Weekly Roundup: Murder mysteries and bankruptcy troubles

Quite a few important developments this week. Here’s Roundup #18. 

Crime watch

Serial arguably deserves credit for the rise of true crime podcasts. True crime podcasts today regular top the charts and the popularity of certain true crime podcasts is such that, the fans of certain shows have their own monikers. The fans of the chart-topping hit My Favorite Murder are called “murderinos”.

Off late, some of these true crime podcasts are playing a role in solving murder mysteries. This past week, Queensland Police arrested Chris Dawson, the subject of the podcast Teacher’s Pet. The podcast dives deep into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson, the wife of the accused. The podcast which has been downloaded over 28 million times has shined a massive spotlight on the case.

This isn’t the first instance of a podcast playing a key role in a murder mystery. Last week and again in Australia, the Victorian coroner re-opened a case into the murder of Maria James, a bookshop owner who was murdered in 1980. The murder was the subject of the podcast Trace by ABC. The new evidence uncovered by the podcast has been credited for the case being re-opened.

Earlier this year, the Newport Beach Police Department launched Countdown To Capture in the hopes of capturing fugitive Peter Chadwick. The Orange County DA’s office had charged him with the wife of his murder but he skipped bail in 2015.

Sheila Wysocki, a Tennesse based private investigator launched Without Warning in the hopes of solving the death of Lauren Agee who was mysteriously found dead in 2015.

But, there is also a flipside. Reporter Michael McGowan writing in The Guardian about the Chris Dawson case raises an important question: Can Dawson receive a fair trial given the massive media attention, courtesy of Teacher’s PetIt’s a very important question, one I am not qualified enough to ponder on. But, I cannot help be an opportunistic prick because all this attention is sure to attract some new listeners into the podcasting fold.

Matters of debate

As we live through the Trump era, there is an intense debate like no other on the very meaning and limits of free speech. His victory has emboldened the alt-right and they have been broadcasting their insidious messages with a renewed vigor. One of their mediums of choice has been podcasting. Many of these alt-right podcasts have been using podcasts to spread anti-Semetic, racist and homophobic messages.

We saw a preview of what hate speech would mean for the medium of podcasting when Alex Jones of InfoWars was kicked off Apple Podcasts. Companies like Sticher, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter followed suit.

Last week, Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic, based at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society published a memorandum on content regulation on podcast platforms.

Her’s an excerpt of the conclusion:

All podcast platforms hold considerable power as gatekeepers. The major platforms’ response to the Alex Jones controversy revealed the difficulties with content regulation, especially the tendency for policies to be vaguely and unevenly applied. Going forward, podcast platforms have the chance to approach the conversation with nuance when crafting policies on hate content with hindsight to the public furor earlier this year. Given the growing reach and influence of podcasting as a mainstream media ecosystem, it is likely that these issues and tensions will become more pronounced as the stakes get higher.

Circling the prey

New York Post ran a story that Liberty Media headed by John Malone is interested in taking control of radio giant iHeartMedia once it exits bankruptcy. Struggling under a crushing burden of over $20 billion, the company had filed for bankruptcy in March 2018.

The company currently in the midst of a restructuring has been making some interesting moves. It acquired StuffWorks, the parent company of How Stuff Works for a reported $55 million. In November it acquired programmatic ad-tech platform Jelli. Are these moves a hedge against the future of broadcast radio? Yes, and it also seems that the company is placing some bets on the future by investing in podcasting and ad-tech. To put things in context, it is necessary to understand the root of iHeart’s troubles. In 2008 the company was acquired by a group of Private Equity firms led by Bain Capital. This wasn’t a normal acquisition, but rather a leveraged buyout.

iHeart, Sirius XM and Entercom Vs S&P 500

In a leveraged buyout, the company in order to fund the buyout, borrows money, sometimes using the assets of the company it is acquiring as collateral. iHeartMedia assumed over $10 billion in debt to fund the buyout. When it declared bankruptcy, it had over $20 billion in debt vs $8 billion before the buyout.

iHeartMedia is the biggest radio broadcaster in the US with 858 radio stations. Interestingly, Liberty Media’s $1.16 billion bid to acquire 40% in a restructured iHeartMedia earlier this year had failed. The more interesting thing here is that Liberty Media owns about 70% stake in Sirius XM which in turn acquired Pandora in September this year. Sirius XM has over 36 million subscribers while Pandora has over 70 million.

