Podcasts

Acast launches Acast Access to make paywalled podcasts available on any player

Posted by | Acast, Media, Mobile, Podcasts, Startups | No Comments

Podcast monetization company Acast is launching a new way for publishers to put their podcasts behind a paywall.

Until now, podcasts have not been well-suited to subscription paywalls, due to the fact that they’re distributed via RSS feeds that can be accessed by any podcast player. So instead we’ve seen workarounds like Substack building a web-based audio player and TechCrunch releasing all our podcasts free while putting transcripts behind the Extra Crunch paywall.

And then there’s Luminary, the subscription podcast app that’s faced serious backlash for including unaffiliated podcasts in a way that some podcasters suspect it was re-hosting their audio files. (The company says it wasn’t doing that.)

With Acast Access, on the other hand, publishers should be able to create versions of their podcasts that are only available to subscribers, but are still accessible from any app.

Chief Product Officer Johan Billgren said that Acast works with a publisher to create two different podcast feeds — the public feed, which is available to everyone for free, and the “accessed-RSS” feed, which should include all the public content but also extra episodes, episodes released early or episodes with bonus content inserted.

Acast Access infographic

Billgren demonstrated the listener process for me, showing how a subscriber could log onto a publisher’s site, visit the podcast page and then click a button that will allow them to subscribe to the paid version of the podcast, choosing the podcast app of their choice. Once you’ve subscribed, you should be able to download and play episodes anytime you want, without any additional login.

Behind the scenes, Billgren said Acast is checking anonymized user data against the publisher’s API to confirm that you really do have permission to access the feed. And apparently it can still cut you off after you cancel your subscription.

Initial Acast Access partners include the Financial Times and The Economist. While it makes sense to launch with larger publishers who can incorporate this into their existing subscription paywalls, Billgren said Acast will also be making this available to smaller partners in the comings months — they’ll be able to release podcasts behind Acast’s own subscription paywall. (The company has already been experimenting with paid content through its Acast+ app.)

“Basically, we want to reach the point where it’s a natural thing to say, ‘This is the public version [of a podcast], press the link to get access to the accessed version,’ ” he said.

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HipChat founders launch Swoot, a social podcast app

Posted by | funding, Media, Mobile, Podcasts, Startups, Swoot, True Ventures | No Comments

Pete Curley and Garret Heaton, who previously co-founded team chat app HipChat and sold it to Atlassian, are officially launching their new product, Swoot, today. The app makes it easy for users to recommend podcasts and see what their friends are listening to.

This might seem like a big leap from selling enterprise software — and indeed, Curley said the company was initially focused on creating another set of team collaboration tools.

What they realized, however, was that HipChat is “actually a consumer product that the company just happens to pay for, because the employees demand it” — and he said they weren’t terribly interested in trying to build a business around a more traditional “top-down sales process.”

Meanwhile, Curley said he’d injured his back while lowering one of his children into a crib, which meant that for months, his only form of exercise was walking. He recalled walking around for hours each day and, for the first time, keeping himself entertained by listening to podcasts.

“I was actually way behind the times,” he said. “I didn’t know this, that everyone else was listening to them … This is like the dark web of content.”

Swoot Screenshot 1

The startup has already raised a $3 million seed funding round led by True Ventures .

“Pete and Garret both have incredible product and entrepreneurial experience, plus they have built successful businesses together in the past,” said True Ventures co-founder Jon Callaghan in a statement. “Their focus of solving the disjointed podcast listening experience through Swoot’s elegant design fills a clear gap in media discovery.”

Discovery — namely, finding new podcasts beyond the handful that you already subscribe to — is one of the biggest issues in podcasting right now. It’s something a number of companies are trying to solve, but in Curley’s view, the key is to make the listening experience more social.

He noted that social sharing features are getting added to “literally everything,” including your bathroom scale, except “the one thing that I actually wanted it for.”

Curley also contrasted the podcast listening experience with YouTube: “We don’t realize how big [podcasting] is because there is no social thing where you see that Gangnam Style has 8 billion views, and you realize that the entire world is watching. There’s no view count, no anything that tells you what’s popular.”

So he’s trying to provide that view with Swoot. Instead of focusing on overall listen counts (which might not be that impressive in a new app), Swoot gives you two main ways to track what’s popular among your friends.

Swoot Screenshot 2

There’s a feed that shows you everything that your friends are listening to or recommending, plus a list of episodes that are currently trending, with little icons showing you the friends who have listened to at least 20 percent of an episode.

