What not to do when your podcast app gets acquired
Hello, hello. Welcome back to Tuesday; I hope everyone has found ways to keep “working” ahead of the holiday and isn’t daydreaming too much about the hoards of food we here in the US will be eating in just a couple days. Today’s issue is a hodgepodge of things — a nice mix. Today, we’re talking about what happens when a podcast app gets acquired, ExxonMobil “duping” The Daily, and more.
In February, Acast, the Europe-based hosting and monetization company, acquired RadioPublic, a podcast player and company known for its creator-centric technology. The acquisition was billed to me as a way for Acast to take over the podcast space and become big in the US. Notably, Matt MacDonald, co-founder and chief product officer of RadioPublic, told me at the time: “We have no intention of spinning [the RadioPublic] app down.”
But now, nine months after the purchase, podcasters say the app is borked and not updating. New episodes aren’t regularly uploaded on certain show pages; some podcasters can’t publicly list new shows; and, beyond that, many say they can’t get in touch with the company despite reaching out through a dedicated support email and social media. The issue appears to have been going on for months. Lots of people have tweeted to the company, but I’ll include a couple screenshots below so you can get an idea.
One podcaster, Klaudia Amenábar, who hosts the queer Star Wars podcast RuPalp’s Podrace, tells me she ran into issues when trying to distribute the show on RadioPublic. Although her RSS feed worked fine on all other listening apps, whenever she tried to make it publicly available on RadioPublic, she received an error message. This went on, she says, for months and still isn’t fixed. MacDonald emailed her directly, once she tweeted at Acast’s account, and told her the team was “unable to help individual podcasts diagnose a specific error,” according to a screenshot viewed by The Verge. She later tried to also distribute a second show with a separate RSS feed and received the same error. Her hosting provider, Simplecast, troubleshot her RSS feed to ensure nothing strange was going on, she says, and, “at the end, they were like, ‘That’s really weird, it must be a RadioPublic problem.’”
I reached out to Acast for comment and got this: “We’re aware of an issue that currently appears to affect a small number of feeds on the RadioPublic platform, impacting the submission and display of new content. We understand this is frustrating for the creators affected and for fans trying to access new content from the affected feeds. Our team is investigating the cause and is working to get this resolved as soon as possible. We will share an update with the community once we have more information.”
Now, RadioPublic isn’t a top app or even remotely essential to podcasters’ distribution strategy. (Dave Zohrob, CEO at Chartable, tells me over the past 30 days, it accounted for less than 0.1 percent of listens, as did Justin Jackson, co-founder of Transistor.fm, from March data, which, yeah, not great, but also not helped by the fact that at least some shows can’t get their episodes to update.) But the reason I bring this story up is because of the many acquisitions we’ve seen in this space and to use this as an example of how not to handle it, particularly if you interface with podcasters directly. Don’t leave them in the lurch. Another podcaster I spoke with, David Cameo, the founder and host of Squawking Dead, a Walking Dead podcast, tells me he had embedded the RadioPublic player on his website for four years until the company went silent.
“I just gave up on them. Had to. Nobody cares.”
A conversation is brewing around how oil companies are using podcast ads to advance their messaging and brand. Emily Atkin over at the Heated newsletter wrote last week about an ExxonMobil ad that ran in The Daily that she says is misleading. (Check out Atkin’s post for the specifics of the ad and her proposed edits.)
She writes that the ad “appeared to violate The Daily’s policy against fossil fuel sponsorships.” However, a Times spokesperson told her: “We do not allow oil and gas companies to sponsor The Daily wholesale,” but “[any] company can place spot advertising within The Daily podcast, as long as it meets our advertising acceptability guidelines.”
Also worth adding to the story here is Drilled podcast host Amy Westervelt’s thread on other oil companies and oil-reliant brands utilizing podcast ads. One person notes Politico’s Energy podcast is sponsored by Chevron, which indeed appears to be true, just as another example.
Still, this line between sponsorships and spot advertising is definitely an odd one for the Times to draw, and I won’t pretend to understand it. But I did reach out to a few folks on the ad side of things to figure out how the Times’ fact-checking process usually goes and whether this ad rang alarm bells for them. One ad buyer told me they’ve had the Times push back on ad copy and request data or research to support what’s being said. They also said claims aren’t allowed to be made; neither are endorsements. Others didn’t seem shocked by what was being said in this particular ad. One person equated Exxon’s “clever wording” to how tech companies often market their products — hyping a new feature — but doubted the Times’ listeners would be duped into thinking Exxon has nothing to do with oil so easily.
Broadly, I imagine this is only the start of broader pushback on misleading ads, as well as strange brand / content pair-ups, both from the public and podcast hosts. This might happen for a few reasons: 1.) As more indie shows go corporate, they cede control over their advertisers to bigger and hungrier sales teams. 2.) As more money enters the space, of which I will have much more to say in the coming weeks, larger advertisers are flooding in, often those who run more controversial businesses. 3.) Dynamic Ad Insertion becoming more popular means more shows are allowing ad marketplaces to automatically insert ads based on audience targeting. This might yield undesired pairings.
All of which is to say, I’m keeping a close eye on how this nets out. We’ve come to expect some bizarre display ads to show up alongside the articles we read online. We probably even feel the same way about radio ads. Will that expectation of shitty ads come to podcasts, too?
You might recall people pointing out months ago that Apple Podcasts maintained an abysmally low app rating. People hate it, I guess. So imagine the shock and awe when positive reviews started pouring in, raising its rating from 1.8 stars to 4.6. The catch, however, is that these reviews all extoll various podcasts, not the app itself. My colleague Sean Hollister has the full story, but Apple confirmed that it’s relying on a new review prompt. “With iOS 15.1 released last month, Apple Podcasts began prompting listeners to leave a rating and review just like most third-party apps — using the standard Rating & Review prompt available to all developers,” said an Apple spokesperson. People are just confused about what they’re supposed to be reviewing. The power of an in-app push!
The Information reports (from behind a paywall) that Facebook is resorting to cash to get creators to use its Live Audio Rooms feature. Per the piece: “Facebook is offering to pay musicians and other creators $10,000 to $50,000 per session on its five-month-old live audio product, plus a fee for guests of $10,000 or more,” according to “people with direct knowledge of deal terms.”
At that price, hosts have to put together four to six live programs lasting at least 30 minutes each. I will be shocked if anyone tunes into these rooms, honestly, but I can’t fault people for wanting to get the $$$. However, what I don’t fully understand about these tech companies spending millions to get people to try their new feature is whether any of these users will actually stick around when the cash runs out. An open question at this point.