The Post-Dirtbag Left | The New Yorker

The Post-Dirtbag Left

For years, “Chapo Trap House” and other podcasts have paired anti-capitalist ideas with the rhetorical style of social media. Is a new form emerging?

July 26, 2021

A donkey split in half

Two shows harness a progressive energy, but they differ sharply in affect.Illustration by Miguel Porlan

On the evening of January 6th, while National Guard troops were still trying to remove an insurrectionist mob from the Capitol, the right-wing activist L. Brent Bozell III appeared as a guest on Fox Business. “They believe this election was stolen,” he said, of the rioters. “I agree with them. They are furious about the deep state. . . . I agree with them.” He offered a limp concession or two—“You cannot countenance our national Capitol being breached”—but spent most of the segment zigzagging across the thin line between explanation and excuse. As many viewers would have known, Bozell’s father, L. Brent Bozell, Jr., was a titanic figure in the history of modern American conservatism, his influence arguably second only to that of his co-author, brother-in-law, and former college-debate partner, William F. Buckley. What viewers would not have known—what even Brent III did not yet know, apparently—was that his son, also named L. Brent Bozell, was part of the insurrectionist mob. In fact, Brent IV, who goes by Zeek, was one of the few invaders to make it all the way to the Senate chamber.

In February, Zeek was charged with three federal crimes. A week and a half later, the two hosts of “Know Your Enemy”—a podcast, founded in 2019, that bills itself as “a leftist’s guide to the conservative movement”—released a bonus episode called “Keeping Up with the Bozells.”

“It’s a fastball right down the middle for us,” Sam Adler-Bell, one of the hosts, said. The other host, Matthew Sitman, added, “This is really a great opportunity for us to dive into some deep-cut conservative lore.” It was less than two minutes into the episode, and already he had made a self-consciously erudite joke about Leo Strauss, and another about the Carlist movement in postwar Spain. “Look, when there’s Brent Bozells in the news,” Adler-Bell continued, “you want to hear ‘Know Your Enemy’ break it down for you.”

If “Know Your Enemy” were like most podcasts, then an episode of this kind—pegged to the news, available only to subscribers—might have consisted of an hour or two of aimless riffing, a few apocryphal anecdotes, and some easy punch lines about how the mighty have fallen. Content production is a high-volume business, and professional talkers, especially political ones, almost always offer up old whines in new bottles. Sitman and Adler-Bell hawk a more artisanal product. To prepare for the episode, Adler-Bell had watched—“for you, the listeners, and for my sins”—hours of speeches by Brent III, including a histrionic 2015 appearance in which he compared the Obama Administration to the Stasi. Sitman drew on several articles and books by and about the Bozells, quoting most extensively from “Living on Fire,” a biography of Brent, Jr., published by a small conservative press. (Listening to “Know Your Enemy” can feel like visiting a semi-reclusive friend whose apartment is crammed with out-of-print books, but who always keeps a stash of good bourbon on hand.) The hosts summarized the life of Brent, Sr., an adman in interwar Omaha, before devoting the bulk of the episode to Brent, Jr., who ghostwrote Barry Goldwater’s 1960 best-seller, “The Conscience of a Conservative”; founded the Catholic magazine Triumph; and spent the end of his life advocating for an American brand of theocracy. The two living Brents were deemed less worthy adversaries. “For us,” Adler-Bell said, the figures worth scrutinizing “are these weirdos who had a lot of idiosyncratic, terrible, dangerous, Fascist-sympathetic ideas, but nonetheless were interesting.”

Sitman and Adler-Bell are serious, in other words, about the “know” part of their title. They seem more ambivalent about the “enemy” part. It’s not that they’re squishy about their politics: they have discussed at length what their socialist utopia would look like, and their only sustained disagreement during the 2020 primaries came in the form of Sitman, a die-hard Bernie Sanders fan, gently ribbing Adler-Bell for even entertaining the idea of supporting Elizabeth Warren. Their hesitancy has more to do with temperament. Last year, they interviewed the conservative Times columnist Ross Douthat, who has drawn leftists’ ire for several of his pieces, including one called “The Necessity of Stephen Miller.” None of those columns came up. Even Douthat seemed to find the hosts’ questions suspiciously magnanimous. (“You’re just softening me up, right?”) In an introduction recorded after the interview, the hosts warned listeners that what followed would be “a conversation, not a debate.” “He’s a nice guy,” Sitman said, of Douthat. Adler-Bell agreed: “It’s annoying how nice he is.”

Sitman grew up in a white working-class family in central Pennsylvania. His parents were self-described Christian fundamentalists and straight-ticket Republicans—“God-and-guns voters,” he called them, in a 2016 essay in Dissent—and, in college, he was, too. During his twenties, as a graduate student in political theory at Georgetown, he started to doubt the axioms of conservatism; by his mid-thirties, he was a Catholic, and a democratic socialist. (Adler-Bell, who was reared in Connecticut by secular leftists, didn’t have to defect from much of anything.) Occasionally, Sitman speaks with the zeal of a convert. Once, while complaining about “shitheads on the right” who claim to be “all Second Amendment” but don’t actually know how to shoot, he said, “I was born with a King James Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, and I still know them both better than any of these guys.” More often, though, he speaks with the guilt of a Catholic, the humility of a conflict-averse introvert, and the circumspection of someone who actually knows and loves working-class Republicans (and expects at least a few of them to tune in). In the “Keeping Up with the Bozells” episode, Sitman contrasted Brent III with his more illustrious father: “What a letdown.” Then, in the next breath, he apologized for the insult.

At times, this reflexive solicitousness can itself be a bit of a letdown. (Imagine Jesus, before squaring off with a Pharisee, promising “a conversation, not a debate.”) Still, if forced to choose between not enough light and not enough heat, I’ll take the latter every time. Sitman is a writer and an editor at Commonweal; Adler-Bell is a freelance writer whose work appears in The New Republic, Jewish Currents, and elsewhere. Like many coastal media types, they constantly mock themselves, often on Twitter, for spending too much time on Twitter. But they haven’t allowed their personalities (or, at least, the personas they perform on the show) to be subsumed by the deadening collective affect of social media. “What do you do if you’re not a hot-take artist?” Sitman asked, during an episode about Christopher Hitchens. (The episode, “Sympathy for the Hitch,” was another instance of the show treating its ideological opponents with grudging respect.) His answer, which he admitted was “a little, maybe, self-serving”: “I do find some of the complexity coming out in podcasts.” If the currency of Twitter consists of eye-rolling quote-tweets, drive-by insults, and tortuously recursive in-jokes, then “Know Your Enemy” is, blessedly, in the online world but not of it.

When the podcast “Chapo Trap House” began, in March of 2016, it served a real need. Millions of voters, disaffected and politically homeless, saw in Bernie Sanders an obvious solution to an array of systemic problems. “Bernie won Michigan on Tuesday,” Will Menaker, one of the co-hosts, said on the show’s first episode. “I’m not being facetious here . . . it has really kinda upset a lot of what I thought was gonna happen in this election.” Later, when Sanders dropped out, the fact that he had come so close to eking out a victory made his defeat all the more painful. Many of his admirers—especially the young, angry, and very online ones—wanted to hear their outrage reflected back at them, not in temperate op-eds or both-sides TV punditry but through hyper-specific satire, historically literate left-wing analysis, and gleefully ad-hominem jokes about how John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were neoliberal ghouls. “I can’t wait to watch the debates this fall, when Donald Trump is accusing Hillary Clinton of murder and of looking like a frump, which are equally horrible crimes in his mind, and she’s gesturing to the moderator, being, like, ‘This is just outrageous,’ ” one of the hosts said, in the second episode. This was oddly prescient, but it wasn’t a prediction you were likely to hear on MSNBC.

At the time, the co-hosts were Menaker and two other young(ish) bearded white guys, Felix Biederman and Matt Christman. (“Chapo,” like the mainstream media it critiques, has shown only belated and fitful interest in diversifying itself.) Christman, the one host with any red-state cred, was then living in Cincinnati. Biederman, originally from an affluent neighborhood in Chicago, and Menaker, whose parents met while working at this magazine, lived in Brooklyn and were trying to start careers in publishing. To this day, when people opine about “Bernie bros,” it’s uncanny how often they seem to be talking, directly or indirectly, about these three individuals. Their banter could be stunted and sour, with an endless deployment of dick jokes and personal insults, but it was often undeniably trenchant, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. (You won’t find a better parody debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek, if you’re into that sort of thing.) For a while, the show was doing something genuinely new.