Curley said the team has been beta testing the app by simply releasing it on the App Store and telling friends about it, then letting it spread by word of mouth until it was in the hands of around 1,000 users. During that test, it found that 25 percent of the podcasts that users listened to were coming from friends.

Curley also noted that this approach is “episode-centric” rather than “show-centric.” In other words, it’s not just helping you find the next podcast that you want to subscribe to and listen to for years — it also helps surface the specific episode that everyone’s listening to right now.

“In the 700,000 shows that exist, if you’re the 690,000 worst-ranked show, but you have one great episode that should be able to go viral, that’s basically impossible to do right now, because audio is crazy hard to share,” Curley said.

In the course of our conversation, I brought up my experience with Spotify — I like knowing what’s popular, but when a friend recently mentioned specific songs that they could see I’d been listening to on the service, I was a bit creeped out.

“It’s funny, I actually thought, how ironic that Spotify is getting into podcasting now [through the acquisitions of Gimlet and Anchor],” Curley replied. “They actually had this correct mechanism applied to the wrong thing. Music is a deeply personal thing.”

Which isn’t to say that podcast listening isn’t personal, but there’s more of an opportunity to discover overlapping interests, say the fact that you and your friends all listen to true crime podcasts.

Curley also said that the app is deliberately designed to ensure that “the service does not get worse because a ton of people follow you” — so they see what you are listening to, but they can’t comment on it or tell you that you’re an idiot for listening.

At the same time, he also said the team will be adding a mode to only share podcasts you actively recommend, rather than posting everything you listen to.

As for making money, Curley suggested that he’s interested in exploring a variety of possibilities, whether that’s integrating with other subscription or tipping services, or in creating ad opportunities around promoting podcasts.

“My actual answer is, there are a bunch of people trying to monetize right now, but I don’t think there’s a platform even close to mature enough to even try to monetize podcasting yet, other than podcasters doing their own advertising,” he said. “I think the endgame, where the real money is made in podcasting, actually hasn’t been come up with yet.”

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Media fragmentation is annoying consumers

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Amazon, Assistant, augmented reality, cloud storage, deloitte, digital media, Entertainment, esports, executive, Gaming, Google, internet television, Media, Multimedia, Music, new media, Podcasts, San Francisco, Streaming Media, streaming music, streaming video, TC, television, United States, user generated content, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications division published its 13th-annual Digital Media Trends survey, focused on identifying changes in the ways US consumers engage with various types of media.

Led by an independent research firm, the survey had roughly 2,000 consumer respondents across demographics – with the report categorizing respondents based on age (Gen-Z: ages 14-21, Millenials: 22-35, Gen-X: 36-52, Boomers: 53-71, and Matures: 72+).

While already accompanied by a succinct 13-page executive summary, the report can largely be summarized in just a couple of sentences: more people are using streaming or alternative media services than ever before, largely due to more user freedom and customization, though the growing quantity and fragmentation of platforms are becoming more frustrating for users to manage.

The survey results directionally echo already well-discussed dynamics, which we’ve previously dug into such as here, here and here. Instead, the most poignant aspects of the report were not the answers or conclusions themselves, but the immense level of support many of them received.

 

Somewhat interesting:

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Podcasts, smart speakers soar as social media stalls, based on new survey

Posted by | Media, Mobile, Podcasts, Social, TC | No Comments

The 2019 edition of a popular annual survey shows usage of social media by Americans is stalling while ownership of smart speakers and tablets has soared over the last year, as has consumer engagement with podcasts. The results are promising for Amazon and Spotify in particular.

Earlier today, Edison Research and Triton Digital presented their Infinite Dial report with findings from a phone survey of 1,500 Americans (age 12+) during January and February. Since 1998, the report has tracked the adoption of mobile devices, social media services, and online audio.

Here are my key takeaways from it:

1. Social Media: Consistent with the trend from last year, the market for social media users appears to be saturated. The percent of Americans who say they have ever used social media is 79%, up from 78% last year but down from the 80% peak in 2017.

Among Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Twitter, only Instagram saw an increase in the percent of the population who say they use it (39% compared to 36% in 2018). Facebook lost roughly 15 million users since 2017 based on this survey data. While the majority of people age 55+ now say they use Facebook, that doesn’t make up for the drop in usage among those age 12-34 from 79% in 2017 to 67% in 2018 to 62% now.

Pinterest, which recently filed to go public, also appears to be losing popularity among that key demographic. Now only 31% of Americans in the 12-34 age group say they use the social pinning platform, compared to 36% last year, and only 1% say Pinterest is their most used social app (compared to 3% in 2015). In this context, potential competition from Instagram looks especially threatening.

