How Podcasts Are Filling a Real Need

January 10, 2019, 5:56 PM UTC
Dear Media Podcast At The Grove Presents As Seen Online With Jilly Hendrix
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 19: Social Media Personality Jilly Hendrix (L) and Writer and Comedian Erin Foster (R) attend the Dear Media Podcast presents As Seen Online With Jilly Hendrix at The Grove on July 19, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
Paul Archuleta—Getty Images

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

A journalist friend recently commented to me that soon our entire industry will be made up of newsletters and podcasts. That’s funny, I responded. The former, a compilation of news by other people plus some value-added stuff, delivered in an efficient manner, is what Henry Luce and Britton Hadden did when they founded Time magazine in 1923. (Luce alone shortly after that started Fortune.) Fantastic audio storytelling via podcast is no more than on-demand radio distributed to portable devices. Nothing much is ever completely new.

We’ve written about the growth of podcasting a few times in Data Sheet. In Las Vegas this week I met with one of the leaders of the new/old medium, Hernan Lopez, founder and CEO of Wondery. His three-year-old Los Angeles company is part audio studio, part broadcast network. It creates its own shows, like the popular Business Wars, and it helps create and distribute others, like Dirty John (in collaboration with The Los Angeles Times) and Gladiator (with The Boston Globe).

The entire podcast industry is small, around $500 million in annual revenue, reckons Lopez, and so is Wondery. Lopez, a longtime Fox broadcast executive before deciding he needed to scratch the entrepreneurial itch, says Wondery turned profitable on a cash-flow basis last quarter, has “8-figure” revenues that have doubled for two consecutive years, and has raised all of $5 million in venture capital. Lopez says the opening he saw was that “long-form narrative storytelling was all public radio” in the United States. But consumers love serial stories, and just as TiVo birthed a golden age of narratives on TV, podcasts could do the same for audio.

An old medium is reborn, and consumers—plus a few aggressive entrepreneurs—reap the benefits.


The recent coverage of the startling prosecution of Renault’s (RNSDF) Carlos Ghosn reminds me I never shared with you an article posted over the holiday that I wrote in the January issue of Fortune. “Hot Under the White Collar” strings together the recent spate of arrests of corporate executives on charges of murky or otherwise not-plain-vanilla criminal activity. Besides Ghosn (in Japan) these include the finance chief of Huawei (in Canada) and an Alibaba (BABA) executive (in China). I wondered if the trend suggests more business types are going to jail these days. Spoiler alert: not yet.


A few readers—including one participant at our CES dinner Monday night—took me to task for painting Las Vegas with too broad a brush. For clarity, “Vegas,” to me, is what I experience when I go to that vile stretch of real estate known as the “strip,” particularly during that sweaty, smoky, pushy, glitzy, sea-of-humanity consumer-electronics event. I am aware there’s more to Vegas than that.

Tech journalist Gabe Goldberg offered me his own epiphany on the city. “After being to Las Vegas a couple times and hating it, I realized that if I look at it as an anthropologist, simply noting its differences from my own civilization, it’s tolerable,” he writes. “Plus, I’ve found quite a lot to like there: museum-class exhibits in hotels (loved Titanic and Da Vinci), recreation (pinball museum, firing range, Las Vegas Big Dig, race track, etc.), plus ample, wonderful dining. Plus nearby sightseeing (Red Rocks Canyon, Hoover Dam, etc.).”

Thanks Gabe, and others, for helping me see the bigger picture.

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