“Chapo” came to exemplify an online subculture that called itself the dirtbag left. Although its flagship products were podcasts (“Chapo,” “Street Fight Radio,” “Cum Town”), the dirtbag left derived its sensibility from niche Twitter, heightening the attributes that make social media both alluring (the specificity, the absurdity) and toxic (the nihilism, the narcissism, the casual sexism). Jon Stewart, who ended his “Daily Show” run in 2015, had adopted a pose of evenhanded populist anti-politics (The system doesn’t work because of the bozos in charge); “Chapo” was more frankly anti-capitalist, and more terminally jaded (This is how the system was designed to work). Years before the advent of audio-only apps like Clubhouse, dirtbag-left podcasts brought the infinite scroll to life, transforming the solitary habit of Twitter-lurking into a parasocial experience.

Some listeners compared the “Chapo” hosts to earlier shock jocks like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh. As a matter of substance, this was a false equivalence. On a purely affective level, though, there was something to it. “Civility is destructive because it perpetuates falsehoods, while vulgarity can keep us honest,” Amber A’Lee Frost, who later became a co-host, argued in a 2016 Current Affairs essay called “The Necessity of Political Vulgarity.” She gave some examples—“Fuck tha Police,” by N.W.A.; a series of “pornographic little pamphlets” distributed before the French Revolution—and concluded, “Rudeness can be extremely politically useful.”

 

One day youll be a size five hundred months like me.

“One day, you’ll be a size five hundred months like me.”
Cartoon by Amy Hwang

 

It’s also good business. “Chapo” is now the second most lucrative project on Patreon, grossing about two million dollars a year. With time, though, its style has hardened into shtick. During the 2020 primaries, the hosts were even more zealously Bernie-or-bust than they had been in 2016, and they now had a big enough audience to make a difference. (In the crucial weeks before Super Tuesday, the dirtbag left devoted much of its energy to strafing Elizabeth Warren’s supporters, an approach that may have helped cost Sanders Warren’s endorsement.) But, after Sanders’s loss, “Chapo” seemed to have nothing left to say. Instead of progressing through the five stages of grief, the co-hosts wallowed in denial—“It is still virtually tied,” Menaker said, after Biden’s decisive victory on Super Tuesday—before settling, apparently forever, in the second stage. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross called this stage anger, but in “Chapo” ’s case it’s closer to nihilistic despair.

The show’s five-hundredth episode was recorded this February, on the anniversary of Sanders’s victory in the 2020 Nevada caucus, which turned out to be the peak of his campaign. At the beginning of the episode, the co-hosts reminisced about that day, which they had spent in Las Vegas, canvassing for Sanders, then gathering to watch the returns come in. “Bernie had just given his victory speech, and we were at a back-yard bar,” Menaker recalled. “Mingling, having drinks together, smoking cigarettes . . . that feeling was probably the last good thing that’s ever gonna happen.”

They tried to segue to the news of the day. Neera Tanden, a moderate Democrat and one of the dirtbag left’s long-standing nemeses, had been nominated to be Biden’s budget director, but her Senate confirmation hearing was being derailed by questions about controversial past tweets. (Her nomination was later withdrawn.) Menaker mentioned that he had been gloating about Tanden’s demise, and that he’d received pushback from people arguing that Tanden’s replacement would likely be more conservative than she was. “Who cares?” Menaker said, on the podcast. “I don’t give a shit who Biden appoints to his Cabinet.”

“You think any of these people were gonna be good?” Biederman said. “No. They were all gonna fucking suck.”

On a human level, some of this inspires actual pathos. As entertainment, or ideological analysis, it’s not particularly revelatory. Many people—Bernie Sanders, for example—have argued that the Biden Administration is too conservative. It’s certainly possible to rail against Biden’s policies in Gaza, or at the Mexican border. But blanket fatalism is lazy and, perhaps more to the point, it’s boring. Why keep tuning in if the angle is always the same?

When the “Chapo” hosts are criticized for their rhetoric, they often resort to the same dodge that Jon Stewart used to trot out: Don’t take us literally, we’re just a comedy show. This didn’t make sense when Stewart used it, and it makes even less sense in the case of “Chapo,” given that many of the jokes in question are not exactly professional-grade, and others, such as discouraging the audience from voting, don’t seem like jokes at all. In “The Necessity of Political Vulgarity,” Frost wrote that Trump’s “vulgarity is appealing precisely because it exposes political truths.” She and the other “Chapo” hosts didn’t defend Trump’s policies after he was elected, but they didn’t pearl-clutch, either. Instead, they talked about how funny Trump was, or how weird his tweets were, or how hypocritical his most overwrought opponents sounded. This was politics as entertainment, politics as signifier—politics as anything but politics.

These days, the hosts often dispense with politics altogether, riffing about nineties films or quirky animal facts. “Chapo” is hardly the only podcast to indulge in frivolous tangents. Even the bookish “Know Your Enemy” has its prurient interests—speculating about the sexuality of William F. Buckley, say—and yet its obsessions seem organic, consistent with a sincere and sustained attempt to understand the right. On a recent episode, the hosts analyzed a “truly awful conservative movie” called “Christmas Cars,” mocking the film but also smuggling in salient observations about Lost Cause mythmaking and culture-war grift. I learn something each time I listen, which is more than I can say about nearly everything else I do with my phone.

The interests of “Chapo,” by contrast, seem increasingly arbitrary, the latest targets of the Twitter hive mind. The show’s aesthetic has become indistinguishable from the extremely online aesthetic, which evinced at least a glimmer of potential in 2016 but has since only soured. At its worst, it derides any attempt at sincerity as try-hard, or cringe; better simply to shitpost and await our climate-induced collapse. Recently, the “Chapo” hosts spent the entirety of an eighty-one-minute episode making fun of “Stars and Strife,” a documentary directed by an investment banker named David Smick. They described various parts of the movie as “unadulterated drivel” and “one of the most evil things I’ve ever seen”; several times, they made jokes that involved likening Smick’s head to a ham. I found the episode hard to finish—not because the humor was too vulgar, and not because the observations were unfounded, but because none of it seemed to matter. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters trounce the Washington Generals: the dunks were spectacular precisely because the stakes were so low.

Back when “Chapo” had a near-monopoly on socialist podcasting, there was a common misconception that the only way to be a proper radical, at least online, was to mimic the temperament of the dirtbag left. Ideological preferences were conflated with affective ones; people who objected to “Chapo” on aesthetic grounds were sometimes suspected of being insufficiently committed to the cause. This presupposed that American politics consists of a single spectrum, on which Nazi-punching is to the left of civil disobedience and insults are to the left of arguments. But there isn’t just one spectrum; at the very least, there’s a quadrant grid, with policy goals on one axis and temperament on the other. The x-axis ranges from a fully planned economy to anarcho-capitalism; the y-axis ranges from solicitous Socratic dialogue to misanthropic bullying. They vary independently.

In April, on Twitter, a fan of “Know Your Enemy” wrote, “I love this nerdy shit,” referring to that show and to four broadly similar ones (“Time to Say Goodbye,” “Left Anchor,” “Death Panel,” and “The Dig”). If “Chapo” and its ilk make up the dirtbag left, the fan wondered, then what should this newer subgenre of podcasts be called? Adler-Bell tweeted two self-deprecating options: “the ‘not funny or cool’ left” and “the ‘your parents might like it’ left.” Others commented below, proposing alternatives: the dorkbag left, the Norton Critical Edition left, the “joy to have in class” left, the earnest left. Adler-Bell objected to the last of these, writing, “You get a reputation for being earnest around here”—Twitter, that is—“you’re in trouble.” It was, appropriately enough, a glib way of making a sincere point. ♦

 

Source: The Post-Dirtbag Left | The New Yorker

The Washington Post’s Aram Zucker-Scharff: You can’t solve transparency by adding more technology – Digiday

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For many, digital media’s ills are down to broken ad tech and the system propping it up.

