Pod Almighty, Spotify’s spending a lot of cash


February 6, 2020

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Could Aaron Burr be the next Spider-Man? When Disney bought the rights to the musical “Hamilton” for $75m this week, we couldn’t help but smell a franchise opportunity for The House of Mouse. Plus, Alexander Hamilton joining Iron Man and Thor in the Disney-verse is far from the strangest thing to happen so far in 2020. Today:

  • Spotify seems ready to pay for podcasts until it’s broke
  • Bans won’t stop vape companies from blowing smoke
  • The explosion of privacy startups ain’t no joke

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The podcast industry’s already loud, and Spotify’s cranking up the volume even further

The Sweden-based music streaming giant announced plans to acquire The Ringer — a popular sports media company that produces more than 30 podcasts — for a stack-o-cash of undisclosed height.

Spotify has a lot of faith in Pod

For The Ringer’s founder Bill Simmons and the company’s ~90 employees (all of whom are expected to stick around), the deal could promise both stability and autonomy.

But it’s also a big deal for Spotify: This Ringer acquisition marks Spotify’s 4th podcast deal of the last 12 months (the first 3 were Gimlet, Anchor FM, and Parcast).

Spotify, which has more paying listeners (124m, a 29% increase since last year) than its growing rival Apple, seems to have bet that podcasts will help maintain its lead.

So far, the strategy seems to be working: When Spotify announced its 4th-quarter earnings yesterday, it revealed that podcast listening on its platform had increased 200% in the past year.

Buuuut… podcasts are also an expensive gamble 

Spotify also reported yesterday that — despite exceeding expectations for user growth — it still failed to turn a profit, and instead posted an operating loss of $85m.

Why did it still come up short? Cuz podcasts are ’spensive.

It costs a lot to buy up podcasting companies: Spotify spent $400m to acquire Gimlet, Anchor FM, and Parcast last year.

But it also costs a lot to run these podcasting companies. Take The Ringer, for example: After buying the sports website and network, Spotify will likely absorb at least 90 new full-time employees — which also means paying 90 new salaries.

Plus, the Ringer deal is ol’ SpottyGuy’s first acquisition that includes written content.

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Why vape clouds are still in the forecast, even after today’s pod ban

The government’s ban on vape pods that taste like dessert went into effect today. But the teens did what teens do — they found a few loopholes.

First: Here’s what the ban actually does

It snuffs out the pre-filled pods that made Juul famous — the fruity, sweet, and minty kind. Juul has already stopped selling flavors like mango and cucumber. But for other brands, the ban could hurt worse than a cigarette burn:

  • E-cigs once drove $6.4B in annual sales in the US.
  • Vape brands like NJOY (which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2016 and emerged from the ashes last year) and Blu still sell cartridges, and could take a hit.
  • As of yesterday, Blu was advertising a LAST-CHANCE FLAVOR BLOWOUT on its site. The promo ended one minute before midnight (when all the flavored pods turned into pumpkins).

If you missed that sweet deal on Melon Time or Citra Zing, you’re not totally out of luck.

That’s because of the loopholes

Here’s what the ban doesn’t do:

  • It doesn’t ban all flavors — menthol and tobacco are exempt.
  • It doesn’t ban tank-based systems that use flavored liquid. (Those are responsible for $2.6B in annual sales.)
  • And here’s the biggie: It doesn’t ban disposable e-cigs.

As The New York Times reported, the disposables are filling the Juul-pod shaped holes in teenage hearts. A brand called Puff Bars peddles flavors like Pink Lemonade, Blue Razz, and, um, OMG. That’s one reason why some public-health advocates think this ban is really just smoke.

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Thanks to California’s new rules, compliance companies keep on comin’

Privacy laws in California may have been a pain in the SaaS for big companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and Uber, which have all recently made efforts to make data more transparent for their users.

But those same laws also created a new market for digital privacy — and startups wasted no time rushing in.

Now, privacy-focused startups are BOOMING

According to an NBC report, the number of privacy-providing startups increased from 44 in 2017 to more than 259 this past October.

These startups offer similar services, such as data scrubbing, compliance consulting, and software that enables companies to see all their customer data and make it available to their users.

And these startups also have weirdly similar names. Don’t believe us? *clears throat* Some examples, per NBC:

  • Privsee, Privally, Privaon, Privitar, Privacera
  • DataFleets, DataGravity, DataGrail, Dataguise, DataTrue
  • TrustArc, OneTrust, Mighty Trust, trust-hub, HITRUST

Anyway… don’t expect this privacy boom to end any time soon

Some of these privacy companies are already big (unicorn big, baybeee). Georgia-based OneTrust was valued at $1.3B in a funding round last summer.

And the entire industry is also expected to continue growing. A MarketWatch report from last year projects that the data protection as a service market will grow from $9.6B in 2018 to $94.3B by 2027 — a nearly 10x increase in less than a decade.

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Trends Sneak Peek: Sandbox VR hopes to inspire a ‘new movie industry’

“Buy experiences, not things,” they say. OK, chief. How about a dose of some multiplayer VR?

That’s what Sandbox VR is serving up, leaving people wide-eyed. Sandbox offers an immersive, full-body experience that focuses on a social game priced at $48 for a half-hour session.

The company is a trifecta — building their own tech and content and operating retail spaces. Plus, their NPS is (pre-2015) Apple-level: over 70.

Where other entertainment companies are struggling — shares of Dave & Buster’s took a 21% hit at one point last year — Sandbox VR got a $68m Series A and an $11m follow-on round from a suite of A-listers, including Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry.

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