This is hot pod, the edges newsletter on podcasting and the audio industry. Register here for more.
I hope everyone stays cool this summer. Today, I take a look at Audible’s new chief content officer and what her role in Amazon’s larger audio strategy will entail. I also have an exclusive interview for you from the creators of iHeartMedia’s NextUp Initiative, a six-month fellowship for underrepresented podcasters.
Audio Directors Summit starts tomorrow in Los Angeles. Spotify and Wondery will also host summits on Thursday. I will be present, so you can expect my summary in another edition of hot pod.
Finally, this just before post time: Trisha Paytas is cutting ties with Colleen Ballinger, who she co-hosted the YouTube podcast with. overshare. If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding Ballinger, aka Miranda Sings, the former YouTuber faces a number of grooming accusations of his younger fans. Ballinger responded to the accusations with a shockingly thumping ukulele video containing the lyrics: “I’m not a hairdresser, I’m just a loser.” I’m hesitant to link to it because I don’t want to increase YouTube revenue from it. The 36-year-old comedian was also scheduled to host a live tour this summer, which the daily beast reported appears to have been cancelled.
Audible Selects Rachel Ghiazza to Serve as Chief Content Officer
Audible’s new chief content officer will be Rachel Ghiazza, who has been at the helm of US content on the audiobook platform since 2020. The promotion means that Ghiazza will be in charge of every stage of content, from development to release. production, and will also manage relationships with talent, publishers and partners. The publisher side of the equation is key. Audible has had run-ins with publishers in the past over publishing rights and new features (echoing an older fight between Amazon and e-books). But since audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry and Audible controls an estimated 63 percent Otherwise, publishers are unlikely to leave any money on the table. Ghiazza is a Spotify alumnus who spent more than five years on the streaming platform leading its global content experiences team.
But Ghiazza will also be tasked with leading the push for globalized Audible Originals and growing the company’s library of podcasts and audiobooks. He helped support the launch and development of Audible Plus, as well as internal brands like Audible Theater and Words + Music. He has also worked with a number of high-profile productions, including Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground and James Patterson Entertainment.
This year, Audible has commissioned a series of high-profile podcasts and audiobooks, including a list of original podcasts with UK comedians like Daisy May Cooper, Lolly Adefope and Mo Gilligan. Also green light two Audible Original podcasts from the producer of the Netflix documentary The Tinder Scammer. Just today, Audible announced a new scripted audio series with Broadway Video called yes we are cannabis which will debut exclusively on the Amazon-owned platform and will feature Sam Richardson, Langston Kerman, Punkie Johnson and Method Man.
Amazon’s size means that podcasts and audiobooks are a small fraction of your annual spend, so you have the freedom to experiment with content.
Elsewhere at Amazon, the company appears to still be focused on leveling up its audio game. This spring, the company quietly acquired AI for snacks, an audio discovery platform, to help develop Amazon Music’s podcast features. Last year, Amazon Music also paid a staggering $100 million for the exclusive advertising and distribution rights to my favorite murderwhich went on to become a regular in Podtrac’s Top 20 Podcasts, where it remains to this day.
But where exactly is the e-commerce giant headed with audio? Right now, Amazon has three separate divisions that work on original audio content. The company has Audible, Amazon Music, and Wondery (which is under Amazon Music), and all three produce original podcasts. Amazon’s size means that podcasts and audiobooks are a small fraction of your annual spend, so you have the freedom to experiment with content. While Amazon Studios’ spending on original TV shows comes up against more scrutiny From leadership, the company’s audio efforts equate to pennies wasted on couch cushions, and so far they show no signs of stopping.
iHeartMedia’s NextUp founders Anna Hossnieh and Joelle Smith on finding diverse podcast voices
How diverse exactly is podcasting in 2023? An infinite sphere from Edison Research 2022 survey reveals that podcasting can be a bit more diverse than other creative fields, as well as the country itself; about half of podcast hosts are white, about a quarter (or 24 percent) are Hispanic and Latino, and 14 percent are black. Meanwhile, the racial breakdown of monthly podcast audiences is roughly similar to that of the US population, with 59% of listeners identifying as White, 16% identifying as Latino or Hispanic, 16% who identify as Black and 3% who identify as Asian.
