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Apple belatedly looks to refocus on podcasts

The podcasting industry was shaken up this week with the announcement that JRE is moving exclusively to Spotify and it looks like it has caught Apple’s attention.

Bloomberg reports that Apple is looking to increase its investment in original podcasts, as well as buying existing ones, to augment its nascent Apple TV+ service. While its easy to view this as a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, Apple seems to view podcasts as either a by-product of video content or as material that could then be adapted to video.

Apple effectively invented the podcast format, which derives its name from the pioneering iPod digital audio player, but the pre-eminence of iTunes as a podcasting platform is under serious threat thanks to this recent development. You have to assume Joe Rogan (pictured) spoke to Apple before recently committing to Spotify, so it would be fascinating to know what led him to ultimately reject it.

If hearsay from Rogan’s friend Alex Jones is to be believed, the straw that broke the camel’s back was supplied by the podcast’s other main publishing platform, YouTube. In an article that seems to have since been taken down, Summit News claimed Rogan told Jones it was YouTube’s censorship of alternative views on the coronavirus pandemic that pushed him over the edge.

According to the piece, YouTube has been actively excluding popular content from its trending lists, including some of Rogan’s biggest. On top of that, YouTube has been taking down some videos from doctors and other experts that challenge the conventional narrative on things like COVID-19 pathology and the desirability of keeping society locked down. Rogan’s move is characterised in the piece as ‘a direct strike against the culture of censorship’.

We don’t know why that piece is no longer available, but it seems unlikely that Jones would have fabricated his conversation with Rogan, even if he is often inclined towards hyperbole. Our best guess is that Rogan either didn’t intend his views to be made public or regretted it once they were, and therefore asked for the story to be taken down. The publisher, Paul Joseph Watson, has close ties to Alex Jones and both of them were banned by Facebook a year ago for being ‘dangerous’.

Back to Apple, the podcasting industry will be hoping Spotify’s move will lead to the kind of spending arms race and bidding war for talent that has characterised the video streaming industry for some time. Not only do podcasts like JRE attract massive audiences, they cost next to nothing to produce. The only catch is that the best ones are completely uncensored and thus risky for prudish publishers. Perhaps that’s ultimately what pushed Rogan away from Apple.


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