Sony Music Forms Podcast Joint Venture With Adam Davidson, Laura Mayer

Todd Spangler 5-7 minutes 5/16/2019

Sony Music Entertainment is diving into the red-hot podcasting biz.

In its first move into the space, the company has formed a joint venture with two veteran podcast producers: Adam Davidson, a New Yorker staff writer and co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money” show, and Laura Mayer, who has worked at Stitcher, Panoply Media and WNYC.

Sony Music signed the deal with Davidson and Mayer on Thursday (May 16) after weeks of negotiations — and the duo are getting set up Friday in offices in Brooklyn. According to Mayer, they’re also going to be posting job listings for the new venture.

The joint venture — which doesn’t have an official name at this point — will create and distribute original scripted and unscripted podcast programming across multiple genres and topics. Davidson and Mayer will lead the company and focus on developing talent and storytelling. Sony Music will provide resources for content creation and monetization, including marketing, sales and distribution, business development, audio production, and data and analytics.

“Adam Davidson and Laura Mayer are acclaimed, visionary journalists and leaders in the podcasting industry and they share our creator-first approach to content development,” Rob Stringer, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, said in a statement. “We want to enhance opportunities for talented storytellers in this rapidly evolving audio entertainment segment. This partnership will help creators grow their brands and share their work with global audiences across a variety of services and platforms.”

Sony Music owns 50% of the venture and is investing an undisclosed sum. Davidson and Mayer each hold a 25% stake.

Right now, Davidson and Mayer aren’t ready to talk about specific projects they’re planning for the new company, nor would they spell out how big a slate of podcasts they’re expecting to produce. The shows will run the gamut in terms of weekly shows and limited series.

“We want to create the best possible shows for the widest possible audience,” Mayer said in an interview. Added Davidson, “We’re beyond giddy about the partnership. There are a lot of podcasts out there, but a lot of people haven’t found the podcast for them.”

Sony Music approached the duo after they had decided to team up late last year on a podcast company. “Sony really knows what it means to invest in creators,” Mayer said. “Creating this on our own would have been hard.”

To date, Sony Music has dabbled in a few music-oriented podcast projects, but the new initiative is centered on building out original audio programming. An industry source familiar with the company’s plans said Sony Music’s deal with Davidson and Mayer represents the first of other podcast moves yet to come. “For Sony Music, this is just the beginning,” the source said. “Expect them to build their podcast business the way they built their record company.” A Sony Music rep declined to comment on future plans.

The podcast format has been around for more than a decade, but it’s only recently become a fast-growing business. In just one example of the current mania in the sector, music streamer Spotify earlier this year paid $340 million earlier this year to buy two podcast companies, Gimlet Media and Anchor FM, before snapping up scripted-podcast studio Parcast in March.

Meanwhile, Universal Music Group last month inked a pact with Wondery, an independent podcast publisher, to develop premium original podcasts drawing on UMG’s music catalog and its roster of artists and labels.

Davidson, together with Alex Blumberg, in 2008 co-founded NPR’s “Planet Money,” one of the first radio shows released as a podcast. Blumberg went on to co-found podcast producer Gimlet Media, for which Davidson co-hosted “Surprisingly Awesome” with Adam McKay.

The growth of Gimlet and its acquisition by Spotify — and the podcast boom in general — inspired Davidson to turn up the volume on his own podcasting activities. Under his Arrow Productions banner, Davidson last month launched a show on podcast-subscription service Luminary called “The Passion Economy,” delving into stories about why some people are thriving in today’s economic environment. That will continue independently of the Sony Music venture, and he’ll step back from his role as staff writer at The New Yorker but will continue to contribute to the magazine.

Davidson also has been a frequent contributor to “This American Life” where his co-reporting on the episode “The Giant Pool of Money” received multiple awards including a Peabody. He also served as a technical consultant to McKay, who co-wrote and directed Oscar-winning film “The Big Short.” Earlier in his career, he was an economics writer for the New York Times Magazine.

Mayer started her career in radio as a producer at WNYC New York Public Radio, working on shows including the “Fishko Files” and “On the Media.” She then joined podcast network Panoply where she served as managing producer for all podcast production and launched dozens of shows, including the first season of podcast “Revisionist History.” Most recently, she was executive producer for show development at E.W. Scripps Co.-owned Stitcher, where she was responsible for the development, production and launch of new podcasts for the company’s comedy-focused Earwolf network and Stitcher label.