less interruptive but I still found myself with this anxiety of not wanting to miss a photo - “Quick! Look at my phone before the next beep!”.

Maybe the best experience isn’t actually in real time with the audio? I would go seek out the S-Town and Serial websites after each episode - maybe the solution is just better show notes? Image support is there in show notes, in fact any HTML can be used but why aren’t creators using shown notes more creatively?

As James Cridland found when he surveyed how 19 podcast players treated show notes, its a very messy landscape right now. Who wants to go to the effort of creating great show notes when there is such poor support for the listener to actually see them?

It is also time consuming to add images using the current podcast hosting platforms. You have to go upload an image to a 3rd party host and then manually paste the link back in to your publishing platform. I would love to see something like GitHub’s easy method for adding images to HTML (drag an image from your computer and GitHub uploads it to their own servers and inserts a Markdown link for you).

The final problem with enhanced show notes is that on most players the default action is to delete an episode as soon as its finished it and so that makes it difficult for the listener to go back and see the show notes after they have finished the episode.

Why Do Audioboom and Triton Digital Want to Merge?

Aliya Ram and Katie Martin writing in the Financial Times (sorry for the paywall):

AudioBoom, the UK podcasting company…, will be merged with larger US rival Triton Digital in a £134m deal that will allow them to expand in the fast-growing market for radio advertising.

What does Triton Digital and Audioboom do exactly?

Triton Digital does a whole bunch of things under a ‘tech services for radio’ umbrella but its main focus is on automating ad placement. TAP (Triton Advertising Platform) offers dynamic ad insertion for broadcast radio and radio streaming services and provides tools for broadcasters to automate converting their live broadcast content into on-demand content. It launched an ad platform for podcasts in January 2016 and signed NPR to use it.

Audioboom offers similar tech services but entirely for podcasting: hosting, analytics and its own ad platform. They too were focused on the enterprise customer but in June 2017 they opened up their $9.99 tier for creators with fewer than 10,000 listens per month. Audioboom is active in a couple of areas that Triton Digital isn’t - Audioboom has a content business, recently signing with Casefile as exclusive distributor and they have announced three new original shows. They also have an ad sales business and have just hired a veteran sales executive (there was some questions about whether the ad sales side of the business would continue after the merger this new hire signals it will).

What Do They Get out of This Merger?

My guess is that the main appeal for Trition Digital is that this is a way to go public (and so provide value back to their investors) without the cost and effort of a traditional IPO. The deal sees that the Board of Triton Digital remains unchanged. AudioBoom’s share price hit a high of 16.625GBP in September 2014 but at the time of writing shares were worth 3.60GBP. Audioboom is a public company listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (which allows smaller companies to float shares with a more flexible regulatory system than London’s main market). The merged group will trade as Triton Digital Group PLC, a UK publicly traded company.

With broadcast radio, Triton Digital finds itself with a strong presence in a declining industry as listeners move to streaming and on demand services. Podcasting is super buzzy right now (indeed, any fool thinks he can start a blog about the podcast industry) so this merger strengthens Triton’s presence in the growing podcast industry.

For Audioboom this would open up the North American market to them (they are strong in the UK but with a much smaller presence in the US) and so access to US radio market for their original content. Yes, radio is in decline but just yesterday the New York Times announced it was going to start making a radio edition of The Daily so there is life in radio yet.

Further reading: Audioboom’s notice to UK regulators about the merger

Bumpers Shuts Down

Sad news from Bumpers this week:

Sadly we need to start the process of shutting down Bumpers & Captioned.

Despite a very talented team and raising $1M in seed funding in October 2016, it seems like they didn’t find the growth they were looking for.

We have been working to broaden podcasting for the last 3 years now and but due to lack of growth and funding we aren’t able to continue any longer.

The app was gorgeous and the creation flow was very slick but as I wrote back in June 2016 when Rolltape closed down, I’ve never felt good about casual audio creation. I totally get that “Twitter for audio” is an appealing idea but the nature of audio being “something I consume while doing something else” means its hard to build an engaging app built on that premise. These days it’s hard just to get people to install a new app. Also, the quality of mics in smartphones isn’t good enough yet to make compelling audio for the discerning listener. The Bumpers team also tried to pivot to video with Captioned but that too will be closed down.
I wish the team the best and am excited to see what they build next.