2. Smart Speakers: 23% of Americans now own a smart speaker, with 16% of them owning an Amazon Alexa device (that’s more than twice the percent who own a Google Home device). Just two years ago, only 7% reported owning a smart speaker. The percent of those owners who have 3 or more devices has more than doubled from 11% last year to 26% this year as well. Many consumers are crossing a threshold from testing these speakers to making them a ubiquitous presence throughout their home.

3. Tablets: While ownership of smartphones is flat, there was a 12% year-over-year increase in the population of tablet owners from 50% of the population to 56%. According to Triton president John Rosso’s commentary, Amazon’s Fire tablet led the pack with 23% year-over-year growth.

4. Online Audio: 24% of respondents said they used Spotify and 12% said they used Amazon Music in the last month. That compares to 20% and 9%, respectively, last year and places Amazon Music on equal footing with Apple Music.

5. Podcasts: 32% of Americans are monthly podcast listeners compared to 26% in 2018, representing the largest year-over-year growth in that statistic since Infinite Dial began. The format saw a 33% surge in popularity among young people (age 12-24) from 30% listening monthly to 40% doing so.

A full 22% of Americans are weekly podcast listeners and those people consume an average of seven episodes per week. Also, in a notable symbolic shift, the majority (51%) of Americans now say they have listened to a podcast at least once.

Amazon’s gains: The explosion in smart speaker ownership is disproportionately benefiting Amazon with its Alexa devices and the same scenario is occurring in tablets with the Amazon Fire. The company is the most immediate winner in the growth of these markets.

Moreover, people who own a smart speaker are dramatically more likely to use Amazon Music as their primary music streaming service (16% vs. 9% for the general population of people who have used online audio).

This could be a mere correlation that Amazon Music has an older demographic (according to this data, it does) and smart speakers are bought by an older demographic; on the other hand, it may suggest causation that people who buy smart speakers often adopt the default Amazon Music streaming service. If the latter is true to a substantial degree, it suggests Amazon Music’s momentum against Apple Music (and other streaming services) is likely to only pick up.

Spotify’s podcast push is working: Spotify is making a big play into podcasting. Its market share is growing substantially, it surpassed Apple’s podcast app in popularity in several countries, and just announced a major commitment to the format that included acquiring Anchor and Gimlet.

According to the Infinite Dial survey, the percent of Spotify users aged 12-24 who listen to podcasts monthly jumped from 32% last year to 54% this year. That’s 69% year-over-year growth. This shows Spotify’s users are buying into its new promotion of podcast content. It also lends credibility to the argument that Spotify is expanding the market of podcast listeners, not just poaching users from other podcast apps.

As I argued in my analysis about the entry of music streaming services and Hollywood into podcasting, Spotify has the ability to rapidly ingrain podcast listening among its 207 million monthly active users and to make premium (subscriber-only) podcasts mainstream by bundling them into a music subscription that 96 million people already pay for.

You can review the the full Infinite Dial deck here.

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Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

Posted by | ad tech, advertising, CES 2019, Media, Mobile, Podcasting, Podcasts, Spotify, TC | No Comments

Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

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Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD

Posted by | ad tech, Ads, Advertising Tech, analytics, Media, Mobile, Podcasts | No Comments

Internet users are already being tracked to death, with ads that follow us around, search histories that are collected and stored, emails that report back to senders when they’ve been read, websites that know where you scrolled and what you clicked and much more. So naturally, the growing podcast industry wanted to find a way to collect more data of its own, too.

Yes, that’s right. Podcasts will now track detailed user behavior, too.

Today, NPR announced RAD, a new, open-sourced podcast analytics technology that was developed in partnership with nearly 30 companies from the podcasting industry. The technology aims to help publishers collect more comprehensive and standardized listening metrics from across platforms.

Specifically, the technology gives publishers — and therefore their advertisers, as well — access to a wide range of listener metrics, including downloads, starts and stops, completed ad or credit listens, partial ad or credit listens, ad or credit skips and content quartiles, the RAD website explains.

However, the technology stops short of offering detailed user profiles, and cannot be used to re-target or track listeners, the site notes. It’s still anonymized, aggregated statistics.

It’s worth pointing out that RAD is not the first time podcasters have been able to track engagement. Major platforms, including Apple’s Podcast Analytics, today offer granular and anonymized data, including listens.But NPR says that data requires “a great deal of manual analysis” as the stats aren’t standardized nor as complete as they could be. RAD is an attempt to change that, by offering a tracking mechanism everyone can use.