Adam Zucker-Scharff, director of ad tech at the Washington Post, says it’s more complicated than simply fixing the plumbing: Advertisers are going to have to work at making ad tech transparent.

“We’ve seen advertisers pulling back from the programmatic space because of these conflicts. We need them to be in this space,” said Zucker-Scharff on the Digiday Podcast. “It’s very easy to see how advertisers can lose trust in the system when there’s no transparency. It can’t be solved by adding another piece of technology. If you’re an advertiser, why do you need 12 viewability verifications? There’s a point at which you have to say you’re ready to give up a level of potential earnings in order to make our systems transparent and clear and to make sure you’re not ending up as vectors for stuff that’s to the detriment of users from a publisher’s level or an advertiser’s level.”

Edited highlights below.

The middlemen have no desire to be transparent.
“The supply chain where the ads pass through before they hit a publisher’s site is too unclear. There’s no transparency. The problem is not that we can’t track every single transaction that brings the ad to you. That would be easy to do on a technical level. It just requires everyone to cooperate. But everyone has siloed off their own separate piece of the ad tech ecosystem and made sure that none of it talks to each other. What’s being obscured is who is seeing the ad, how they’re seeing the ad, where the ad is appearing and how much of the money is going to actually show the ad versus the wide set of middlemen in between.”

The metrics mean nothing.
“So much of what’s obscured has to do with the metrics. The metrics are not clear enough. Often times, we’re not even measuring the right thing. My favorite terrible metric is viewability itself. An entire company is based on measuring viewability. There’s only one way to measure viewability and there should be one result coming back. If you’re getting 10 different results, then you nine or possibly all 10 companies lying to you.”

The programmatic process has too many players.
“There is a need for what programmatic advertising provides, which is the idea of monetizing traffic as it scales at scale. When you’re going through programmatic, there is an obstacle to measurement. As you pass through layers, the overall reliability passable goes down. Things can malfunction, they can load slowly. Trying to get a video to play quickly so that someone is not waiting for an ad to load is a challenge. The servers have to be fast and the analytics have to process that the video has played and that process is going to be error-prone no matter what because there is so much infrastructure that comes into play. The biggest losers are the advertisers whose product won’t get seen and the publisher who won’t register the impression to get them paid.”

There are ways to stop bad actors.
“If Google decided that their ad server would only AMP ads. I’m not a huge fan of AMP as a standard but I like the idea of an AMP ad because AMP restricts the type of JavaScript that bad actors abuse. The problems would go away. This solve can come from the ad server level. We don’t need to change the nature of the internet by changing how the browser interprets a web page for the fix. The other thing is going to be regulation. Citizens are concerned about their data. Companies no longer have excuses and are getting brought up in court. We’re going to see regulations come down in the next few years.”

 

Source: The Washington Post’s Aram Zucker-Scharff: You can’t solve transparency by adding more technology – Digiday

How our VAMP project will tackle the challenges of the voice/audio revolution

The shift towards audio and voice-based digital user interfaces forces publishers to develop new tools, adapt workflows and ensure new ways of monetization. This week, Google DNI has approved to co-fund a €1.2 million open-source project with a collaborative approach we now will be working on until the end of 2020. It is called VAMP — pun intended: As AMP has become a standard for fast mobile news, the Voice and Audio Monetization Platform strives to standardize and innovate audio content, ads and technology through several modules.

  • Content Delivery: enabling editors to deliver customized audio content to different outlets, e.g. smart speakers, audio platforms, social media.
  • Content Discovery: allowing users to search and find audio content according to their interests and consumption needs, e.g. while commuting, during housework, for a quick update.
  • Monetization: establishing revenue streams through innovative ad formats and ad serving, e.g. automated, performance-based ad insertion, and new paid offerings.
  • Analytics: providing reliable metrics for content and ad performance, e.g. completion rates and drop-off points.

Our goal is to deliver and monetize journalistic audio content on a multitude of platforms including voice-based interfaces. And with its modular approach, VAMP will enable the inclusion of existing tools, cooperation with partners — ultimately stimulate innovation in the audio/voice ecosystem.

Main fields of work for VAMP: An open infrastructure that provides components for delivering and monetizing journalistic audio/voice content

Right now, the shift towards voice UI and audio content — reflected in the rise of podcasts and voice-operated personal assistants — is more or less overwhelming the publishing industry. The paradigm shift towards voice UI and the boom of audio content is far from being completed. Most of the digital news ecosystem right now is based on text, and classical CMS solutions are fit to publish text or to stream video, but not fit to simultaneously distribute audio content, on a classic and voice-based UI.

Beyond that, audio or voice content creators rely heavily on a small set of dominant platforms that do not necessarily share publishers’ business interests; and they only provide over-simplified tools that do not fully meet publishers’ requirements, e.g. advanced analytics or monetization opportunities. Global technology companies are creating voice-interfaces, and a multitude of startups and established players in the media market are experimenting with this technology and potentially relevant content — but none really addresses the need for a comprehensive framework that enables delivery, discovery, analysis and monetization of audio content. Even the best products in this field do not necessarily help in establishing a stable holistic ecosystem. This is true for audio content, but even more true for voice-UI offerings.

All in all, the ecosystem for digital audio content and voice interfaces is still in development, and VAMP aims to generally open this emerging market to publishers. We want to foster journalistic product innovation by working with existing platforms and other interested media outlets — and by tackling the challenges in these four main fields that require immediate action, as the following examples and first cases illustrate.

Modular framework for optimized monetization: Built on efficient production, delivery and analytics of audio and voice content

1. Content Delivery

  • Bridging the audio-text gap: For us, voice-engineering our primarily text-based content by adding standardized features for audio is a clear first case. Each article will be supplied with voice-optimized abstracts that can be machine-read. News briefings could be generated from homepages. Editors should be supported by linguistic content checks.
  • Rebundling audio: This is about structuring audio content for repackaging and reusing — automatically slicing up podcasts into sections that can be delivered according to the demands of different devices.
  • Distribution: For publishers, it is essential to control the distribution of content; for editors, this process needs to be easy. A custom database and player to distribute audio to different platforms facilitates the collection of data for our analytics module.

2. Content Discovery

First examples for making audio content searchable and easy to discover:

  • Metadata and tagging: Adding metadata and tags to each audio snippet (using speech-to-text technology) to make audio content searchable. This also builds the basis to deliver audio in topic-based dossiers according to user demands or queries.
  • Social media integration: Developing a simple workflow to clip soundbites and combine them with compelling visuals and subtitles to expand content reach.
First outline of content model and architecture: Creating agile journalistic audio by adding metadata and adjustable ads

3. Monetization

We are addressing two overlapping markets in different stages of maturity. On the one hand, we are further developing existing audio offerings. On the other hand, we are tackling a nascent voice-UI market where monetization is in its infancy. The advertising-based monetization of audio content and podcasts is currently focused on selling sponsorships. This approach relies heavily on the specific native-ad-like character of the advertisement, as moderators typically deliver the sponsor’s message themselves. The limits of this system are obvious, however, as it lacks possibilities to target ads or buy a certain quantifiable reach. Clients spend their ad money without being fully able to control whether goals are met. To address this, we suggest e.g.:

  • Consumption-driven ad sales and pay-per-hour ad offerings. Packages such as pay-per-hour — in which ad clients pay for real minutes listened to — are more attractive to advertisers and enable publishers to optimize their inventory. Reliability of audio ad delivery is a key factor in increasing its attractiveness for clients. Customers will buy a specific amount of listeners’ time; ads are dynamically rendered into streams based on this sales mechanism, standardizing the ad product.
  • Establishing new forms of audio ads/integrations. Ad clients would like to target their message more effectively to specifically desired audiences and have them delivered in a more standardized way. However, they do not want to lose the specific touch of podcast ad formats (classic radio ads would be no alternative). A versatile audio ad management combined with a tailored player and distribution technology is key for that.
  • Establishing new forms of voice ads/integrations. The same challenges exist with voice UI, but they are even harder to address due to the limited number of ad slots on current platforms. From a publisher’s perspective, these ad limitations diminish the appeal of this technology. We want to apply versatile ad management and player/distribution technology not only to audio content and ad offerings, but also to voice UI products.
  • Human voice ad solutions: Establishing native-speaker ad solutions for voice. As some platforms only allow ad inserts spoken by a human voice, a dynamic audio ad server can also solve voice UI monetization issues.

