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Podcasts may be the next frontier in Apple’s continuing push into the services industry, as insiders reveal that the company is continuing to move forward with its plans to begin funding original podcasts.
According to Inside Podcasting (via 9to5Mac), Apple has just hired a high-profile leader in the podcasting industry, Emily Ochsenschlager, who previously served as director of podcasts for National Geographic.
Following 15 years as a producer and editor at NPS, Ochsenschlager joined National Geographic last year to develop and launch its first podcast, and Inside Podcasting predicts that this will be the first of a number of new hires “in the coming weeks” as Apple builds up a creative podcasting team with an aim to start producing original content.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Apple was making plans to finance its own original podcasts in response to its rival Spotify’s entry into the space. These new podcasts would be bankrolled by Apple and exclusive to an audio service that it would run.
For all intents and purposes, Apple invented podcasting in the first place, but it arrived about 15 years ago in a more egalitarian era when nobody was giving too much thought about how to make money from it. Apple took the infrastructure the supported the delivery of podcasts and brought it into the mainstream by building out a massive directory of podcasts in iTunes and making it easy for iPod and iPhone users to find and subscribe to them, but Apple’s role was simply in providing a catalogue — it didn’t even host the podcasts themselves, much less contribute to them in any other way.
Apple has continued to promote podcasting and help podcasters, launching tools like Podcast Analytics last year that would help give creators more insight into their listeners, and gave podcasts their own app on macOS Catalina this year, from simply being a section buried in iTunes previously, but for the most part, Apple Podcasts has continued to be a completely open platform that is free for anybody to publish on, and free for anybody to consume.
Apple Original Podcasts
This latest hire suggests that the company is getting serious about its plans to rollout a premium podcasting service. It’s still not clear exactly how the company would actually make money from offering “Apple Original Podcasts,” although offering another subscription service seems like the most likely approach.
While Apple Music and Apple News+ have relied on licensing and reselling content from music labels and news and magazine publishers, Apple has found success in going in the opposite direction with Apple Arcade and Apple TV+, effectively sponsoring the creation of original content that it controls the rights to.
Thanks to these two services, Apple is now a game publisher and a Hollywood studio in its own right, funding content on the front-end in exchange for exclusive rights to deliver that content on its own platform.
However, Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ were built from the ground up to be closed services. Doing the same with podcasts may be trickier, since Apple has offered it as a completely open and free system for well over a decade.
Spotify’s approach has been to wall off its exclusive podcasts entirely within its own Spotify app, which can also still be used to subscribe to any other publicly available podcast, however Spotify entered podcasting with its own content at the outset, and unlike Apple’s Podcasts app, the Spotify app has never been anything other than a portal to its paid services.
Still, it stands to reason that Apple would do something similar, offering a mixture of exclusive premium and free podcasts through its own app, although in this case it’s more likely to be part of an updated Apple Podcasts app rather than being rolled into Apple Music — after all, Apple has just spent the past five years getting podcasts out of its Music and iTunes apps. The concept could end up being more akin to Apple’s TV app, where Apple TV+ is only one of many different sources from which content can be streamed.