Insider July 14, 2022 — RSS takes, so hot right now


Hello! We’ve got some hot takes to dive into today. Is the widespread, almost compulsory use of RSS for podcasts a good thing? Should songwriters (or Merck Mercuriadis) get a bigger chunk of music streamers’ revenue? Is For All Mankind getting snubbed by the Emmys the height of bullshit? Okay, that last one was a one-off, but let’s get into it.

To RSS, or not to RSS, that is the question

Forgive me — I’ve been bingeing Slings and Arrows, and it is bringing out my absolute worst theater girl impulses. Anyway, Mike Mignano, the Anchor co-founder who recently left Spotify as the head of its podcasting tech stack, published a Medium post on Wednesday that argues podcasting tech has been inhibited by its adherence to RSS as a standard. Podcast Twitter… had a lot of feelings.

Mignano said that, while the widespread use of RSS has resulted in a wealth of different podcast apps, it disincentivizes innovation that would stray from RSS and potentially push the medium forward. “In some ways, this fragmentation is great for users, because it means they have a ton of choice and flexibility in what product to use for their podcast listening,” he wrote. “But at the same time, this fragmentation is bad for innovation, and makes it nearly impossible to innovate on experiences that are based on RSS, meaning the podcast listening experience has remained stale and largely unchanged for almost the entirety of podcasting.”

He compares RSS to another tech standard: SMS (text messaging). While SMS is a standard, it does not dominate digital message delivery systems. There is also Apple’s iMessage, Snapchat, and Meta’s WhatsApp. They all bring different features to the table and, in aggregate, make for a more dynamic space than what podcasting is today.

Some podcast tech freaks (that’s a term of endearment, I promise) took umbrage with the idea that RSS does not allow for innovation. Alberto Betella, co-founder of RSS.com, wrote his own Medium post in response, arguing that RSS has space for innovation with tags (additions that allow creators to add features like cover art or specify a category) and, more importantly, allows for an open podcast ecosystem rather than one with proprietary tech owned by the big players like Apple and Spotify. “Using innovation as an excuse to justify corporate strategy is never a good choice,” Betella said.

It’s an interesting debate, and I can’t say I know where exactly I land. The best thing about podcasting is its low barrier to entry, and the worst thing about podcasting is also its low barrier to entry. Ease of use (and tech development, apparently) with RSS is a big part of that. I literally cannot imagine what another format would look like, so I am all ears if some of you tech freaks (again, a positive thing!) have thoughts.

The $8 billion music copyright case nobody is talking about and how it affects the podcasting biz

Including me, apparently! Eriq Gardner wrote a deep dive for Puck about a case later this summer that will decide how much music streamers will have to pay in publishing royalties to songwriters (or those who own songwriters’ copyrights). The decision, he wrote, “could decide the fate of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, YouTube and more.”

The Copyright Royalty Board will determine the percentage of revenue streamers will have to pay to cover publishing royalties between 2023 and 2027, which right now sits at 15.1 percent. The streamers are angling for 10.5 percent (the old rate), while music publishers want 20 percent. The difference between those two extremes, Gardner says, accounts for $7.8 billion. Even if streaming is relatively new for the music world, it boils down to the same old fight — artists accusing companies of making ungodly amounts of money off their work, companies claiming they are the only reason why there’s money to be made in music at all.

But in the age of streaming, it is a little more complicated than just artists vs. music companies. A significant chunk of that publishing revenue is going to institutional investors that have snatched up publishing rights in the past few years from songwriters like Neil Young and John Legend. And not all of the streamers belong to music companies. Apple Music and Amazon Music each make up a small slice of their respective trillion-dollar parent companies. Even if Apple and Amazon each have to pay a billion dollars or so more between 2023 and 2027 than they were initially planning, that is a rounding error. The “fate” of those companies will be relatively unaltered.

The situation is different for Spotify and Pandora, which have much less room for surprise costs than the goliaths. Music is the very core of their businesses, and a rate increase would hit them much harder. But that is why both Spotify and Pandora parent SiriusXM are investing heavily in podcasting. For now (spoken-rights publishing squabbles notwithstanding), podcasting is much cheaper than the old, expensive, and highly regulated music business. What happens in the music industry necessarily affects how much effort and money companies are willing to put behind podcasts.

Canada to extend length of copyright

Speaking of copyright, legislation in Canada to extend copyright to the life of the author plus 70 years has received royal assent, which is the last step necessary before it becomes law. Under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, Canada was obligated to change its copyright standard to match that of the United States. A date for when that will occur has not yet been set, but according to the agreement, it needs to happen by the end of the year.

Canada’s copyright standard is currently the life of the author plus 50 years. That 20-year gap means that some properties are in the public domain in Canada but not in the US (or in the EU, for that matter). Copyright length disparities can make operations for entertainment companies more difficult, even though some argue that it is better to have more content in the public domain.

See you tomorrow! Hopefully — I’ll be on a plane to San Francisco, so thoughts and prayers on the Wi-Fi situation, please.





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