It certainly wasn’t the first podcast, but Serial was the first show that many Americans heard about. It’s why it’s credited with helping the medium break into the mainstream. Now the owners of the true-crime podcast are reportedly exploring a sale, and the New York Times is reportedly among those considering making an offer. The Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed source who said Serial Productions is being shopped to several potential buyers. It’s unclear how much the Serial brand could fetch.
Serial’s first season had more than 300 million downloads, but the second and third seasons failed to match that buzz as the podcast universe became more crowded. The show’s website says the producers are currently accepting pitches for a story to focus on in Serial’s fourth season. But it says no decision has been made on when season four will be released, telling fans the producers are currently working on other projects.
Among the podcasters reportedly looking at making a bid for Serial is the New York Times Company, which has said it aims to grow its audio portfolio beyond its morning news podcast The Daily and a handful of one-off series like the critically acclaimed 1619, which told the story of the first slave ship to arrive in America.
“We have lots of running room in audio,” CEO Mark Thompson said on a recent earnings call with analysts. “The Daily is a monster hit with an astonishingly valuable audience and it just continues to grow. We’re also advancing our plans to expand our creative capabilities, our audiences and our inventory in this promising category.”
Serial could also find other potential buyers. Spotify has sent hundreds of millions of dollars during the past year to grab a share of listeners while Apple has also been gearing up to develop its content portfolio. And while iHeartMedia and Entercom have both primarily stuck to a “build not buy” strategy, both have also shown they’re willing to spend too. iHeart bought Stuff Media for $55 million in 2018 and Entercom spent nearly $50 million last year to acquire Cadence13 and Pineapple Media.
Serial Productions was created in 2017 by Sarah Koenig, Julie Snyder and Ira Glass three years after Serial was born as a side project to their work at the WBEZ Chicago-based radio show “This American Life.” The Wall Street Journal says the trio remains the owners of Serial Productions.
Podtrac said This American Life/Serial was the 11th-largest podcast publisher in December with more than 17.8 downloads and streams during the month. But with Serial’s most recent season wrapping up in November, most of those 5.2 million listeners were consuming This American Life episodes.