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.”


REVIEW: Second season of Sacred Games mirrors the ills of today's India

Updated 17 August 2019
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REVIEW: Second season of Sacred Games mirrors the ills of today's India

CHENNAI: The first season of “Sacred Games” last year was a hit, and the second edition, which began streaming on Netflix on Aug. 15, may be even more so.

The eight episodes explore some of India's most pressing current issues such as a nuclear threat, terrorism and inter-religious animosity dating back to the country's 1947 partition. It. It also addresses how religious men can indulge in the most unholy of acts, including helping corrupt politicians.

Some of the greatest films have had conflict and war as their backdrop: “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “Ben-Hur” and “Garam Hawa,” to mention a few. The second season of “Sacred Games” also unfolds in such a scenario, with terrorism and inter-communal disharmony having a rippling effect on the nation.

Directed by Anurag Kashyap (“Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Black Friday”) and Neeraj Ghaywan (“Masaan,” which premiered at Cannes in 2015), the web series, based on Vikram Chandra's 2006 novel, unfolds with Ganesh Gaitonde (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) escaping from prison and finding himself in Mombasa. He has been carted there by an agent of India's

Research and Analysis Wing, Kusum Devi Yadav (Amruta Subhash), who forces him to help find Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey), the mastermind behind bomb blasts and terror attacks.

In Mumbai, police inspector Sartaj (Saif Ali Khan) has just two weeks to save the city from a nuclear attack, which Gaitonde had warned him about. Both men love Mumbai and do not want it to be destroyed. But religious extremist Khanna Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) and his chief disciple Batya Ableman (Kalki Koechlin) believe that only such a catastrophic destruction can help cleanse society and bring a cleaner, saner new order.

A narrative of deceit, betrayal, love and longing, the second season has a plodding start, but picks up steam from the fourth episode, with Sartaj and his men racing against time to find a nuclear time bomb that could wipe out Mumbai. Crude dialogue and a constant doomsday atmosphere could have been avoided, but riveting performances by the lead pair – Khan and Siddiqui (though he is getting typecast in this kind of role) – and nail-biting thrills make this Netflix original dramatically captivating.