Podcasting and Money

Jake Shapiro writing on the RadioPublic blog, “Why we are introducing Paid Listens for podcasters on RadioPublic”:

…podcasters make ad-free episodes available in their feeds, we place ads on our platform that bookend each episode, and we pay participating podcasters for every listen on the RadioPublic apps for iOS and Android, at a $20 CPM.

I wrote about Dynamo earlier this week who are also offering a way for smaller podcasts to monetize. Compare the delivery models though; Dynamo is a server-side offering that rehosts the original episode file which means you’ll need to update the RSS location with iTunes and everywhere else, and since your podcast is being served from Dynamo this affects reporting back to your publishing platform.
RadioPublic own the player so they don’t need to mess with the original file, they can just ask the player “play this 30 second file before this episode” and there is no need to update RSS feeds or change reporting. Since RadioPublic offer only preroll and postroll ads, there is no interface needed to let you go in and mark the entry points of the ad for each episode like you need to do with Dynamo. Of course this means that a creator only gets paid for listens on the RadioPublic app and Dynamo will pay for listens on all platforms. Dynamo hasn’t published its ad rates though so I compare which might be more profitable for a creator.

Other than the technical implications (that player insertion is probably easier than rehosting and creating a UI for setting mark points), why only limit Paid Listens to the RadioPublic mobile app? Well this is also a marketing play - podcasters are incentivized to push listeners to use the RadioPublic app rather than other players.

I’m reminded of a fascinating interview on The Wolf Den podcast, Max Temkin talks about the idea behind setting up the Chicago Podcast Cooperative (starts around the 16:00 mark). They blanket bought ads for all the shows in the co-op, the hosts read them at the top of the show and got $50 per episode. It wasn’t about getting rich, it was about getting new podcasters into a rhythm of regularly producing content and having that small financial incentive really helped. Recall that Hello From The Magic Tavern came out of the CPC, which was a great deal for advertisers - they now have their ad in the first episodes of a hugely popular show. In the case of Hello From The Magic Tavern then grew too large for the CPC and went over to Midroll to manage the ad buys for them. What is the progression for RadioPublic? How will they support successful shows when they want to earn more than $20 CPM?

Further reading: FAQs about Paid Listens and Paid Listens Terms and Conditions

Pacific Content Rebrand Branded Podcasts

With a clickbait title of “Branded Podcasts Are Dead”, Pacific Content (the company behind podcasts for Dell, Slack and Prudential) decide to call their work “Original Podcasts With Brands”:

We thought long and hard about what our product really stands for. We thought about how we want audiences, clients, and our producers to think about our shows. And we thought about what sort of language already exists to describe the types of shows we strive to produce.
And then we found it.
“Original podcasts with brands.”

I agree that “branded podcast” was a sightly odd term, conjuring cattle ranching rather than content promoting a multinational corporation, and it had a slightly unpalatable edge to it:

“Branded podcasts” made it sound like we were producing shows that were more about promoting our clients instead of our clients creating shows to make their current and potential customers really, really happy.

However some of the improvements they claim to have seen since changing the name seem a like pure PR fluff:

…the name change has impacted podcast audiences. We now see our shows treated as they should be — like an original show that audiences truly love listening to. The ratings and reviews for the shows have become raves, the audience numbers have skyrocketed and hit all-time highs, and the appreciation for the brands producing the shows has been exceptionally positive.

Making great content is the only way to build an audience (hello) but for all their good intentions do not forgot that this is advertising content created as part of a global marketing strategy for business conglomerates.

Podcasting Goes to Hollywood

Hark, two articles appear about podcasting and Hollywood!

Nicholas Quah, writing for Vulture:

We’re neck-deep in an age that features both Peak TV and a movie business with an ever-decreasing tolerance for failure, and the two industries are aggressively looking for anything that has a built-in crowd to snatch up and further monetize, because it’s much less risky to option content than to develop original IP within their higher-stakes, higher-cost environments. And lo, Podcastland these days is a hoppin’, dynamic, and comparatively lower-stakes/lower-reward place that boasts really, really engaged audience bases.

Not much else to add but recall that Gimlet formally announced Gimlet Pictures headed up by Chris Giliberti yesterday.

The second article, from Variety, contained a hidden nugget regarding the number of “active” podcasts in Apple’s eco-system:

Apple Podcasts, as the recently re-branded platform is now known, features more than 500,000 active podcasts, including content in more than 100 languages

Of course, how you define “active” is anyone’s guess. Serial hasn’t published an episode since March 31, 2016…

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