In the field of transactional and subscription-based monetization, we for example currently work with Audible on a paid podcast that could be used behind a paywall in an audio app and plan to integrate audio versions of articles in our paid content model. For the VAMP project, we want to take these approaches to the next level and see the following opportunities:

  • Establishing paid podcasts in a freemium audio/voice environment to be built in the VAMP context, either as a separate product for users or as part of existing subscription offerings. With our flexible paid content technology we could experiment with selling different types of podcasts (journalistic formats, service offerings, niche products for target groups etc.) and ascertain whether there is potential for paid offerings.
  • Packaging news content with audiobooks and other long formats. We could explore the potential of creating platforms for audio longformats or promoting and selling our editors’ books; selling audiobooks by integrating our bestseller lists; developing a freemium cross-promotion system for audiobooks etc.

4. Analytics

Developing an analytics and engagement model that enables deep understanding of listeners will be key for success:

  • Consolidated audio metrics: We will create a data hub that uses APIs and website scraping to collect and consolidate metrics.
  • Content performance analytics: The absence of tools such as Google Analytics or Chartbeat in the audio realm would be eased by basic stats tools that analyze listener curves, exit moments or top voice request keywords.

As funny as it may sound, the success of VAMP will also be measured by the degree it helps to establish KPIs for success — some examples of possible audio/voice metrics:

  • Journalistic/Delivery KPIs: amount/percentage of voice-enabled text-first content, minutes of newly produced and voice-enabled voice-first content, minutes of accessible voice-enabled content etc.
  • Consumption-driven KPIs: (growth of) listened minutes of our audio offerings, (growth of) number of voice UI interactions etc.
  • Technical KPIs: percentage of text-first content items, e.g. regular articles that are fully voice-enabled automatically, percentage of audio-first content items, e.g. podcasts that are managed and served through our open and automated system, etc.
  • Business-related KPIs: Of course, revenue and profit growth are the primary goals of all commercial enterprises. In the nascent market of voice-enabled audio content we face the following challenges with classic KPIs: First, there are no standard metrics established for the monetization of digital audio content on voice-interfaces. Second, market developments are highly unpredictable and revenue streams depend on the behavior of dominant tech players. For these reasons, defining monetization metrics is one focal point of VAMP itself, as described above. Additionally, we want to use the following proxies to measure commercial success of VAMP: growth of potential ad integration points, (growth of) automated advertising insertion, growth of paid content revenue.

All analytics data will be focused on the interests of the different target groups or stakeholders in the audio/voice ecosystem. They vary greatly, as the following sketch of different personas illustrates, and a more holistic view needs to be established in the years to come:

First outline of VAMP personas: User centric approach to content production, ad placement and delivery

Our basic goals — besides the ultimate goal of new monetization opportunities — are publisher-friendly standards and a push for innovation in the voice/audio content ecosystem. For us, collaboration is key to reach that goal. Amongst the first partners we talk to are Verlagsgruppe Random House and several news websites from different countries. VAMP wants to address a multitude of needs and approaches, which led us to this open setting. The international partner network for VAMP is being built right now, the project itself will start afterwards in a few months.

For the same reason — broadening VAMP’s impact on market standards — our technology will be open-source. Each finished building block will be published in a public repository and may be used by everyone and every company that also shares further developments. We want to spread effective and efficient standards for publishers. To work seamlessly with existing solutions of publishers, the modular backbone of our system will ideally be able to integrate a broad variety of external modules and tools, e.g. production and editing tools, content management systems, speech-to-text transcription and text-to-speech software. We will use modular technology inspired by modern frameworks such as ESC that host a multitude of differently structured types of content. Our technological framework will make use of adaptable infrastructures and modern programming languages. Thus, we are planning to use cloud technology for storage and analysis of information/data as well as technologies such as Firebase for real-time event tracking and communication. We aim to automate as much as possible and will spend a significant share of the production budget on tech.

The “deliverable product” Google DNI asked us for will ideally be a flexible solution for a new business opportunity; a solution that ideally will be developed by others alongside with us — and it will surely be work-in-progress in a dynamic environment.

— 26. Juli 2018, by Christina Elmer, Kerstin Fröhlich, Kurt Jansson, Charlotte Meyer-Hamme, Stefan Plöchinger, Matthias Streitz

Source: How our VAMP project will tackle the challenges of the voice/audio revolution

The Washington Post tests Rhapsocord – Business Insider

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The Washington Post is testing a new tool, called Rhapsocord, that automatically identifies areas of a podcast where an ad could be placed and then automatically inserts ads into those spots, so that podcasters don’t have to do it themselves manually, AdExchanger reports.

The offering aims to help podcast advertisers serve more up-to-date ads — podcast ads, which are typically read aloud during podcasts by their hosts, tend to be baked into many podcasts, which means they’re often out of date. The Post is currently testing Rhapsocord on just one of its podcasts, but plans to expand the service to its others as listenership rises across the board.

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The Washington Post could have an easier time attracting digital audio ad spend with its new podcast ad tool.

  • The publisher will likely find it easier to monetize its podcasts with evergreen content. As the Post expands Rhapsocord to more of its podcasts, brands might flock to spend on popular series that aren’t time sensitive and have high replay value, like “Presidential,” a 42-episode series that profiled each US president. Though “Presidential” was created in 2016, it still received millions of downloads in 2017, per AdExchanger. These podcasts, which might have been less enticing to brands because their ads would go out of date, could now become a common target for advertisers.
  • And the Post could also attract brands looking to advertise on podcasts focused on certain trending topics. The Post is currently testing Rhapsocord on its podcast, “The Daily 202’s Big Idea,” which is a politically focused series. Brands might look to advertise more heavily on these episodes leading up to the midterm elections occurring in November of this year, for example. Or, assuming the tool is opened up more widely, advertisers could also look to run ads on some of the Post’s sports podcasts leading up to the 2020 Olympics as a way of focusing on “hot” areas and reaching a large, but time-sensitive audience.

As traditional radio declines, the number of available podcasts and podcast listener base is growing. From 2011 to 2018, time spent with traditional radio has declined by 8% globally, per Zenith. But, as consumers shift to mobile and the potential podcast audience expands, podcasts are becoming more popular.

The monthly US podcast listener base grew by three percentage points year-over-year (YoY) in 2017, per Edison Research, which is encouraging companies to launch their own podcasts: Apple Podcasts now host over 550,000 active shows, up from 525,000 in April, per TechCrunch, for example. This number will likely continue to grow as consumers devote more time to digital devices. As this occurs, we might see more publishers develop tools similar to Rhapsocord to boost monetization potential.

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Source: The Washington Post tests Rhapsocord – Business Insider

The Washington Post wants to figure out the best places to put ads in your favorite podcasts » Nieman Journalism Lab

Editor’s note: Hot Pod is a newsletter on the podcasting industry written by Nick Quah; we happily share it with Nieman Lab readers each Tuesday.

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 168, published July 10, 2018.

Into the Woods. The rollout for Crooked Media’s first audio documentary, The Wilderness, began yesterday with the launch of a standalone website — which gives a preview of the season’s overall 15-part structure as well as the extensive list of interviewees who will be featured on the program — along with a trailer that was also dropped in the Pod Save America RSS feed, which pushed the podcast feed up the charts. (Tried-and-true pre-launch strategy, this.)

The series will debut on July 16. Two things to note here:

  • Interestingly, The Wilderness is a coproduction between Crooked Media and Two-Up Productions, the shop behind Limetown and 36 Questions. Pretty big get for the latter.
  • Also: What’s always been super interesting to me about Crooked Media is how…hard it is to describe. Yes, it’s a media company, albeit one that’s explicitly political, and though there are certainly media companies with overtly political bents across history — from progressive magazines like The Nation to right-wing outlets like Fox News — there’s something about Crooked Media that feels a little more, for lack of better word, alive. Or to put it another way: openly willing to directly interact with the physical world, where conventional media companies often feel separate and apart from the world. A very smart Hot Pod reader once floated the idea of a world in which a platform like Crooked Media could very well perform functions resembling that of…well, political parties. It’s a curious idea, and I’m further curious to see how The Wilderness extends this thesis.

