PocketCast

Four public media companies have struck a deal to sell Pocket Casts, the podcast listening app they have jointly owned, to Automattic, the company behind WordPress, WooCommerce, Longreads, and Tumblr. Terms of the deal were not released. The announcement ends a sale process that began at the start of the year.

“As part of Automattic, Pocket Casts will continue to provide you (users) with the features needed to enjoy your favorite podcasts (or find something new),” a Pocket Casts blog post read. “We will explore building deep integrations with WordPress.com and Pocket Casts, making it easier to distribute and listen to podcasts.”

Pocket Cast co-founders Russell Ivanovic, who serves as Chief Product Officer, and Philip Simpson, the Chief Technology Officer, will continue to lead the company as part of Automattic.

Looking to capitalize on the flurry of deal making in the podcast industry, the four public media companies that own Pocket Casts put their listening app up for sale in January. Pocket Casts has been owned by NPR, New York Public Radio and Chicago Public Media since May 2018. The group then took on BBC Studios as an ownership partner last March.

News of the pending sale came in a financial disclosure made by NPR, which also revealed that Pocket Casts had a net loss last year totaling $2,347,193 last year. That meant NPR’s share of the loss was $812,129 based on its 34.6% stake in the company. New York Public Radio – the parent of the podcast creator WNYC Studios – has a similar interest in Pocket Casts. And Chicago Public Media’s stake is 27.46%. BBC Studios holds the remaining 3.35% according to the filing.

The public media companies have invested millions in building Pocket Casts. NPR said it invested $2.5 million in 2019 alone.

The timing of a sale may never have been better. In recent months hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on podcast acquisitions by Spotify, iHeartMedia and SiriusXM. While most of the deal making has been related to ad tech and content, SiriusXM will pay as much as $325 million to acquire the Stitcher app as well as its advertising rep firm Midroll – the biggest-ever podcast industry deal.

Pocket Casts recruited digital media and entertainment industry veteran John W. Gibbons to lead the company last July. He succeeded former CEO Owen Grover, who exited last March. The announcement did not indicated whether Gibbons will remain with the company.

During the past few years Pocket Casts has adopted a new business strategy. What had been a paid app became a free-to-download app in 2019 while still offering a premium subscription tier for desktop access and a more customized experience. That upgrade costs 99 cents a month, or $10 per year.