All posts in “Podcasts”

Scout.fm turns podcasts into personalized talk radio

Scout.fm wants to change the way people listen to podcasts. Instead of scouring through the over 500,000 shows in your current podcast app, this startup’s new curated podcast service will just ask you a few questions to find out what you like, then create a podcast station customized to you. The experience is primarily designed for use on smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices, but is also available as iOS and Android applications.

The company was founded just over a year ago by Cara Meverden (CEO), previously of Google, Twitter, Indiegogo, and Medium; along with Saul Carlin (president and COO), previously head of publisher development at Medium, and before that, Politico; and Daniel McCartney, (CTO) previously an engineer at GrubHub, Klout and Medium.

At Medium, Meverden explains, they saw an explosion of people creating great written content; but now those publishers had begun to create great audio content, as well.

But unlike on Medium, which helps to guide readers to topics they like, people today have to seek out new podcasts for themselves. Scout.fm wants to offer a better system, and hopefully bring more listeners to podcasts as a result.

“We want to take podcast listening mainstream,” she says. “We think the key to that is making podcasts as easy to listen to as the radio – and we think that’s even more critically important, as we enter the smart speaker era.” 

The Scout.fm service began as a series of experiments on Alexa.

The company launched over 30 Alexa skills, including a “Game of Thones”-themed podcast radio that was popular while the show was airing on HBO. The goal was to test what worked, what topics and formats drew listeners, and gain feedback through calls-to-action to participate in user surveys.

The result is Scout.fm, a curated podcast service that’s personalized to your listening preferences – and one that improves over time.

Here’s how it works on the Alexa platform. You first launch the app by saying “Alexa, open Scout fm.” The app will respond (using a human voice actor’s voice, not Alexa’s) by explaining briefly what Scout.fm does then asks you to choose one of three types of talk radio stations: “Daily news, brain food, or true stories.”

The first is a news station, similar to Alexa’s “Flash Briefing;” the second, “brain food,” focuses on other interesting and informative content, that’s not day-to-day news; and the last is a true crime podcast station.

The voice app will then ask you a few more questions as part of this setup process to find out what other subjects appeal to you by having you respond, on a scale of one to ten, how much of a history buff you are, or how much you’re interested in culture, like art, film and literature, for example.

[embedded content]

On subsequent launches, the app will simply ask if you want to return to your “Brain Food” (or other selected) station. If you say no, you can try one of the other options.

However, once the setup process is over, the experience becomes very much like listening to talk radio.

A podcast will begin playing – Scout.fm favors those without ads at the very beginning – allowing you to listen as long as you’d like, or say “next” to move to the next one. Each new podcast episodes has a brief, spoken introduction that Scout.fm handwrites, so you know what’s coming up. Your listening can go on for hours, offering you a hands-free means of switching podcasts and discovering new favorites.

The app will also adjust to your preferences over time, removing those you tend to skip – much like how the thumbs down works on Pandora.

Scout.fm doesn’t include every podcast that’s out there. Instead, it’s a curated selection of a few hundred with high production values, narrative storytelling and tight editing.

“So if we listen to something and the two co-hosts kind of go on for half an hour at the beginning, that’s not a great podcast for this format,” Meverden says. “We want shows where they’re going to get right into it. That right away limits things, but there’s still an abundance of content.”

For example, some of the podcasts Scout.fm includes come from The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, ESPN, and podcast networks like Gimlet, Wondery, Parcast and others.

The same curated selection of podcasts is also available in Scout.fm’s mobile apps for iOS and Android, which work with the voice assistant on the phone. (For example, you can tap your AirPods to wake Siri then say “Next” to move between podcasts.)

“If you’re jogging, our apps are an excellent companion because you don’t have to go back to your phone and try to find a new thing to listen to,” notes Meverden.

Since Scout.fm’s launch, it has accrued 1.5 million minutes listened across its network of experimental apps ahead of today’s public debut. The Alexa user base listened for twice as long as mobile users.

Currently, the service is not generating revenue, but, in the future, the team envisions call-to-action ads that could work with the Alexa app to share more information about the products, as well as ways it could utilize the newer in-app purchase mechanisms for Alexa skills.

The company is backed by $1.4M in seed funding from Bloomberg Beta, Precursor Ventures, Advancit and #Angels.

“The Scout team’s unique insight is that podcasts, no matter how good, won’t go mainstream until it is much simpler for consumers to find and listen to the content that’s right for them,” said Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures, in a statement about the investment. “The fast adoption of smart speakers changes this. We can open up podcasts to an entirely new audience,” he said.

Scout.fm is available on Alexa, iOS and Android.

Plex adds support for podcasts, debuts personalized mobile apps

At CES in January, TechCrunch reported media software maker Plex was planning to expand its service with the addition of new media content, starting with podcasts. Today, it’s making good on that promise by launching support for podcasts into beta, along with a whole new look and more customization options for its Plex mobile apps.

While Plex got its start as a software application for organizing people’s home media collections, it’s been expanding over the past couple of years to add new features in support of cord cutters who want to watch TV via their antenna, and record those shows. It also acquired the streaming news startup Watchup in order to add a dedicated news hub within its app.

Earlier this year, the company spoke of its ambitions to continue adding more types of content to its media center software, including audio and video podcasts, followed by digital, web-first and other longer-form creator content. (It had originally expected to add podcasts in Q1 2018, so this nearly-June launch is a bit of a delay.)

The larger goal, on Plex’s part, is to organize all your media content in one place – from live and recorded TV to your personal media collections of music, photos, and videos, and your news and information – including, now, your favorite podcasts.

The feature, live today in beta, is available on the Plex web platform, Roku, and iOS and Android, with other device support coming soon.

