Big moves, big money as major media get in on podcasts

This March 20, 2018, file photo shows the Spotify app on an iPad in Baltimore. Music streaming service Spotify is buying podcast companies Gimlet and Anchor as it looks to take on Apple's popular iTunes' podcasting platform. (AP)
Updated 10 February 2019
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Big moves, big money as major media get in on podcasts

  • In a media sector experiencing rapid changes, podcasts are a ray of sunshine, easily adapting to consumer habits, whether it’s listening on a smartphone or through car speakers
  • The public radio station boasted nearly 17 million monthly listeners of its podcasts last year

NEW YORK: With growth rates and audiences that investors can’t resist, podcasts are attracting media’s biggest players — including streaming giant Spotify, which has made its mark with the acquisition of a sector heavyweight.
To acquire Gimlet Media — considered by some to be the industry’s most advanced podcast creator — the Swedish firm did not hesitate to shell out $230 million, according to estimates from specialist site Hot Pod.
And it has not stopped there, announcing other acquisitions for a global portfolio worth between $400-500 million this year.
In a media sector experiencing rapid changes, podcasts are a ray of sunshine, easily adapting to consumer habits, whether it’s listening on a smartphone or through car speakers.
Just 15 years ago, they barely existed — but 73 million Americans listened to at least one a month in 2018, according to a study by Edison Research.
Some mergers and acquisitions have already taken place — including Midroll’s 2015 purchase by broadcaster Scripps for $50 million, or iHeartMedia’s acquisition of Stuff Media for $55 million.
But the time for splashing big cash has arrived — in a universe still mostly dominated, at least in the US, by NPR. The public radio station boasted nearly 17 million monthly listeners of its podcasts last year.
“The ripple effects of this deal is going to be wild,” wrote Nicholas Quah of Hot Pod, predicting that media companies will now jump on the podcasting bandwagon, “regardless of whether they have an actual, informed strategy around such an acquisition.”
These days, nine-figure sums are the norm — on Wednesday, Californian startup Himalaya Media announced it had raised $100 million to launch its podcast network, backed by China’s Ximalaya FM.

As well as being the latest media trend, podcasts are attractive to investors and advertisers thanks to, from a business perspective, highly desirable audiences: young, well-educated and earning a higher than average salary.
In fact, about 51 percent of monthly podcast listeners in the US pulled in at least $75,000 a year, according to the Edison Research study. Of the entire US population, 38 percent earn the same figures.
But a key question is podcasts’ economic model going forward. For now, it is based primarily on advertising.
The sector’s advertising revenues are growing fast, and should reach $659 million in 2020, according to a 2018 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. But that is still far from the amounts generated by radio.
The two main podcasting platforms — Apple and Android — are free, offering creators no revenue.
Others, such as Stitcher, offer paid subscriptions — while Castbox allow producers to implement a paywall which makes the listener pay after a few free downloads.
Spotify has yet to reveal its Gimlet integration strategy, but has already been pushing the dual revenue opportunities: advertising on one hand, paid subscriptions on the other.
Himalaya is starting on a free model, but allow listeners to “tip” their favorite shows with micropayments.
Eventually, it plans to offer paid content.
“The US market has shown that it can support paid content and other large international markets have developed models even stronger in premium,” marketing Vice President Peter Vincer told Variety magazine.
“This is the end of an era, the one that was kicked off in 2014 with the ‘Serial Boom,’” wrote Quah, referencing the most-downloaded podcast of all time. “I’ll miss it.”


Arab News at 44: Online Pakistan edition has formed its own regional identity

Updated 20 April 2019
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Arab News at 44: Online Pakistan edition has formed its own regional identity

  • Arab News expanded its footprint entering Pakistan in mid 2017
  • Its Pakistan Edition was founded on February 2018 and has been a major success

ISLAMABAD: Arab News’ online Pakistan edition, which launched on Feb. 8, 2018, has established itself as a credible extension of the Riyadh-based newspaper, which today marks its 44th anniversary.
Arab News entered Pakistan as part of the newspaper’s ongoing global and digital expansion, and to tap news from other parts of Asia, hiring skilled journalists and freelance contributors.
An exclusive interview in October 2018 with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was newly elected as prime minister at the time, catapulted Arab News in Pakistan.
Realizing the news potential in the country, Arab News capitalized on its success and set up a bureau, but not before landing more special reports that grabbed the local media’s attention and attracted a larger readership.
The website www.arabnews.pk became the parent organization’s first in a series of country-specific online editions that the newspaper is planning to launch, and is part of its “more digital, more global” strategy.
Former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, who on Thursday was appointed minister for science and technology, officially inaugurated the newspaper’s Pakistan bureau earlier this year.
Led by award-winning veteran journalist Baker Atyani, and under the guidance of Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, the team at the Pakistan edition has worked diligently to penetrate the country’s vibrant news market.
As such, followership of the newspaper’s Pakistan social media account has quickly ballooned.
Its online coverage of the first visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan in February was widely praised.
Arab News published special reports and features on the deep-rooted and diversifying ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Also a major hit was Abbas’s exclusive, lengthy sit-down with President Dr. Arif Alvi during the crown prince’s visit.
Another exclusive that garnered a serious online buzz was on Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris offering to build 100,000 housing units in Pakistan.
The Pakistan edition has kept a special focus on business and finance, and has spoken with movers and shakers, including those in the corridors of power.
In August 2018, it exposed the ruling party’s hit single “Rok Sako To Rok Lo Tabdeeli Aayi Re,” produced for the last general election, as being suspiciously similar to a remixed version of the Indian religious song “Bankya Maa Re Nach. The report was instantly picked up by Pakistani media.
Days before the election, Atyani conducted a one-on-one exclusive with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Arab News’ Pakistan edition is part of the regional publishing giant Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). With the edition’s success, the SRMG is looking to replicate the model across Asia.