The Rundown: Amazon tiptoes toward building another podcast brand

News UK

Amazon has already splashed out on two big podcast acquisitions in the past 12 months, but it is taking tentative steps toward building a brand for itself as a podcast producer.

On Oct. 29, Amazon Music announced that it would launch “Country Heat Weekly,” a weekly podcast hosted by Kelly Sutton and Amber Anderson on Nov. 9. The show, named after an Amazon Music playlist, is expected to feature regular guests, and will debut with an appearance by Eric Church.

“Country Heat Weekly” is branded as an Amazon original, a bit of branding that it has applied somewhat haphazardly to the shows its teams have produced since Amazon’s podcasting arm formally launched last fall.

The key details:

  • Since Amazon launched its podcasts operation last year, it has released about a dozen different Amazon Original-branded podcasts. These range from “Uncommon Ground,” a show hosted by CNN political commentator Van Jones, and “Set It Straight,” a show hosted by the country music group Midland, to “That Scene,” a show where sports journalist Dan Patrick talks with actors and filmmakers about iconic moments in movies.
  • Amazon has also co-branded several shows it has acquired this year, including “9/12,” a show about the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks created with Pineapple Street Media, and “SmartLess,” a show starring Will Arnett, Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes, which Amazon reportedly spent $80 million on acquiring its exclusive rights. 
  • The launches come months after Amazon acquired Art19 over the summer and Wondery back in December. Both brands were rolled into Amazon Music, a streaming service which is available in both ad-supported and premium forms; one of the Premium tiers is part of Amazon’s Prime bundle of services, while others start at $3.99 for Prime members.
  • Different parts of Amazon’s sprawling business have tried to build a portfolio of original, exclusive podcasts. In 2016, its audiobook business, Audible, a sister company of Amazon Music, started approaching podcast studios about exclusive shows.

Building many brands at once

That clutch of shows is just a small portion of the original podcast content Amazon has launched this year. Wondery, for example, has launched several shows of its own in 2021, including the true crime show “Suspect” and “Rich and Daily,” which focuses on celebrity culture. 

Shortly after Amazon finalized its acquisition of Wondery for a reported $300 million, Wondery CEO Jen Sargent told Variety that Wondery planned to double the size of its staff, with much of the hiring concentrated on development. Some of what the team is developing is branded as “Amazon Original,” while some makes no mention of Amazon at all, though it is distributed through Amazon Music.

Platform podcast push

The podcast format has been a real buoy for ad-supported streaming audio services. In its most recent quarterly earnings, Spotify said its podcast ad revenue was up more than 100% compared to the same period last year, and it played a key role in the platform’s quarterly ad revenues rising to $373 million. Amazon did not break out hard numbers. 

Spotify said it now drives more podcast consumption than Apple, which long dominated podcasting. It has 3.2 million podcasts on its platform. 

Amazon releases information about the size of Amazon Music infrequently. At the beginning of 2020, it said it had 55 million customers worldwide spread out across its tiers.

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