Democracy dies in dynamic ad insertion. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself there.) The Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, which has been pushing pretty hard into the technology platform business alongside its journalistic endeavors, is reportedly getting into the…podcast ad tech game?

AdExchanger reports that the company’s Research, Experimentation, and Development (RED) team has put together a “dynamic ad insertion” tool, called Rhapsocord, that “identifies places to put in ads, automatically inserts them and then sends the file to different podcast platforms.”

Apparently, while advertisers and agencies can still manually buy inventory through sales reps, the tool is taking steps to allow for “a self-serve podcast ads platform or programmatic audio.” WaPo is currently testing the tech on its own podcast network.

So I can’t say that I like this. To begin with, the podcast CMS market is fairly crowded already (see: Libsyn, Art19, Megaphone, Simplecast, PRX’s Dovetail, Spreaker, CastPlus, so on and so forth), and many of those solutions already allow for dynamic ad insertion. Furthermore, I generally have reservations about programmatic ads in podcasting (see here for more on that), and my concerns are doubled should the push come from a company that, up until this point, has primarily operated in a display-ad–first digital world.

Eh, maybe I’m not being generous enough here. In any case, there is one potential positive thing that I’m curious: I wonder how this technology will fit into the Post audio team’s various dabblings with smart-speaker programming.

Meanwhile, elsewhere. I filed two interviews for Vulture last week, one pegged to a beginning and the other pegged to an end.

(1) The first looks at You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s fantastic podcast on the secret histories of 20th-century Hollywood, which returned last week. This new season explores Hollywood Babylon, the infamous 1959 book by avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger that traded heavily in scandal and questionable gossip on early Hollywood celebrities, but which has since accrued a complicated legacy in which it is often construed as truth. (A timely topic, indeed.) It’s a pretty long interview, and in addition to discussing the season, Longworth was also kind enough to talk a bit about her process.

(2) The second interview was with Madeleine Baran of In The Dark, who spoke with me soon after the concluding episode of its spectacular sophomore season hit the feeds last week. Baran and her team will continue to cover the case of Curtis Flowers when the next development hits, and they’ll soon be in the hunt for their next story after taking a few weeks off.

I also filed the June update to my Best Podcasts of 2018 (So Far) list. You know what? I like this monthly update format. Good stuff, Vulture.

Maximum Fun broadens its horizons. Last month, Jesse Thorn’s Los Angeles-based podcast network rolled out its first foray into scripted programming. The show is called Bubble, an eight-episode scripted comedy series that — and I’m quoting the pitch I got for it, which is pretty succinct and effective — is “sort of a sci-fi/alternate-universe comedy about a group of friends who live in a town protected by a (literal) bubble.” Having listened to a few episodes, I guess you could also call it a cross between Portlandia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s super zany, is what I’m saying, and if you like Maximum Fun stuff, you’re probably going to like this: It has all the warm, loving, and fun sensibilities that you’ve come to know and love from the network, plus it features a bunch of the MaxFun extended family like Eliza Skinner and the McElroy Brothers.

Anyway, the thing about Bubble that caught my attention was how it presents a case study of a particular challenge that more podcast companies are — and should be — facing: Let’s say you want to push your creative boundaries. How do you think through the business side of that effort? So, in pursuit of that question, I reached out to Maximum Fun’s managing director Bikram Chatterji, and he was kind enough to write at length. I like this interview quite a bit, as he really lays out a good deal of the strategic considerations he deems to be important when breaking a project like this.

Hot Pod: Tell me about how MaxFun came to produce Bubble.

Bikram Chatterji: I think you could say it was entirely organic — Bubble was created by Jordan Morris, one half of Jordan, Jesse Go!, longtime friend of Jesse and the network, and one of the funniest people we know. Jordan had written the pilot for television and had taken a bunch of meetings on it — people loved the concept and the script, but were looking for a more tangible proof-of-concept (which would be tough to film because: monsters). We did a table read of the TV script last year with some friends — little/no production, small black-box theater — and when we released it in the JJGo feed it got a really positive response.

Separately, MaxFun was interested in developing a scripted comedy — as a way of trying some new things creatively, production-wise, and in terms of marketing/business model. We’d had a few meetings but nothing had grabbed us.

Bubble presented a rich and smart premise with hilarious jokes, from a person that we and our community knows and loves, so it was an ideal first step. Also, as a step in a new direction for all of us, I think that the trust that we all had in each other went a long way in making it a smooth and collaborative development process.

Hot Pod: The show strikes me as a little different from what Maximum Fun typically produces. What were the challenges involved in the production, and what were the differences in how you approached development?

Chatterji: It is different! The main assets we had going into development were (1) we know what a joke is, and how to make stuff funny, (2) we have good relationships with very talented people who know, like, and trust us, and (3) we’re nimble and creative when it comes to making stuff sound good.

For some aspects — developing a serialized arc for a cohesive season of the show, voice-directing for drama and comedy, and sound design/audio world-building, for instance — we worked with some very smart and talented folks who have done this before (in the three examples listed: Nick Adams, exec producer on Bubble, who works on Bojack Horseman and story-edited for New Girl, amongst other credits; Eric Martin, director for Bubble, hundreds of audio books, VO, directed Hoot Gibson: Vegas Cowboy for howl.fm, amongst other credits; Ben Walker, producer/editor/sound design, many credits for BBC Radio that, frankly, U.S. audiences probably don’t recognize).

There were other production/creative aspects that the team worked collaboratively on — a big one being, making a show that is visually rich and involves monsters/many cool fights work in audio. The writers introduced a narrator with some personality and, fortunately, Tavi Gevinson agreed to play this part, so we were able to do the whole “constraints = opportunities” thing.

Hot Pod: Tell me about the revenue end. How did you approach building a business engine around this project?

Chatterji: This was always envisioned as an investment with a long-term, slightly unconventional return profile. That is to say, we started down this road not expecting/needing to make our money back in a hurry. At a minimum, the near-term value was expected to be:

  • Stretching ourselves creatively a bit
  • Making something great that our community would appreciate and enjoy
  • Creating a kind of statement work for people who might not know us all that well, to start broader conversations about our capabilities

We’ve ticked all those boxes, which we feel really good about. That said, we are trying some things out on the revenue side as well:

  • Like all of our shows, we envision Bubble to be paid for primarily by listeners. [Note: For more on Maximum Fun’s audience-supported model, read this column.] Unlike our other shows, it’s a limited-run series, so we’re not asking for ongoing monthly contributions, but listeners can (and have!) made one-time payments at maximumfun.org/bubble.
  • We are talking with some folks about advertising as, midway through the run, we have a solid track record of downloads to pique advertisers’ interest.
  • The show is especially suited to some other revenue channels — for instance, merchandise. So we’re exploring those as well.

MaxFun has always been different from other networks in that advertising is a secondary revenue source for us. We don’t have anything against ads — they help our creators get rewarded for their work, and we sincerely believe that if done correctly, they provide our listeners with a service. One thing we’ve always insisted on is having the option to forego ads if something doesn’t feel right — because, frankly, as listeners we have experienced ads that feel wrong (two common problems: they are so frequent as to disrupt the listener experience, or they’re so subtle as to blur the line between what is content and what’s an ad). We know that there are a bunch of smart folks working on the challenge of making advertising work in service of listeners, and we’re paying attention to that; practically, though, our approach has been to not make anything we do contingent on getting ad revenue, because it’s easy to see that forcing us into an uncomfortable position.

Hot Pod: What else did you learn through this process?

Chatterji: I think the other piece that is fundamentally different from anything we’ve done before is marketing a limited-run series. We have put a lot of time and energy into this show, and we think it’s wonderful. I was (and am) well aware of other limited-run shows that have high production values but limited long-term impact. I didn’t want that to happen here.

Philosophically, you can probably divide marketing strategies between creating a massive event (often at considerable cost in terms of time and resources) and relying on something more sustained/word-of-mouth based. We tried a hybrid approach — a big bang within our community, who we could reach pretty easily and who we know will be responsive to our messaging, and a longer, slower burn for the wider podcast audience. It’s still something we’re working on, and something that is in progress, but so far it seems to be going okay.

