Public radio organizations partner to acquire podcast app

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NPR, WNYC in New York City, WBEZ in Chicago and This American Life have pooled resources to buy a podcasting app, the partners announced Thursday.

The group acquired the app Pocket Casts with the aim of furthering “public radio’s leading role as an innovator in audio discovery and distribution,” according to a press release. The purchase will also allow them to “create a more tailored discovery experience that helps listeners find their next must-listen podcast,” WNYC President Laura Walker said in the release.

The deal “reflects a shared commitment to reach and engage a new generation of listeners everywhere, and to serve the needs of audio producers across public radio and beyond,” NPR Chief Digital Officer Thomas Hjelm told public radio station leaders in an email Thursday obtained by Current.

Pocket Casts now hosts more than 300,000 podcasts from a variety of producers and includes features such as filtering by podcasts a user has already started, the ability to trim silences from podcasts, and a desktop version that syncs with the app. Pocket Casts costs $3.99 in Apple’s App Store and, according to the Wall Street Journal, accounts for about 2 percent of podcast downloads and streams.

The purchase gives the partners “a toehold in the broader world of podcast distribution and an opportunity to gather more data and insights on the market,” according to the Journal. The buyers also want to “create a platform for independent creators to distribute and monetize their work,” the Journal said.

The organizations have formed a new business entity titled Podcast Media LLC, Hjelm said in the email to stations. Owen Grover, former executive VP and GM at iHeartRadio, will be CEO of the new entity and report to a board of directors consisting of Hjelm, WNYC CEO Laura Walker and WBEZ CEO Goli Sheikholeslami. This American Life’s Ira Glass will serve in an advisory role.

Pocket Casts founders Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic will remain in leadership roles with the new entity along with the app’s existing staff and developer team, according to the release.

NPR will not promote the app within its broadcast shows, but the network and other partners will market the app digitally, Hjelm said. NPR One, which also includes podcasts, will remain a “cornerstone in NPR’s digital portfolio,” he said.

New York Public Radio was able to invest in Pocket Casts in part with support from Cynthia King Vance and a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the announcement said.

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