Looking to expand its position in the podcast ecosystem, E.W. Scripps-owned Midroll Media is launching a Stitcher podcast network as a complement to its Stitcher streaming platform and comedy podcast network Earwolf. The new Stitcher podcasts will be free and ad-supported, and allow Midroll to create original news, current events and lifestyle podcasts for its Stitcher listening platform.
They’ll also air on other popular podcast spots, including Apple’s podcast app, Google Play and Spotify.
Midroll already handles distribution and ad sales for more than 300 podcasts, including 40 owned-and-operated shows. Until now, the company’s original podcasts were part of Earwolf network, which is best known for its comedy podcasts. However, as Midroll looked to grow its podcast roster, that branding made Earwolf an awkward place to house non-comedy podcasts, such as veteran news personality Katie Couric’s podcast and parenting podcast “The Longest Shortest Time.”
“It is a little like a record label: Earwolf is the comedy label and Stitcher is the non-comedy side,” explains Midroll’s Chief Content Officer Chris Bannon. “The idea is to have a platform where more journalistic and more non-fiction narrative podcasts can go that allows us to focus promotion on Earwolf on comedy and let Stitcher be the side for everything else.”
By expanding Stitcher into production, Midroll realized it could trade on the app’s existing user base and recognition. “The Stitcher name is a known brand in the rather small world of podcasting,” said Bannon, who joined Midroll two years ago from public radio powerhouse WNYC New York, where he was VP for content development and production. “This is an opportunity to grow new shows on a new platform. Rather than adding one more name, we had an established name we could turn to to produce non-comedy content.”
With its new originals, Bannon says Stitcher now controls the full life cycle of a podcast, including production, promotion, ad sales and distribution. While the bulk of podcast listening happens on Apple’s podcast app, when a listener does use the Stitcher app to listen to a Stitcher podcast, Midroll Media will gain access to a trove of data including listening habits, demographics and behavioral preferences. It can use that information to influence in-house decisions and share it with advertising partners. In contrast, podcast producers receive very limited information from Apple about usage for podcasts accessed through its app beyond the number of downloads.
“We get a window into the sizable audience and listening patterns and it’s useful for us in the Midroll business. We can talk to clients about how people are listening to our shows. It is useful to us as we develop shows. We can see how much people enjoy things, how long they listen, what things they choose to listen to and in what order, what their priorities are.”
Scripps acquired Stitcher last summer for its Midroll unit from Deezer for $5 million. At the time, Stitcher had 65,000 podcasts and radio shows and counted about 8 million registered users.
Analytics on its user base have helped inform some of the platform’s new original podcasts, according to Bannon. “The audience is more news-directed and current affairs-directed; it is another good reason to launch new content under this new talk umbrella. We know there is an audience there that likes it,” Bannon said.
Along with “Katie Couric” and “The Longest Shortest Time,” Stitcher’s inaugural podcast lineup will include food podcast “The Sporkful,” journalism game show podcast “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”—hosted by Freakonomics author Stephen J. Dubner, and serialized non-fiction podcast “First Day Back” about coming back from a transformational experience.
“We wanted to launch Stitcher with strong shows with smart personalities deeply engaged with the thing they know about and committed to the medium,” Bannon said, adding that Stitcher will roll out more originals this spring.
Stitcher also has multiple podcast projects in development, including one with actor LeVar Burton, and Bannon said it will launch new podcasts this spring. Down the line, Bannon said Stitcher could produce and distribute podcasts hosted by Scripps’ local radio and TV personalities.
Along with its free app, Stitcher also offers an ad-free premium that runs podcasts without commercials, including 50 exclusive shows.