The main other thing that I’ve taken away from this is how — this could be obvious, but I find it gratifying — creative people love working on something really good. At the start of this process, I was a little apprehensive about whether we could bring aboard some of the big names to do this thing that was new to us and that, frankly, did not pay much money (relative to TV, etc.). I think the fact that we were successful attests in part to the great reputation MaxFun and Jesse have built up over the years, but also — and members of the cast have mentioned this at a few of the Q&As we’ve been hosting — that the same hunger for good shows that is out there from our audience exists amongst the creative people we work with as well.

That sounds like more of a creative consideration than a business one, but I think it’s something at the heart of our strategy, long-term: Make something great and the rest of your job becomes a lot easier.

You can find Bubble…well, pretty much anywhere you’d find podcasts, aside from those pesky podcast platforms with a big paywall blocking out the sun.

Career Spotlight. You know I love running these. This week, I interviewed Stitcher’s John Asante, who spoke about moving through what seemed to be a “conventional” trajectory, having worked on radio with live elements, and the podcast industry being a producer’s market.

Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation — job title, role, life plans, etc.

John Asante: I’m a senior producer for original content at Stitcher, based in Los Angeles. Some of the podcasts I work on are released as free, ad-supported shows (we call these Stitcher Originals), while others are made solely just for our subscription-based service, Stitcher Premium. The shows range from longform interviews to scripted comedies and dramas, to documentaries on a variety of topics. For reference, some of the podcasts I had hand in producing are Heaven’s Gate, Dear Franklin Jones, and Gossip.

In my role, I mainly wear three different hats as I develop new podcasts from pitch to production to launch. On some projects, I’m the lead producer who’s editing scripts with the host, sitting in on interviews and taking notes, and then cutting tape to make the final product. On others, I play more of a project manager role, communicating with all the teams (production, marketing, ad sales, content operations, etc.) and assisting with any tasks to make sure all the deadlines are met in order to launch a new podcast. And while I’m actively producing shows, I’m brainstorming new ideas for podcasts and evaluating pitches from writers and producers who are looking to get their podcast picked up by Stitcher.

I also host and produce an independent podcast called Play It Back. It’s a storytelling show where artists, producers, and music lovers talk about discovering the songs that have changed their lives. It’s a concept I thought about executing for years that I hadn’t heard much of in the podcast space. Full disclosure: I took a hiatus from making new episodes with the move from NYC to LA last year and to rethink the format, but the plan is to get it back up and running sometime this year.

Hot Pod: How did you get to this point?

Asante: I’ll admit that on the surface, my journey has been similar to many fellow podcast producers — I was an intern at NPR after graduating college who then worked his way into a full-time job at the network in 2009. But my career arc differs from some people, as I primarily worked on shows with live elements before diving into podcasting — namely Talk of the Nation and Ask Me Another. And while I was working on those shows and thinking of making a transition into podcasting for narrative-driven shows, I got the feeling that my live-show experience was undervalued in comparison to other producers who cut more radio pieces and longform interviews, like All Things Considered or Morning Edition.

After some frustration with my career trajectory and finding some trouble advancing, I actually left public radio in 2014 to try something completely different: marketing. That’s another long story, but the goal was to keep my radio chops up during the career switch. But after a year and a half away, I really missed producing on a daily basis…and marketing was not for me. The more I listened to podcasts — especially those produced by my radio friends who were moving into the podcast industry — the more I realized that there were a growing number of opportunities to produce podcasts. I realized WNYC was investing more resources into podcasts, and I got a temp position producing There Goes The Neighborhood back in 2016. A few months later, I landed a full-time gig on The Takeaway, mainly producing arts and culture pieces, which I had embraced as my forte at that point. Last year, I moved out to Los Angeles to make moves in the podcast industry. Stitcher’s work and mission felt like the best fit, and I’m glad they believe in my ability to create and develop new podcasts.

Hot Pod: What does a career mean to you, at this point?

Asante: A career means being able to work on a variety of podcasts in different roles. I wanted to make the move from producing one show to developing and producing several, and I’m definitely achieving that at Stitcher. From here, I’d like to take on bigger producer and editor roles, working on scripted projects and narrative shows that tell more stories about people of color and those living in underserved communities. It’s really important to me that these stories are told, even in ways I never imagined.

I also want to be in the position of giving guidance and help producers and editors of color make moves in the podcast space. The same goes for those who don’t have the same career path as those of us who came from the public radio world. There’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to diversity. Our voices need to be heard on both sides of the mic.

And with the amount of connections I’ve been fortunate to make in LA, I’ve definitely thought about starting my own production company one day. I know I’m not the only podcast producer who’s thought about this!

Hot Pod: When you started out, what did you think you wanted to do?

Asante: After toying with the possibility of working my way up the ladder as a TV reporter, and simultaneously falling in love with college radio (then shortly after public radio), I graduated college desperately wanting to become a public radio producer. I was obsessed with NPR’s style of storytelling after interning there and formed an even stronger obsession with radio as a medium.

My initial plan was to line a full-time producing job, then do freelance pieces in my spare time, and use those pieces to apply for a job as a member station reporter 4-5 years later. But after getting a few pieces on the air, I realized it wasn’t the right fit, so I focused more on producing. Then around 2011, a few friends and I started making a podcast of our own. We just wanted a way to make use of our interests and telling stories we weren’t hearing on the news or other programs. While the project lasted less than a hear, it made me realize that podcasting was a low-stakes way to experiment, try out new ideas, and see what’s possible. So my trajectory slowly started to shift toward producing podcasts, though it would take a while before I felt confident enough that I could make a career out of that new vision.

Hot Pod: How do you view the podcast industry, such as it is, at this point in time?

Asante: It’s wild, exciting, and moving incredibly fast. Every day, I’m impressed by the number of well-produced and fascinating podcasts I discover or get recommended, as well as the amount of money going into the industry. And I get legitimately excited when friends ask me for recommendations.

I’m glad there are more players in the field, from small production houses to larger media companies. From my experience, this means it’s a producer’s market. More and more companies want to make higher-quality content, which means having the ability to cut tape, write scripts, and develop an idea is so vital.

Also, podcast discovery still needs to be more developed. So many interesting independent podcasts go under the radar due to a number of factors, and I hope these shows don’t get overlooked for personalities with a bigger following.

Hot Pod: What should I be listening to right now?

Asante: Gossip: As I mentioned before, I was part of the production team on this show, so I’m definitely biased. But this show is unlike anything I’ve ever heard or worked on. It’s a scripted dramatic comedy podcast created by Allison Raskin about three women living in a suburban town who meet up each week to talk about all the crazy rumors spreading through their town. Think Desperate Housewives meets Jane the Virgin.

The Nod: I love Brittany and Eric’s dedication to telling stories about elements of black life that you’ve probably never heard of, or didn’t know how they were created. Their unique way of storytelling is playful and informative that has taught me about entertainers and activists like Josephine Baker, and made me think critically about the cultural impact of movies I’ve seen a dozen times, like Coming To America.

Thanks, John.

Bites:

  • Pour one out for Current’s The Pub. The public media trade publication of choice is shuttering its podcast after 113 episodes and 3.5 years. Executive director Julie Drizin announced the move last Friday through a post on the Current website, citing lack of underwriting support as the main reason for the show’s termination. However, Drizin also noted that The Pub’s closing doesn’t necessarily mean that the publication won’t be dabbling podcasts anymore. She leaves open the possibility of future projects, provided they are able to “secure committed funding.”
  • Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit, the Alison Willmore and Matt Singer-led online movie-focused podcast in the Filmspotting family, has concluded its run. The long-running show released its final episode last Tuesday. As a longtime listener, I’m pouring another one out for this one too.
  • This is really good: “Using true crime to teach Indigenous history: Reporter Connie Walker on ‘Finding Cleo,’” writes Elon Green for CJR. The CBC podcast wrapped the season last month, and yesterday, host Connie Walker tweeted that the season has now been downloaded over 10.5 million times across its ten episodes.
  • James Cridland has a pretty interesting writeup on some RSS feed chicanery that seems to be going on with CastBox.
  • What an angle: “Amazon Alexa may be better at selling you things, but Google is more likely to understand you, say ad industry insiders,” via CNBC.
  • Tangentially-related, but worth keeping tabs: “Apple Music Just Surpassed Spotify’s U.S. Subscriber Count,” per Digital Music News.