Already, RAD has a lot of support. In addition to being integrated into NPR’s own NPR One app, it has commitments from several others that will introduce the technology into their own products in 2019, including Acast, AdsWizz, ART19, Awesound, Blubrry Podcasting, Panoply, Omny Studio, Podtrac, PRI/PRX, RadioPublic, Triton Digital and WideOrbit.

Other companies that supported RAD and participated in its development include Cadence13, Edison Research, ESPN, Google, iHeartMedia, Libsyn, The New York Times, New York Public Radio and Wondery.

NPR says the NPR One app on Android supports RAD as of now, and its iOS app will do the same in 2019.

“Over the course of the past year, we have been refining these concepts and the technology in collaboration with some of the smartest people in podcasting from around the world,” said Joel Sucherman, vice president, New Platform Partnerships at NPR, in an announcement. “We needed to take painstaking care to prove out our commitment to the privacy of listeners, while providing a standard that the industry could rally around in our collective efforts to continue to evolve the podcasting space,” he said.

To use RAD technology, publishers will mark within their audio files certain points — like quartiles or some time markers, interview spots, sponsorship messages or ads — with RAD tags and indicate an analytics URL. A mobile app is configured to read the RAD tags and then, when listeners hit that spot in the file, that information is sent to the URL in an anonymized format.

The end result is that podcasters know just what parts of the audio file their listeners heard, and is able to track this at scale across platforms. (RAD is offering both Android and iOS SDKs.)

While there’s value in podcast data that goes beyond the download, not all are sold on technology.

Most notably, the developer behind the popular iOS podcast player app Overcast, Marco Arment, today publicly stated his app will not support any listener-tracking specs.

Yes. I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers.

I won’t be supporting any listener-behavior tracking specs in Overcast. Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes. https://t.co/mplhnrmCsc

— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) December 11, 2018

“I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers,” Arment wrote in a tweet. “Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes,” he said.

The developer also pointed out this sort of data collection required more work on the podcasters’ part and could become a GDPR liability, as well. (NPR tells us GDPR compliance is up to the mobile apps and analytics servers, as noted in the specs here.)

In addition to NPR’s use of RAD today, Podtrac has also now launched a beta program to show RAD data, which is open to interested publishers.

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Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project goes live for all

Posted by | Apps, genome, Media, Mobile, Pandora, Podcasts, streaming | No Comments

Last month, Pandora announced it would soon be bringing its “Genome” technology to a new space outside of music: it would leverage a similar classification system to make podcast recommendations, too. Initially, the feature was only available to select users on mobile devices, ahead of a broader public launch. Today, Pandora says its Podcast Genome Project has gone live for all users.

Like Pandora’s Music Genome is its music information database capable of classifying songs across 450 different attributes — Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project is a cataloging system designed to evaluate content. But its focus is on audio programs instead of music.

The Podcast Genome Project can currently evaluate content across more than 1,500 attributes, including MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile and more, alongside other listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays and others. It uses a combination of machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine listener preferences, the company says.

Pandora then combines this data with human curation to make its podcast recommendations.

These recommendations are live now in the Pandora app’s “Browse” section, under the banner “Recommended Podcasts For You.” Podcasts will also be discoverable throughout the app in the Now Playing screen, search bar, in the podcast backstage passes and in the episode backstage passes.

At launch, the app is aggregating more than 100,000 podcast episodes in genres like News, True Crime, Sports, Comedy, Music, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Kids, Health and Science, the company adds.

Podcasters can also now ask to be included in Pandora’s app by filling out a form here.

Longer-term, a better recommendation system for podcasts could help Pandora as it becomes more integrated with its acquirer SiriusXM. The deal will likely bring SiriusXM’s exclusive programming to Pandora’s subscribers, which would greatly increase the number of audio programs available on its service. Putting the right programs in front of the most interested customers could then drive more people to upgrade to a paid subscription, impacting Pandora’s bottom line.

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Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Posted by | calm, equity, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, juul, Mobile, Podcasts, smyte, Startups, Twitter, Venture Capital | No Comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple of topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

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Plex adds support for podcasts, debuts personalized mobile apps

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, plex, Podcasts | No Comments

At CES in January, TechCrunch broke the news that media software maker Plex was planning to expand its service with the addition of new media content, starting with podcasts. Today, it’s making good on that promise by launching support for podcasts into beta, along with a whole new look and more customization options for its Plex mobile apps.