Achieving racial parity is a big deal for the podcast industry, but that diversity hasn’t been reflected in the amount of attention and money devoted to creators. hills frequently heard the podcasts on Podtrac are mostly white and/or male creators. Meanwhile, gender parity seems to be the podcast industry’s biggest fight right now: A full 69 percent of podcast hosts are male, 29 percent are female, and 2 percent identify as non binary. In other words, the podcast bro archetype is very real.
Every podcast company (at least publicly) has expressed a desire to highlight diverse creators or shows presenting stories from underrepresented backgrounds. Whether or not they actually do is a different story. At this year’s IAB Podcast Upfront, companies like NPR, iHeart Podcasts, SiriusXM and Cumulus Media spoke about the need to highlight diverse creators. Diversity certainly sounds good when presented to advertisers on the stage, but what concrete steps are companies taking?
I spoke with Anna Hossnieh and Joelle Smith, the two co-founders of iHeartMedia’s NextUp Initiative for Underrepresented Podcast Hosts, to learn more. Essentially, the show serves as a kind of incubator for up-and-coming podcasters from underrepresented backgrounds. Each year’s fellows embark on a six-month training program in which they develop and produce their own podcast.
So this country has a long history of immigrant radio, where we’ve seen groups like the Caribbean community or black Americans turn to radio because it was a cheap way to get information. I’d love to hear your thoughts on barriers to entry in the audio industry. What prevents people of color from pursuing careers in audio, whether in production or as creators?
Joelle Smith: I think radio is a good example as once you have that basic system and understanding of the technology it’s pretty simple and as you say cheap to start. But podcasting really isn’t like that. Maybe you can get some of that equipment secondhand. But if your podcast doesn’t sound crystal clear, you can’t retain listeners.
For me, I’ve been working in the podcast landscape since 2014. I wasn’t able to get a really paying job until 2020, when iHeart hired me. My friend Dani Fernandez was the host [Nerdificent] on the net and brought me in as an independent researcher. And in March of that year, I was hired full-time as an executive producer. Fake doctors, Zach and Donald’s real friends. So it was a real whirlwind of events after years of not only doing my own podcasts with my friends, but also working for smaller networks that have no intention of paying for their talent or really developing it. It was me doing three shows a night for two and a half years, just developing my skills as a presenter and producer. I started coaching kids in this network that I was working on and turned them into new talents.
I think the other thing, beyond the financial barrier, is the connections. How are you building these connections to land in the podcast industry? Many of the people we spoke to said, ‘I don’t know who to talk to, and I don’t know who will take my show seriously, and how do I get people that others want to hear my show?’ It’s much easier when you’re inside the iHeartMedia binary. Suddenly, there’s a lot more attention when people understand that you have the skill set and that you live in a space where it’s worth their time to come forward and appear on your show.
When peers come to you, they are at different levels of skills and abilities, where some are quite established at a professional level and others are not. How do you take your peers through the process of going from an idea to a fully formed show?
Anna Hosnieh: We start with a two-week intensive orientation, where via Zoom, they take 20-30 different classes. We get different people from all over the network to volunteer their time to do these conferences for them, from hosting and developing to editing and using their equipment. We cover all the different avenues, from recording to literally how to speak into the microphone. We try to get different people to talk about all these different topics. And once we get past that two-week orientation, the core team, which is now about five of us, starts having one-on-one meetings with each partner. We sit there and we go through his idea, and we go through how we actually do it. We started getting into the grass on how to develop your show. How do you want your show to sound?
Right now, we’re listening to early drafts of the first or second episode that we’re working on. We basically use all of our connections to basically connect them with people. They have an editing mentor outside of iHeart, and they have another mentor online, so they have another ear to bounce ideas off of.
You can read more about this year’s crop of NextUp Fellows, including Roya Ramezankhani, Leatra B. Tate, Joseph, Devarah “Dee” Borrego, Nicole Garcia, Autumn Harris, Shianne Salazar, and Patty Mulloy. here.