Commentary

Podcast Deals Signal Latest Media Gold Rush

Several press reports in the past week indicate growing demand for podcasts, a positive sign for the publishing industry.

The most notable reporting centered on Spotify's unconfirmed talks to buy The Ringer, a pop-culture media company started by Bill Simmons. The former ESPN columnist is seeking an eye-popping $200 million for his company, Front Office Sports reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

It's a hefty sum for a startup that produces more than 30 podcasts and publishes a website and email newsletter. The price is a steep markup from the $100 million Simmons had sought in deal talks with AT&T's WarnerMedia, as Recodereported.

The lofty price may make sense for Spotify, which needs original content to distinguish its service from rivals like Apple Music, Amazon Music and Amazon Music. Spotify may want to keep The Ringer out of the hands of other media companies, as it did with last year's acquisitions of podcast startupsGimlet Media and Anchor FM for about $337 million, as Variety reported.

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While Spotify is talking to The Ringer, The New York Times reportedly is negotiating to buy the company that produced "Serial," the true-crime podcast that became a pop-culture sensation, The Wall Street Journalreported. The first season of the multipart series was downloaded more than 300 million times.

The NYT has seen recent success with its "The Daily," a podcast that New York magazine this week described as "a raging success."  Each episode is 22 to 25 minutes long, making it easily digestible during a commute.  

The NYT's podcast highlights how publishers can successfully repurpose their content for an audio format. The key advantage for podcasts is that they can be consumed while people are doing something else, like driving to work, running on a treadmill or doing household chores. The portability of the format is hard to beat.

Monetization methods are expanding to include radio-like spots, and host-read messages can command a higher premium.

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