While Plex got its start as a software application for organizing people’s home media collections, it’s been expanding over the past couple of years to add new features in support of cord cutters who want to watch TV via their antenna, and record those shows. It also acquired the streaming news startup Watchup in order to add a dedicated news hub within its app.

Earlier this year, the company spoke of its ambitions to continue adding more types of content to its media center software, including audio and video podcasts, followed by digital, web-first and other longer-form creator content. (It had originally expected to add podcasts in Q1 2018, so this nearly-June launch is a bit of a delay.)

The larger goal, on Plex’s part, is to organize all your media content in one place – from live and recorded TV to your personal media collections of music, photos, and videos, and your news and information – including, now, your favorite podcasts.

The feature, live today in beta, is available on the Plex web platform, Roku, and iOS and Android, with other device support coming soon.

You can browse and search across Plex’s podcast library, filter podcasts by categories, or click into a title to see the details, episode lists, and related podcasts. To follow that podcast, you click the “Add to My Podcasts” button. This will add the podcast to your “On Deck” dashboard, as well.

If the podcast you like isn’t in the Plex catalog, you can add it by entering the feed URL, and Plex will treat it as if it is – it will retrieve all its metadata, related podcasts, and make it searchable. (That’s useful because Plex’s catalog isn’t as robust as others at launch.)

The feature also includes the standard media controls you’d expect, like forward and back and support for variable speed playback, as well as a “mark as played” option, all available through Plex’s upgraded media player. That option can help you transition to Plex’s podcast platform from another app, as you won’t have to lose your place, in terms of what you’ve listened to, and what you’ve not. And it lets you continually mark off any episodes you may have caught elsewhere, or just otherwise want to skip.

Your listening progress is also synced across Plex’s suite of apps.

The feature wasn’t perfect in brief testing, but it was in a pre-launch state, and today it’s only arriving in beta – so it’s too soon to speak to how well it performs as a publicly facing product.

In a few weeks, Plex will roll out a handful of other features for podcasts, including smart downloading with granular controls for managing the episodes you want to keep on a per show basis (e.g. keep the last three); additional metadata for richer show pages and better discovery options; and podcasts import and export (OPML) so you can move your current subscriptions more easily into Plex.

Along with the launch of podcasts, Plex is updating its mobile apps, too, to offer better customization options.

Now, if you want to listen to your podcasts and news while you’re on the go, on mobile, you can configure the app to show that media on your home screen. Or, if you use the app more for casting your videos to your living room TV, you could bring those favorite shows to the front of the experience instead. And so on.

On this new, customizable home screen you can re-order you content, remove any of its sections (like “Recently Added” or “On Deck,”), or add new ones from elsewhere in the app, including across servers (like Plex Cloud or your local server such as your home PC.)

Plex has also added tabs at the bottom of the screen for switching between your media type (e.g. movies, TV, podcasts, etc.), which are fully customizable, too. You can even customize the default source for each media type.

The addition of podcasts to this more personalized media experience makes sense not only because of how popular podcasts have become, but also because many are tied to the shows you watch – they’re creator commentaries, roundtable discussions, fan chats, critic reviews, and more. It’s easy to imagine, then, moving from watching a show on the TV then heading out and launching the Plex app to listen to the podcast discussing the last episode.

That’s the vision Plex has, at least. However, even with these additions, Plex’s software overall still caters more to the DIY crowd – those who want set up their own antenna, rather than pay for an online TV service like YouTube TV or Sling. And it hasn’t yet solved the problem of media that’s all over the place – favorite shows and movies are strewn across services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon, and it’s hard to know where the things you want to watch reside. Those are still challenges Plex could attack in the future, by becoming a hub that jumps you into streaming catalogs, too.

It’s unclear how well Plex’s expansions have been working to attract new users and paying subscribers.

The company doesn’t break out the latter figure. and it still claims today the same 15 million registered users it had at the beginning of the year. Becoming a podcast player could help bump that number up, though, and introduce more people to Plex’s software, as a result.

Podcasts are in beta on web, mobile and Roku, and the mobile apps are rolling out starting today.

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As tech automates, Blinkist keeps its book summary service very human

Posted by | Apps, audiobooks, blinkist, Europe, Mobile, Podcasts, Startups, TC | No Comments

 When I first heard of Blinkist, a service that breaks down recent nonfiction books to easily digestible snippets, I was afraid it would turn out to be some machine-learning-driven auto-summary thing. But in talking to co-founder Niklas Jansen, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the company is still very much people-powered — and in fact, that may be the root of its continuing success. Read More

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