You can browse and search across Plex’s podcast library, filter podcasts by categories, or click into a title to see the details, episode lists, and related podcasts. To follow that podcast, you click the “Add to My Podcasts” button. This will add the podcast to your “On Deck” dashboard, as well.

If the podcast you like isn’t in the Plex catalog, you can add it by entering the feed URL, and Plex will treat it as if it is – it will retrieve all its metadata, related podcasts, and make it searchable.

The feature also includes the standard media controls you’d expect, like forward and back and support for variable speed playback, as well as a “mark as played” option, all available through Plex’s upgraded media player. That option can help you transition to Plex’s podcast platform from another app, as you won’t have to lose your place, in terms of what you’ve listened to, and what you’ve not. And it lets you continually mark off any episodes you may have caught elsewhere, or just otherwise want to skip.

Your listening progress is also synced across Plex’s suite of apps.

In a few weeks, Plex will roll out a handful of other features for podcasts, including smart downloading with granular controls for managing the episodes you want to keep on a per show basis (e.g. keep the last three); additional metadata for richer show pages and better discovery options; and podcasts import and export (OPML) so you can move your current subscriptions more easily into Plex.

Along with the launch of podcasts, Plex is updating its mobile apps, too, to offer better customization options.

Now, if you want to listen to your podcasts and news while you’re on the go, on mobile, you can configure the app to show that media on your home screen. Or, if you use the app more for casting your videos to your living room TV, you could bring those favorite shows to the front of the experience instead. And so on.

On this new, customizable home screen you can re-order you content, remove any of its sections (like “Recently Added” or “On Deck,”), or add new ones from elsewhere in the app, including across servers (like Plex Cloud or your local server such as your home PC.)

Plex has also added tabs at the bottom of the screen for switching between your media type (e.g. movies, TV, etc.), which are fully customizable, too. You can even customize the default source for each media type.

The addition of podcasts to this more personalized media experience makes sense not only because of how popular podcasts have become, but also because many are tied to the shows you watch – they’re creator commentaries, roundtable discussions, fan chats, critic reviews, and more. It’s easy to imagine, then, moving from watching a show on the TV then heading out and launching the Plex app to listen to the podcast discussing the last episode.

That’s the vision Plex has, at least. However, even with these additions, Plex’s software overall still caters more to the DIY crowd – those who want set up their own antenna, rather than pay for an online TV service like YouTube TV or Sling. And it hasn’t yet solved the problem of media that’s all over the place – favorite shows and movies are strewn across services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon, and it’s hard to know where the things you want to watch reside. Those are still challenges Plex could attack in the future, by becoming a hub that jumps you into streaming catalogs, too.

It’s unclear how well Plex’s expansions have been working to attract new users and paying subscribers.

The company doesn’t break out the latter figure. and it still claims today the same 15 million registered users it had at the beginning of the year. Becoming a podcast player could help bump that number up, though, and introduce more people to Plex’s software, as a result.

Podcasts are in beta on web, mobile and Roku, and the mobile apps are rolling out starting today.

The BBC will run its first podcast ads, powered by Acast

The BBC will start running ads in its podcasts, thanks to a partnership with podcast publishing and monetization company Acast.

Acast CEO Ross Adams told me that ads will start running later this week, with the BBC including “bumpers” today announcing the imminent ad launch.

“Podcasts are one way we’re reinventing BBC radio to engage younger audiences with our world class content,” said Bob Shennan, director of BBC Radio and Music, in the announcement. “We’re working with established and new talent to produce shows which are informative and entertaining as only the BBC can be. The BBC has been challenged to generate more commercial income to supplement the licence fee and this new deal will contribute to that.”

To be clear, the BBC will remain ad-free in the United Kingdom, where it’s supported by the aforementioned license fee. Adams said one of the things Acast could offer was the ability to make sure ads were only served outside the U.K. (and to account for edge cases like U.K. military bases in other countries).

Adams said Acast will also be providing the BBC with new data about how the podcasts are performing.

“We give them the data and the dashboard to start really doubling down and focusing on podcasting as a medium,” he said.

According the announcement, this will apply to all BBC podcasts outside the U.K. (subject to rights restrictions), including Global News, The Assassination, World Business Report and Radio 4’s In Our Time. Most podcasts will have a single 30-second ad at the beginning, then another at the end.

Original Content podcast: Netflix successfully reinvents ‘Lost in Space’

Lost in Space started out as a ’60s TV series, got rebooted in the 1990s as a feature film and has now been brought up-to-date by Netflix .

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we review the first season of the new show, which finds the Robinson family once again sent into space, facing constant peril on an alien planet while also getting help from a robot that’s fond of shouting, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Many of the classic elements have been updated in some way — perhaps the most effective change was casting Parker Posey as the villainous Dr. Smith. The new Lost in Space seems more serious and character-driven than its predecessors, but at the same time, it remains aimed at a family audience.

We also discuss our thoughts on the film version of Ready Player One, AT&T’s plans for a $15-per-month streaming service, ESPN’s new move into streaming and Amazon’s in-development series based on The Peripheral by William Gibson. (At one point in the episode, Jordan says Battlestar Galactica isn’t available on Prime Video, but for the record: It is.)

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly.

Roboticist Gil Weinberg talks about our weird android future

Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg has a thing or two to say about interacting with robots. A musician and roboticist, Weinberg has created some of the coolest robots I’ve seen including Shimon, a robot that can play the marimba alongside human musicians. Weinberg learned early on that musicians need visual cues from their bandmates and so Shimon bops along to the beat and can totally its own in a jazz combo.

In this episode of Technotopia we talk to Weinberg about robotics, human interfaces, and, for the briefest of moments, the possibility of sex robots that can play Isaac Hayes. It’s a fun conversation with a cool researcher.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.