A Coalition of Radio Giants Buy a Podcasting App

In the most recent edition of “Hot Pod,” an industry newsletter released weekly by Nick Quah, he broke the news that a coalition of public radio organizations — NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ, and This American Life, which stands alone as a public benefit corporation — had acquired Pocket Casts, an Australian podcast app thought to be well liked among the podcasting community.

Another big news day for the future of podcasting as we are seeing the radio industry continue to adapt to the On-Demand marketplace. So what is Pocket Cast? Pocket Cast is a podcasting discovery app and player with over 300,000 unique shows, a tending/popular section and a search functionality similar to most platforms. Some advanced features include enhanced playback speed, trim silence (no pauses in content) and volume boost (always same audio levels) that set it apart from some other platforms.

You can find relevant coverage at The VergeNPR’s press room, and The Wall Street Journal, among numerous outlets that picked up the story. But here are the key details you should know:

  • Pocket Casts will operate as an independent company separate and apart from any of the organizations that are part of the joint acquisition. An NPR spokesperson told me that the company will not operate as a nonprofit.


  • The public radio coalition has brought in Owen Grovers, a former EVP and general manager at iHeartRadio and former VP of programming and marketing at Clear Channel, to serve as CEO of the new company.


  • The current Pocket Casts team will be maintained. Founders Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic will remain in leadership roles at the company.


  • The financial terms were not disclosed. It is perhaps useful to note that WNYC’s investment was partially made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the philanthropist Cynthia King Vance, the former chair of WNYC’s board of trustees.


  • Pocket Casts’ existing business model is based on a one-time $3.99 app purchase. But a spokesperson told me that the new leadership team “will assess the business and revenue model for Pocket Casts over the coming weeks, with the goal of ensuring the platform remains financially sustainable. Decisions about the fee model will be made as part of that process.”


  • Despite the review, the existing Pocket Casts leadership are promising a fundamental sameness (with more resources) despite the appointment of a former iHeartRadio exec as the new CEO, a new set of owners, and a rapidly shifting environment.


  • Here’s the view on the app’s market share based on Ben Mullin’s reporting at the Wall Street Journal: “Pocket Casts accounts for about 2% of the downloads and streams of podcasts, according to Podtrac. Both NPR and WNYC said that Pocket Casts accounted for a larger share of podcast listening than PodTrac’s estimates, but declined to provide specifics.” That’s an important datapoint to know if your theory of the acquisition involves the group intending to buy a bought-in listener base.


While there are still some things are still unclear about how the companies will operate, one thing for certain is that this is yet another big win for the podcasting industry and audio in general. It simply means that more of the market is accepting podcasting as the next great voice frontier.

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