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Gadgets & Tech

Elon Musk loves Twitter Spaces, but much of the team building it is gone

I hope you all had a good weekend. We have a surprisingly newsy week, so let’s get into it: the former Twitter Spaces team looks for a new gig, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s audio producer leaves on a high note, and Wondery’s subscription strategy pays dividends.

Former Twitter Spaces team looks for a new home

Given that Twitter has about one-third of the staff it did before Elon Musk took over, it is no surprise that the Spaces team would be among those who were laid off or chose to resign during the “hardcore” reset. As the future of Spaces at Twitter seems increasingly murky, members of the team that built the audio vertical are advertising themselves as a package deal to other tech companies.

Last week, former senior engineering manager of the Spaces team Ruslan Semenov published a post on LinkedIn seeking employers “who are interested in grabbing unique talent from Twitter to hire the whole team that has built @Twitter Spaces, which is one of the most successful live audio products on the market.” 

According to Semenov, although the team’s expertise is in live audio and video, they are open to anything as long as they are interested in the product. “The team is a well oiled machine and is the most valuable if staying together,” he wrote.

The post went viral (by audio Twitter standards, anyway) when it was tweeted out by Netflix (and former Twitter) engineering manager Ian Brown on Saturday. Current Spaces engineer Leah Culver responded, saying that some of the team does remain at Twitter. “I hope those who have left will land somewhere good (they are excellent!) and @TwitterSpaces will continue,” she tweeted.

With staffing tight and Musk laser-focused on wooing advertisers and driving subscriptions, it is unclear where audio ranks in the list of priorities. Culver clarified that not all of the departures were layoffs — some of the Spaces team resigned. Plus, Musk seems to be enjoying using Spaces as a platform.

But the podcast feature, which was still in the testing phase when Musk took over, could be on shakier ground. I will say from my own experience with Twitter this past week, I have seen the podcast feature flicker in and out of existence. (Today is a no podcast day.) I have had access to it as a beta tester, and it is also supposed to be available to Twitter Blue subscribers. (According to a colleague who has Twitter Blue for Android, the podcasts are still available.) Evan Jones, the product manager who oversaw the podcast feature, appears to still be with the company. Jones did not respond to a request for comment. Hot Pod also reached out to Twitter for comment, but Musk disbanded the communications team in the layoffs.

Have you noticed that podcast playlists are no longer available in the Spaces tab or have any other insight into the future of Spaces? Hit me up if so.

Exec shake-ups at Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s audio studio

Big changes are afoot at Archewell Audio, just as Meghan Markle’s Spotify podcast, Archetypes, wrapped up its hit first season. Page Six reported yesterday that Rebecca Sananès, Archewell’s head of audio, has departed. She is being replaced by Serena Kodila Regan, who previously was the head of podcasts at Audacy’s Cadence13. According to Regan’s LinkedIn, she started in November.

The news came only a few days after it was announced that Mandana Dayani, president of the overall Archewell organization, is stepping down. According to a statement from Markle and Prince Harry, the pair will “take full lead of their company.”

Archetypes, which Sananès executive produced, was a massive success for Archewell and Spotify. It consistently ranked in Spotify’s top podcasts and remains in the top 20 today. But a second season has not yet been announced, and Markle cryptically said in the last episode that “we’re working on other ways to keep the conversation going.” (That doesn’t really sound like a “see you next season, folks.”) Spotify did not respond to a request for comment.

Crime Junkie tops Apple’s end-of-year chart, while Amazon shows have the most subscribers

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a surprising top show of the year? Are we not bored with true crime yet? I guess not because, as I wrote for The Verge yesterday, true crime dominated Apple Podcasts’ top shows of the year, with Morbid and Dateline NBC joining Crime Junkie in the top five.

In addition to top shows, Apple issued seven other end-of-year charts, including most-shared shows, top new shows, and top subscriber shows. Notably, eight of the top 10 subscriber shows are from Wondery. While Wondery’s shows like American Scandal and The Shrink Next Door are undoubtedly popular on their own, it does speak to the efficacy of its subscription strategy. 

Rather than putting the shows fully behind a paywall or making them exclusive to one of Amazon’s own platforms, the Wondery model mostly (though not always) gives subscribers one-week exclusive access to its shows. This applies to both its originals and high-profile licensed shows like SmartLess and Morbid. It’s a smart strategy that gives diehard fans bang for their buck and podcasters more flexibility than the fully exclusive model of Spotify.

Swifties are suing Ticketmaster

More than two dozen Taylor Swift fans are suing Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation for “anticompetitive conduct” that enables scalpers who resell tickets at many times the price. They also allege that the company misled fans by providing more presale codes than could be honored. According to my colleague Emma Roth, the complaint is seeking $2,500 per violation, which, if successful, could amount to a whole lot of money given the millions of Swift fans who were denied tickets.

Part of the issue, according to the lawsuit, is that Ticketmaster benefits from the scalping. Not only does the company make money off of its exclusive ticket sales but it also takes service fees from tickets sold on its fan-to-fan exchange. 

The issue could potentially go beyond the lawsuit, with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT) announcing last month that they will hold a hearing on the lack of competition in the ticketing industry. Additionally, it has been reported that the Department of Justice is also looking into the matter.

That’s all I got. See you next week!

Correction December 6th, 4:40PM ET: Ian Brown was a former engineering manager at Twitter and is currently an engineering manager at Netflix. A prior version of this story misidentified him as an engineer. 

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