Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pocket Casts Acquired

Russell Ivanovic (tweet, Hacker News):

We’ve had a lot of companies in the past contact us about acquiring us and or Pocket Casts and we’ve always had one simple answer for them: thanks, but no thanks. In talking to each of them it was obvious that they didn’t have the best interests of our customers or us at heart and as much as cashing out and walking off into the sunset is a nice ideal, it’s a crummy outcome for all of you and in turn for us. You see we care so damn deeply about what we’ve built and our relationship with each and every one of you that we know deep down inside that would just eat away at us. That’s why when a combined group comprised of WNYC, NPR, WBEZ and This American Life approached us with the goal of partnering for the good of the entire podcast industry, we knew that this opportunity was something else entirely. Everything from their not for profit mission focus, to their unwavering belief that open and collaborative wins over closed walled gardens resonated deeply with us. Together we have the passion, scale and laser focus needed to achieve some truly great things.

Chris Welch:

Pocket Casts, widely considered to be one of the best mobile apps for podcast listening, has been acquired by a collective group that includes NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago, and This American Life. “This unprecedented collaboration furthers public radio’s leading role as an innovator in audio discovery and distribution, while ensuring the continued support and growth of one of the most popular listening platforms on the market,” the companies said in a press release announcing the news. That team of stations and podcast producers are responsible for some of the format’s biggest hits like This American Life (duh), Serial, Radiolab, and Planet Money.

Moving forward, Pocket Casts will operate as a joint venture between the new owners. Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic, who formed Shifty Jelly (Pocket Cast’s developer) in 2008, will have unspecified “leadership roles.” The existing staff and development team is staying put. Owen Grover, a veteran of iHeartRadio / Clear Channel, has been named as Pocket Cast’s CEO. NPR’s apps including NPR One will remain in development.

Update (2018-05-04): John Gruber:

I hope this works out great, but I would wager money that this is about user-tracking (for user profile-based dynamic ad inserting) and embedding crap like listener surveys right in the player. Many of the shows in this collective are already doing dynamic ad insertions based on their best guess of your location based on your IP address. I could be wrong, and hope I am, but I’ll bet Pocket Casts will soon ask for permission to access your location. A CEO from Clear Channel is not encouraging.

Russell Ivanovic:

I get the cynical angle about OMG DATA MINING. But Pocket Casts is staying Pocket Casts. We are a seperate organisation and still a tiny company with the same values we’ve always had. We had plenty of chances to sell your data, we said emphatically no to all of them.

Russell Ivanovic:

We were very profitable before being acquired, so we did this deal from a place of wanting to keep the podcast industry open.

Ryan Jones:

why don’t you say what it IS about then?

Russell Ivanovic:

We’ve never talked about specifics of future plans. That’s just a business/ethos thing, you talk after you do, not before.

Update (2018-05-08): Renaud Lienhart:

And I think they’re being naive. Things are bound to turn sour very, very quickly.

Shifty Jelly:

Perhaps, but I also feel like that’s not giving us enough credit. We structured this entire deal in the best way we could to minimise that. We didn’t have to partner with anyone, we chose to because we agreed with them: bad things are coming for this industry.

Shifty Jelly (tweet):

The industry is amazing because it’s open. Anyone can publish a podcast and distribute it everywhere. No podcast is treated differently than another. However, “open” is not the default state of markets as they mature, as we’ve seen in other content businesses. When power is consolidated into the hands of just a few closed platforms, creators rarely win. And we care deeply about the fate of podcast producers everywhere.

It’s our mission to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If we succeed, we all benefit. If we lose, well, we feel it was a thing worth attempting. In the meantime there are some steps we need to take to get where we want to go, and we’ll talk about those when we’re ready. It’s early days, but we’re really excited for the future. Hope you all are too!

Cabel Sasser:

I got no horse in this race (someday I’ll listen to podcasts!!), but it seems like the “easy question to answer” in #6 isn’t actually answered? Consolidation bad… closed platforms bad… our mission is to ensure that doesn’t happen… isn’t that the opposite of selling the app?

Russell Ivanovic:

We didn’t have the resources or legitimacy to scale to the level required to fend that off. We could have taken VC funding but this seemed far better. Partner with the people who this affects and work together to solve it.

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