This story originally ran in Hot Pod Insider, a newsletter from The Verge on podcasting and the audio industry. Sign up here.
American Public Media and Audacy’s Cadence13 will exit a multiyear advertising partnership at the end of August — roughly a year before its intended end date, Hot Pod has learned from APM. Neither company has disclosed the exact reasons for the contract’s termination or its timing, though APM cited “changing market dynamics” and Audacy referred to the deal as “onerous.” The public radio broadcaster will take ad sales and brand partnerships for its podcasts in-house as a result.
“Given the changing market dynamics, APMG, Audacy and Cadence13 have mutually decided to end their partnership, effective August 31st, 2023. Moving forward, APMG will conduct all sales and brand partnerships of our award-winning slate of podcasts and branded content, as well as manage ad sales for all podcast inventory. We have planned for this operational shift to ensure a seamless transition for our audiences and underwriters. We remain committed to creating the future of public media by amplifying voices to inform, include, and inspire,” wrote APM’s manager of executive communications, Tsering Yangchen, in an e-mail.
When contacted by Hot Pod, Audacy’s director of corporate communications, David Heim, wrote that the company had no comment on the matter.
When American Public Media and Audacy’s Cadence13 announced a three-year “strategic” partnership in the summer of 2021, it seemed like a perfect union between public and commercial radio. The podcasting arm of APM would team up with Cadence13 to develop and produce new shows, while Cadence13 would serve as the public radio giant’s sole podcast ad sales rep. The public radio network’s premium podcast programming, which includes Marketplace Minute and In Deep, could benefit from the reach and scale of Audacy’s audio and ad networks. But that’s not what happened.
“We believe exiting this agreement will have a positive impact on our Podcast margins.”
In a quietly published earnings release last week, Audacy CEO David J. Field revealed that the company exited an “onerous Podcast ad representation contract,” costing the company roughly $10.4 million during the second quarter — but didn’t disclose the name of the company associated with the contract. “In June, we successfully negotiated an early exit to an onerous Podcast ad representation contract, which resulted in a restructuring charge of $5.9 million in the quarter and the accelerated recognition of $4.5 million of prepaid content expense. We believe exiting this agreement will have a positive impact on our Podcast margins, without materially impacting our future Podcast revenue growth opportunity,” wrote Field in a statement.
During its prior earnings calls, Audacy only referred to its contract with APM twice in the span of two years — according to transcripts on CapEdge. The first time was immediately following the official announcement of the deal during the company’s second quarter earnings call in 2021. And the second time was during the following quarter after the deal went into effect. Meanwhile, the company continued to tout podcast revenue growth and partnerships with the likes of Amazon, HBO, Major League Baseball, and Netflix to investors.
But the company’s financial outlook took a grim turn. In July 2022, Audacy’s stock price began creeping below $1 a share — finally reaching a new low of 31 cents in October. During that same month, Axios reported that Audacy had hired bankers to explore a sale of Cadence13.
Audacy lost a number of large clients that it acquired as a result of its 2019 acquisition of Cadence13 — including Crooked Media and Pushkin Industries. Chief financial officer Richard J. Schmaeling briefly cited these losses during a November 2022 earnings call. “[…our podcast business has been rough because we’ve had a number of large clients that we acquired as part of Cadence13 that have exited over the years because we really [couldn’t] meet their expectations for added revenue share. And we’ve suffered the loss of those revenues,” Schmaeling told investors. Podcasting revenue dipped a staggering 23 percent for this quarter, according to the Radio+Television Business Report.
By 2023, Audacy’s accelerated podcast expenses drew questions from investors. Major media and technology companies all took a hit due to the year’s soft advertising market. While Audacy didn’t sell Cadence13, it did make some major restructuring changes. Cadence13’s co-founder Chris Corcoran departed the company in March, and Pineapple Street Studios’ Jenna Weiss-Berman was promoted to Audacy’s executive vice president of podcasts — overseeing both Pineapple Street and Cadence13.
“Podcasting is clearly laggard at the moment. We’ve learned a lot really, frankly since we acquired Cadence13, and the company is a lot smarter today about how we’re going to participate in the podcast space going forward,” Schmaeling told investors during a May 2023 earnings call.
The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading on Audacy’s stock this spring and began proceedings to delist it, citing its “abnormally” low stock price. The company announced a 1-for-30 stock split at the end of June, and its stock price has crept up since then. At the time of publication, Audacy’s stock is listed at $1.21 — meeting the threshold for staying on the NYSE exchange.