Photo of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos by AP/J. Scott Applewhite.

 

Source: The Washington Post wants to figure out the best places to put ads in your favorite podcasts » Nieman Journalism Lab

The Washington Post creates its own dynamic podcast ad insertion tech – RAIN News

The Washington Post has developed its own internal technology for putting ads into podcasts. Rhapsocord is a dynamic ad insertion tool that can automatically identify pre-roll, midroll, and post-roll spots in a show, then add the spot and update the file. It also stores metadata about each podcast episode, which allows advertisers to target buys by topic. The Daily 202’s Big Idea will be the first of the Post’s own podcasts to test out Rhapsocord. It will later be expanded to the media company’s other shows.

“Because we built an automated system, anyone who complies with the ads API standard could serve ads into the system, whether it’s a self-serve platform or an integration with a programmatic platform,” said Aram Zucker-Scharff, ad engineering director for the Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development team.

Rhapsocord can connect to other content management systems, indicating that the Post may open up the platform to outside podcasters. It complies with IAB standards.

 

Source: The Washington Post creates its own dynamic podcast ad insertion tech – RAIN News

Washington Post Builds Tech That Dynamically Inserts Ads Into Podcasts | AdExchanger

Inserting fresh ads into podcasts is challenging and time-consuming.

An online article loads fresh ads every time a page loads. But in the podcasting world, readers download content and ads together, which means the two must be stitched together beforehand.

Because of this challenge, many older podcasts run with no ads or stale ones, even as popular shows amass thousands to millions of downloads long after their release.

To make the process of putting ads in podcasts easier for publishers, The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development (RED) team developed Rhapsocord, a dynamic ad insertion tool that identifies places to put in ads, automatically inserts them and then sends the file to different podcast platforms.

Rhapsocord automatically identifies pre-roll, midroll and post-roll spots, inserts ads and updates the files, so producers don’t have to manually re-edit a podcast.

The tech also stores metadata about each podcast episode so advertisers can buy based on topics such as politics, finance or history.

Aram Zucker-Scharff, ad engineering director for RED, said Rhapsocord opens up new podcast inventory.

While advertisers can still buy podcast ads directly through salespeople, Rhapsocord’s API is a step toward enabling a self-serve podcast ads platform or programmatic audio.

“Because we built an automated system, anyone who complies with the ads API standard could serve ads into the system, whether it’s a self-serve platform or an integration with a programmatic platform,” said Zucker-Scharff.

The Post is testing out Rhapsocord on one of its own podcasts, “The Daily 202’s Big Idea.” It will then expand to other Post podcasts.

For example, the Post created a 42-episode series, “Presidential,” in 2016 that profiled each of the US presidents. The podcast generated millions of downloads in 2017.

“The content is historical data about presidents; it’s evergreen,” Zucker-Scharff said. “If you were to approach that in text, you would get the latest ads. But on podcasts, it’s baked into the content.”

Rhapsocord connects to the Post’s CMS and podcast encoding system, but the tech can connect to another CMS.

By contrast, other podcast technologies require using their services end to end to benefit from automation, Zucker-Scharff said. Many proprietary solutions only offer monetization within their platform, while Rhapsocord updates podcasts across every place listeners access their podcasts.

The tech also complies with IAB standards for counting downloads of podcasts – the metric many advertisers use when buying.

 

 

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Source: Washington Post Builds Tech That Dynamically Inserts Ads Into Podcasts | AdExchanger

How NPR Continues to Develop Its Podcasting Ad Game With Data and Branded Content – Adweek

There may not be a traditional media brand that has its podcasting vehicle firing on all cylinders like 46-year-old NPR, which sponsored the Rain Podcast Business Summit in New York on Wednesday.

NPR is monetizing the space with ad sales and strategic branded content partnerships. But what’s more interesting is that the organization wants to change how podcast advertising is sold by getting better data in front of brand marketers.

It’s all about changing the mindset from download numbers to listening metrics.

“We want to get past just knowing the magazine is in the mailbox,” said Bryan Moffett, COO at National Public Media. “We want to define what parts of the podcast are important to us.”

To do that, Moffett spearheaded Remote Audio Data, or RAD, in January, looking to connect the dots about which parts of podcasts are heard. If people only listened to the first three-fourths of a program, for example, you’d know they didn’t hear the postroll ad. RAD is also designed to weed out auto downloads that people don’t listen to and eliminate paying for skipped ads.

Moffett’s team is working with distribution partners like Triton, Adswiz, Panoply and other podcasting platforms—as well as the Interactive Advertising Bureau—to bring such standardized metrics to bear.

“We’ll [get pings] from all the platforms that are playing our content to send us back listening—not listener—data so we know when it happened,” Moffett said.

That doesn’t mean ads in the last quartile will necessarily be cheaper or that ads in the front will be more expensive.

“Economics are not going to change for the people buying right now,” the COO said. “They are putting in this much money and getting this much result. So what we want to do is calibrate the CPM variate rate in the middle, where people say, ‘We are willing to pay more for this because … ‘”

“It’s an exact measurement,” added Gina Garrubbo, president and CEO of NPM, sitting offstage with Moffett during the Rain event. “TV doesn’t offer it. Print doesn’t offer it. The internet doesn’t offer it.”

Garrubbo pointed to a recent NPM-sponsored survey in which 86 percent of its listeners said they would rather listen to ads then pay for content. It’s that soft-sell style that public radio listeners have gotten to know well over the past few decades, she said.

“Just be cool—just tell me what it is,” Garrubbo said.

So, now that RAD is more than five months old, how’s it going?

“I said at the beginning of this year I want 70 percent of listening measured by the end of this year,” Moffett said. “And I think we actually have a chance. That’d be a seismic shift in the industry.”

A dozen soundscapes

NPM was indeed busy in January, when it debuted Brand Soundscapes, which entails long-form audio creative built for brands by the New York-based org’s team of freelancers. The programs can be accessed after hearing a short, interstitial promo for one of them on NPR.org or the NPR One app. Kia, Subaru, Optum and Chrysler’s Alfa Romeo brand are some of the 12 names that have already signed on to the program.

“We don’t want to put three minutes in front of the user,” Moffett said. “But we want to put 15 seconds to say, ‘Do you want to hear more from Chrysler?’”

Kia’s recent 15-second audio interstitials on NPR One drove a 0.25 percent click-through rate to the carmaker’s soundscape. What’s more, 13 percent of listeners who heard that branded soundscape clicked through to the automaker’s website.

Moffett wouldn’t divulge pricing for Brand Soundscapes, but he mentioned that if marketers did podcasts themselves, “That’s a lot of concrete to pour.”

Continuously evolving digital advertising, though, is but one piece for NPM, which offers 30 million radio listeners, 43 million NPR.org monthly users and 12.3 million monthly podcast listeners. The org almost always sells such media opportunities in bundles. More specifically, it looks to capitalize on the benefits of podcasting’s headphone-anchored immersive consumer experience any way it can, and that includes partnerships.

For instance, Trailblazers, a podcast from Dell, just wrapped up its inaugural season, while working with Vancouver-based branded podcast company Pacific Content and running NPR ads. Pacific Content and NPM have an ongoing relationship that helps the former increase downloads for its clients and allows the latter to increase ad sales.

Dell’s podcast, which features author Walter Isaacson, spent a week at No. 1 in the Apple Store’s business section in May. And word on the street is that it’ll back for a Season 2.

“Just got a renewal with Dell this week,” Moffett said.

Source: How NPR Continues to Develop Its Podcasting Ad Game With Data and Branded Content – Adweek

‘Missing Richard Simmons,’ the Morally Suspect Podcast – The New York Times

For decades, the fitness guru Richard Simmons was Hollywood’s most accessible celebrity. He was a talk show fixture, a leader of weight loss cruises and an instructor of $12 classes at his Beverly Hills workout studio, Slimmons. He greeted tour buses in front of his mansion and called fans to support their weight loss attempts. Then, three years ago, he abruptly retreated from public life. Dan Taberski, an acquaintance of Mr. Simmons (and a Slimmons regular), wants to know why.