This excerpt from the Post article gives some context as to Liberty’s ambitions:

The idea: to create a soup-to-nuts toll taker for music lovers by combining iHeart with his other music properties, which include satellite-radio giant Sirius XM as well as concert promoter Live Nation and its Ticketmaster service, insiders said.

This article in Music Business Worldwide speculated that Liberty might be interested in building a true full-stack music company: a truly fascinating notion. A music full-stack involves all aspects of the music business – streaming, ticketing, advertising, and rights. Ironically enough, Pandora was touted to be a full-stack music company when it acquired Ticketfly in 2015. As you can guess, the deal didn’t really work out and Eventbrite acquired the company later.

Also remember that FT ran a story a while ago that, Apple might be interested in some kind of a partnership with iHeartMedia.

Given the list of suitors, Bob Pittman, the CEO of iHeartMedia writing in a memo to the employees of the company asked them to consider the interest from Liberty and Apple as a compliment.

Podbum?

Here’s something you don’t hear every day, no, not the lame subtitle. Folk-rock musician Bhi Bhiman will be releasing his new album “Peace Of Mind,” as a podcast. Each song will debut on a podcast episode where he discusses socially relevant topics such as voter suppression, immigration, and other topics with artists, policy-makers, and journalists 

Each song will touch upon a political theme. The melding of songs and podcasts can potentially be a powerful new format given the context of the song that can be delivered along with it. 

Ron Burgundy!

screaming will ferrell GIF

iHeartMedia will be co-producing the “The Ron Burgundy Podcast” with Funny Or Die in which Will Ferrel will reprise the role of the legendary character, Ron Burgundy. And of course, the show has a Twitter handle and as you’d expect it’s a ton of fun, right out of the gate!   

Season one is set to air in the first quarter of 2019 and season 2 sometime mid-2019 said the press release. The release was also a gas: 

Listen, I don’t know what a podcast is, but I currently have a lot of time on my hands and a lot to talk about. “I am also broke. Therefore, I am very excited to do this podcast. It is literally saving my life.”

Ron Burgundy

“To be honest, we don’t want to do this podcast and we just want to get this announcement over with as soon as possible,”. “Ron quite literally forced us into making this podcast with him, first calling us more than one hundred times in a single day and then proceeding to actually show up at our doorstep and physically force himself into our studios. We do hope the podcast is well-received, but in the meantime, we hope by agreeing to do the announcement he will stay away.”

Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartPodcast Network

Failure to launch!

With 86% of all smartphones running on Android, how close is Google to podcast listening domination? Well, to put it simply, it isn’t anywhere near. 

An all-star cast including Rob Walch, James Cridland, Todd Cochrane, Seth Resler, Eric Nuzum, and Rob Greenlee decode why Google has failed to take off

End of an era

Jarl Mohn, the CEO of NPR announced that he would be stepping down in June when his 5-year term ends. Post this he will lead public radio giant’s fund-raising efforts in a newly created role.

In a post published on NPR about the departure, the following numbers were cited:

Audiences for NPR’s newsmagazines are up more than 20 percent for listeners over the age of 12 from spring 2014, the last period before Mohn’s appointment took effect, to this past spring, the most recent comparable stretch. And NPR is the nation’s leading podcast publisher, with 18.9 million distinct users streaming and downloading 165 million episodes each month, the network said, citing figures from Podtrac, an industry monitoring service.

Bytes

A 10,000 foot view of podcasting in India. – TOI

Pushkin Industries, the outfit led by Jacob Weisberg and Malcolm Gladwell have signed with Cadence13 for representation. Also, author Michael Lewis’s upcoming show will move to Pushkin. – All Access

Podcasts are now available for all Pandora users. The company has also opened up podcast submissions

Season 3 of Serial was a monster hit with 50 million downloads. And all 3 seasons of the true crime thriller have been downloaded over 420 million times.

Bitplatter is building the Google of audio

Posted by Bhuvanesh

A podcast junkie on a mission to make podcasts great.

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