Last week the Financial Times reported on the acquisition of Will Media, a Millennial and Gen-Z focused news startup launched in early 2020, by Chora Media, a “rival digital startup” focusing on podcasts, for 5 million euro.

As FT pointed out, the deal is tiny compared to the podcasting deals being made in the U.S. Podcast news startups have been acquired by hundreds of millions of US dollars (e.g. The Ringer and Gimlet by Spotify).

Still, in Europe and especially in Italy, which is by many accounts a latecomer to the digital transformation, the deal is not noteworthy, as the fairly extensive piece in Financial Times signals.

According to the 2022 Digital News Report (DNR 2022) from the Reuters Institute, in Italy, legacy news organisations have dominated the online news market for many years, with the most popular news outlets in the offline market also being the top players online.

Podcasting in Europe is growing, and more deals will be coming

Nonetheless, the signal is clear and has been articulated by many reports and strategies by other European publishers – digital audio and podcasting is a quickly developing market with large portions of the younger generation

In Italy, 29% listened to a podcast in the last month according to DNR 2022, which is a decline from last year’s 31%. Such a decline has been recorded in a few other markets as well: in Austria and even in the USA (according to Edison Research Infinite Dial).

Overall, podcasting is up 3 percentage points compared to 2021.

Coming back to the deal in Italy for a minute, it’s interesting how the goals of Chora Media and the reasoning behind the acquisition have been articulated by its co-founder Mario Calabresi.

Will [Media] nailed it because it offers younger generations pills of very factual information on selected topics, which is exactly what millennials and Gen Z are looking for. This is the ultimate demonstration that younger generations don’t shun news and information, the problem is the format,” explained Calabresi to the FT.

Will Media produces The Essential, the most popular news podcast in the country, which was bought by Spotify last year. It explains the news in under 5 minutes every day. Chora Media has a number of podcasts in the top trending charts both on Apple and Spotify.

The main goal for the deal, according to the FT, is to create the country’s largest digital-audio media group.

Recently, I summarised 10 key takeaways for news subscription managers from the 2022 Digital News Report. In the US and UK, younger audiences are increasingly paying more for digital audio, mostly for music streaming subscriptions, but also for audiobooks and podcasts.

The trend is confirmed by the likes of Tortoise Media which is using podcast subscriptions to attract new audiences, and they found the average membership age of listeners is much lower, 29 compared to 39 for all their members.

Calabresi might be on something there when he said the problem might be the format. Younger audiences are, according to DNR 2022, avoiding news more than ever before and complain they don’t understand it or are stressed by it.

In smaller European markets, it is the traditional news media companies (either print newspapers or digital natives) or the radios that have so far captured the top spots in podcast listening.

That might be one of the reasons why we don’t see hundred-million-euro deals in Europe. Sure, the main reason is there isn’t one market within the region, but a couple of dozens of them.

What I’m trying to explain here is that a couple of million euro deals are in some ways comparable to the US-based acquisitions by Spotify and others.

In Slovakia, a digital news company Refresher focused on Millenials and Gen-Z recently raised nearly a 2 million euro investment via the crowd investing platform Crowdberry. They plan to expand into other markets within the V4 region (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia). Although they don’t have any comprehensive podcast strategy, I bet in the near future they will have to come up with one in order to stay competitive.

At The Fix, we have written about newonce, a Polish new media company focused on younger audiences launched in 2015 that has recently pivoted to paid content and started focusing on podcasts.

France and Germany, both of which have a rich audio history, have a number of podcast companies that like Chora Media publish their own original shows and also produce shows for other clients.

Podcasting data is still hard to compare across regions

Another problem in Europe is that we don’t have comparable data with the US.

If you look at Reuters Institute’s DNR 2022 and previous years, the American data of “37% listened to podcast in the last month” is fairly comparable with the Edison Research’s 2022 Infinite Dial report results of “38% of those age 12+ in the U.S. are monthly podcast listeners”-

But then look at the 41% of UK residents aged 16+ who have listened to a podcast in the last month, according to The Infinite Dial 2021 UK. And compare it with 25% who listened to a podcast in the last month, according to DNR 2022.

Also, in 2019, Reuters Institute’s DNR 2019 found that 21% listened to a podcast monthly, compared to the 35% listening monthly at the time according to The Infinite Dial Germany 2019.

I mean, there are some countries you can directly compare with the U.S., but there isn’t a data point to reliably compare the state of podcasting in the United States and the European Union. Unfortunately, that’s true not only for podcasts.

I would caution against a general pivot to audio for traditional publishers, but for news startups it might be a good idea to be thinking audio-first.

I don’t think we will ever see hundred-million-euro deals within podcasting in Europe – for all the reasons mentioned above. Also, as a region, Europe might never catch up to the monthly podcast listening numbers in the US.

I would rather see Europe looking towards Ireland, Sweden, Norway, and even Spain that have bigger podcast audiences compared to the US. Also, we should pay closer attention to the smaller in scale deals made in digital audio in Europe, as those signal a shift in the market that is most similar to what publishers and media companies are experiencing in Europe.

Photo by Harlod Jonker on Unsplash