Enter the latest prestige podcast obsession, “Missing Richard Simmons.” Thanks to Mr. Taberski’s blend of pop culture and pulp — think an aerobic “Behind the Music” but with a winking noir plot that proffers theories about Mr. Simmons’s mysterious disappearance — the show is instantly engaging. But soon, the podcast’s draw becomes disturbing. As Mr. Taberski digs deeper into Mr. Simmons’s personal life, the question becomes not “What happened to Richard Simmons?” but “Is it any of our business?”

The podcast has been compared to “Serial,” the real-time murder investigation (and podcasting’s breakout hit). But while “Serial” dug into a serious crime and possible miscarriage of justice, Mr. Taberski instead relentlessly pesters Mr. Simmons and friends for personal details pertaining to his mental and physical health. It’s not quite a public shaming; Mr. Taberski is careful to express respect for Mr. Simmons. Call it a public hounding.

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Richard Simmons, teaching a class at his gym in Beverly Hills, Calif., in November 2009.

Credit
Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

Mr. Simmons, who has declined to participate in the podcast, is not missing. He is living at home, and as the podcast goes on, it’s revealed that he is in close contact with a small circle of family and friends. A while after Mr. Simmons “disappeared,” and tabloid reports alleged he was being held by a housekeeper against his will, Mr. Simmons called in to the “Today” show to insist that he was fine. TMZ reports that two visits from Los Angeles Police Department officers have confirmed as much. He was just leading a more private life.


But that isn’t good enough for Mr. Taberski. So he rifles through Mr. Simmons’s social network, interviewing people who crossed his path and publicizing their speculation about his mental state. He urges listeners to call in with “any theory you think we missed.” Various potential personal crises — like the suggestion that his physical decline has made Mr. Simmons depressed, or that he’s grieving the deaths of his dogs — are raised like clues, turned over by Mr. Taberski and pals, and often dismissed as unserious. Though Mr. Simmons has acknowledged suffering from depression before, that wouldn’t justify a “complete and total retreat,” Mr. Taberski decides, which conveniently excuses him to keep digging.

Most disquieting is a “clue” teased in the first episode, when a former Slimmons client says that “for the last two or three months, he was showing up in drag.” In a forthcoming episode, Mr. Taberski digs into a tabloid report that Mr. Simmons is transitioning to female. He takes a moment to note that Mr. Simmons’s gender identity is nobody’s business but his own, then forges right ahead.

Mr. Taberski ultimately decides that the report is false — Mr. Simmons himself rebutted the story on Facebook — but regardless of its veracity, it feels exploitative to spread it while simultaneously championing the podcast’s great respect for Mr. Simmons’s privacy. A serious journalistic transgression — outing a person — is played here as just another sensational twist to be picked apart for podcast fodder. Mr. Taberski ends the segment with a jokey shrug: “But if he is transitioning? Mazel tov. But he’s not. I don’t think?”

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Dan Taberski, host of the podcast “Missing Richard Simmons,” in the recording booth at Invisible Studios in West Hollywood, Calif. He was a regular at Mr. Simmons’s exercise studio.

Credit
Oriana Koren for The New York Times

Mr. Taberski spends much of the podcast attempting to justify his invasions. Little details — like the fact that Mr. Simmons called in toToday” instead of appearing on video — are used to rationalize the project. “Why wouldn’t he want to be seen?” Mr. Taberski asks, then conjures the image of “a kidnapper holding a gun to his head.” The implication: Mr. Taberski will rest only when Mr. Simmons is fully exposed.

Mr. Taberski told The New York Times that the podcast “was coming from a place of love and coming from a place of real concern.” In Episode 2, Mr. Taberski takes listeners on a drive up to Mr. Simmons’s gated home for what he half-seriously calls a “stakeout.” “I don’t want him to feel like I’m invading his privacy,” Mr. Taberski says. “On the other hand, I’m Richard’s friend.”

Is this what friends do? Turn their loved one’s personal crisis into a fun mystery investigation and record it for a hit podcast? (It has topped the iTunes podcast charts for four straight weeks.) Despite his claims, Mr. Taberski is not principally a “friend” to Mr. Simmons. In the podcast, he presents himself as a regular at Slimmons Studio who became friendly with the instructor, but really he was always a documentarian circling a sensational subject. (Talk of a film documentary dissolved when Mr. Simmons cut off contact with Mr. Taberski.)

The relationship between journalists and subjects shouldn’t be confused with friendship. Journalists have power over their subjects and a responsibility to try to minimize harm. But Mr. Taberski leverages his claim to friendship to reverse the equation, arguing instead that it’s Mr. Simmons who has the responsibility to speak to him, and to explain himself to his former acquaintances and fans. He compares Mr. Simmons’s relationship to them to the responsibilities of a licensed therapist. Mr. Taberski says he took care to ask Mr. Simmons’s manager “if there was something serious going on, like illness, so I could just let it be.” But is depression not an illness? Is a person’s gender identity not sufficiently serious to leave alone? Having decided that Mr. Simmons’s reasons for withdrawal are not “serious,” Mr. Taberski feels freer to pursue the guy.

“Missing Richard Simmons” speaks to both the possibilities and the limits of the emerging prestige podcast form. Many of the podcast’s tropes — the mystery framing, the crowdsourcing of clues from the audience and a format that focuses on the narrator as much as his subject — are borrowed directly from “Serial.” By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.


 

Source: ‘Missing Richard Simmons,’ the Morally Suspect Podcast – The New York Times

Radio: The return of “Serial” | The Economist

HOW do you follow up on a phenomenon? At the end of its first series “Serial”, presented by Sarah Koenig and affiliated to “This American Life”, had become the most popular podcast in the world. It was the first to reach 5m downloads from iTunes, and each episode reached about 2.2m pairs of ears. The subject of the story was a murder committed in 1999 and long since considered solved. Every week listeners heard a little more about Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager, her death and the intriguing, contradictory details of the police investigation and trial that followed. Week-by-week “Serial” interrogated both Adnan Syed, who was convicted for the murder and imprisoned in 2000 despite maintaining his innocence, and the case against him. After a swell of renewed interest, judge Martin Welch ordered the case re-opened in November.

A sequel has been in the works since end of the first series in December 2014, but the details—When would it begin? Would it re-examine another cold case?—remained obscure. As recently as ten days ago, when your correspondent contacted the team behind the podcast, she was told that the “launch date for season 2 is still a moving target”. The target turned out to be today.

And the subject is the curious case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who, aged 23, walked away from his post in a remote corner of Afghanistan, armed with little more than a compass, some nuts, his camera and some dehydrated chicken. He was captured by Taliban allies and spent the next five years as a hostage. His release, on May 21st 2014, caused a furore. He had been exchanged for five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay. Many in the military condemned Mr Bergdahl as a deserter; Republicans criticised the swap too, maintaining that it was unconstitutional.

The story is a smart choice. The first episode is titled “DUSTWUN”. This, we are told, is a military acronym for “duty status—whereabouts unknown”. Mr Bergdahl alleges his desertion was an attempt to draw the attention of the military to the “leadership failure”—his words—in his unit. The situation was so dire he believed his fellow soldiers were in danger and he wanted to cause the biggest stink he could in order to get the biggest fish in the region interested. The DUSTWUN status was the tool he was hoping to use. Of course, as Ms Koenig points out, Mr Bergdahl could well be lying. The military taboo surrounding desertion is such that he has to have a security detail to guard him from possible attacks from his fellow soldiers. While he is currently still on clerical duty, his case is under legal review. He has every reason to lie, and has had five years to come up with a good story.

While listeners will have to wait another 11 episodes for questions of innocence and guilt, motive and obfuscation to play out, it is already clear that “Serial” has scored a second hit. A possible desertion from American military, especially given the politically charged atmosphere in the run up to the election and the increasingly incendiary rhetoric about terrorists at home and abroad, is perfect fodder for candidates and media alike.

Radio: The return of “Serial” | The Economist.