Steve Goldstein: How Much Impact Will The NY Times Podcast App Have?

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldstein writes frequently at the Amplifi blog. Steve can be reached directly at 203-221-1400 or sjgoldstein-at-amplifimedia-dot-com.

The NY Times wants ‘every second of your day’

In introducing its audio app, The Times is using a playbook that has worked for them in large and profitable verticals like games and cooking. New York Times Audio features all their podcasts but is much more designed to showcase their growing audio journalism playlist for their subscribers.

Over the past few years, The Times built a formidable audio empire with a small group of podcasts. In 2020, The Times acquired Audm, which turns articles into narrated audio, and the renowned Serial, which enabled a strategic alliance with This American Life. In 2022, The Times bought the online sports news outlet The Athletic for $500M cash, which has 120 podcasts across 10 sports. The Times clearly sees a path to use these assets to engage even more with their best customers.

Stephanie Preiss, who heads The NYT’s audio business, aspirationally asks, “how do we get every second of your day?”

Alex Rainer, The Times Head of Audio Product, makes it pretty clear in this NY Times graphic they are after the yellow ‘up for grabs’ blocks of times.

Pros & cons: The New York Times Audio user experience

Chuckle if you will, but I am one of the 310,000 people who still get the print newspaper delivered daily – I like the tactile feel – and thus have a bundle that gives me access to all their content on the web and apps. To use an old radio term, I am a “P1” – one of their target customers.

I’ve been playing with the app for a few days. It is well presented but a bit overwhelming like trying to figure out which variation of Crest to buy in the drug store. There is a surprising amount of original audio beyond what one would consider a traditional podcast. In that sense, they are breaking new ground and showcasing it as you enter the app.

On everything from front-page news to cooking and travel, there is a heavy emphasis on bite-size content. These “shorts,”as they are referred to are well-produced, colorful, and cinematic running less than 10 minutes and read by Times reporters. Matter of Opinion is a new podcast show featuring some of their opinion writers chatting in a roundtable format and available beyond the app.

In a Tik Tok, YouTube world, the shift to short content read by human readers is unmistakable and appreciated.

In 2018, I advised ABC News as it launched its daily news podcast Start Here, so I am particularly interested in the format of a new show called The Headlines.” The 10-minute daily show which is only available on the app, relies on reporters to briefly tell well-produced stories in three minute segments. Annie Correal, a Times reporter, is the host.

On Friday, The Headlines covered Nebraska’s vote on abortion and transgender care for minors, followed by a story from political reporter Jonathan Swan about Ron DeSantis telling donors Trump can’t win and a feature item on Brittney Griner. On Monday, the line-up was a G7 summit wrap-up, a story about the potential of a US Default and Greece ditching migrants.  On both days, it did not feel like the big three need-to-know top stories of the day. Maybe two bigs and a feature. The Headlines may take some getting used to or might simply miss the mark. It’s entering a crowded space with competitive offerings like NPR’s Up First, Axios Today, Fox News Rundown, etc.

You never want to bet against The Times.

It took a newspaper company to innovate and blow apart the podcast space by introducing The Daily, a news show seemingly impenetrable in the upper tier of podcasts, with millions of listeners each day. With just a handful of shows, The Times sits near the top of every podcast aggregator list, which shows the brand’s power and the quality of the content. It’s built an audio beachhead that likely would not work for any audio creator other than The New York Times or possibly NPR. In his always great Three Things Substack newsletter, Tim Eby a longtime public radio advocate, has urged NPR to do more on the owned mobile front, but as I mentioned, their early efforts created tension between wide distribution and control of the experience. Fred Jacobs who has deep experience with mobile apps and public radio admires the initiative.

Done right, New York Times Audio gives The Times a tremendous amount of first-party data useful for selling podcasts and valuable for fine-tuning content.  It gives their paying customers an eco-system designed to garner more brand engagement. Importantly, the current Times podcasts remain available on Apple, Spotify, and other platforms – although the standalone Audm app will now be sunset.

None of this guarantees success as an audio app. Destination apps can be tricky. Unlike the graveyard of copycat podcast apps, New York Times Audio is far more thoughtful, with clear brand differentiation and new interesting twists. But regardless of how good it is, earning “every second of your day” is a lofty goal, considering great content exists all around. I love Chinese food, but also a good hamburger or Italian. I could go for some pasta right now. Or maybe an episode of Smartless.

Steve Goldstein