Apr 5, 2022 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: iHeartMedia building new NFT network for podcasts

Illustration of a microphone on top of a stack of dollars.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

iHeartMedia, the holding company of iHeartRadio, is pouring several hundred thousand dollars into purchasing the rights to roughly a dozen NFTs to create a new NFT-based podcast network, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: It marks one of the first major media franchises to introduce a podcast slate of characters and voices united across prominent NFT collections.

Details: iHeartMedia is currently in talks to make 10–15 investments in prominent NFT collections over the next few days — including CryptoPunks, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, and World of Women — per Khalil Tawil, EVP of strategy at iHeartMedia.

  • It's also eyeing work from emerging NFT creators such as Qurkies, CrypToadz, and Loot for Adventurers.
  • The idea is to combine the IP from the various NFTs it acquires into a content collection that it will call the "Non-Fun Squad" universe, said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia's Digital Audio Group. "We can world-build for them, creating narratives around them, and bring those stories to life via podcasts."
  • The first commercial manifestation of that universe will be a podcast network called "the Non-Fun Podcast Network," which will feature a podcast slate centered around the content, characters and worlds from the Non-Fun Squad.
  • The podcasts will be hosted by voices that portray the various NFT characters. Tawil said the company is only eyeing NFT rights that allow it to "commercialize and bring to life" the actual NFTs it will buy in ways that work for podcasts.

The big picture: iHeartMedia has invested aggressively in building out its podcast business as terrestrial radio listeners move to streaming. It's spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring the rights to various podcasts and audio ad tech companies. NFTs are its next phase of podcast development.

  • "This is really pushing the envelope to pressure test the assumptions we have around what is IP, what is a host, and what is talent," Byrne said.

Be smart: The goal for iHeartMedia is to create a new layer of content leveraging the IP across several different NFTs under one umbrella.

  • "There's no real precedent for this," said Tawil. In the analog world, he notes, it's hard to combine the characters from different universes, like Marvel, DC Comics and Warner Bros., without running into IP rights issues.

What's next: In addition to giving iHeartMedia access to NFT characters that it can build stories around, Byrne says iHeartMedia plans to test five to 10 of its existing podcast shows as IP for DAOs, a kind of crypto-driven community.

What to watch: It's another example of ways media companies are looking to bring NFTs to the mass market.

  • Time Inc. last month released its first-ever full magazine issue that will be available as an NFT.
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