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New York Times Sees ‘Audio Opportunity’ For The Athletic.

Audio continues to be a growing part of The New York Times business and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien had plenty to feel good about when she detailed the company’s year-end earnings today (Feb. 2). “We had another strong year in engagement with our audio products, led by The Daily, which celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday,” she told analysts. “We continue to be very happy to have one of the largest general interest news podcasts there is, and it continues to be a huge performer for us in every way -- audience, advertising, and directing attention to other podcasts.”

The Times said it has now achieved its stated goal of having 10 million subscribers to its portfolio of products by 2025 earlier than expected, and podcasts may play a greater role in that equation going forward.

“We continue to be excited about experimenting with the multiple different ways our differentiated audio offerings can play a role in our subscriptions funnel,” said Kopit Levien. “You’re seeing us do that indirectly. We bring people into the funnel through The Daily and the other podcasts that we have.”

The success of shows like The Daily have fueled speculation that the Times will begin putting its podcasts behind a paywall. Kopit Levien sidestepped an analyst’s question about whether that was in their plans, however.

“We have got lots of irons in the fire and in any scenario we’re optimistic that audio is going to play an important role either directly or indirectly in our subscription business. And there’s a ton of demand for it as an advertising business,” she said. “We’re excited about the products that we have and expect to continue to add to it.”

In December, the Times beta launched a new dedicated audio app featuring podcasts and a growing catalog of newspaper stories that come with an audio companion. The company did not provide any details into how the early stages of that test are progressing.

Another way the Times is growing its audio business is through its just-closed all-cash $550 million acquisition of The Athletic. Its lineup of shows releases more than 150 episodes each week. The sports site published more than 6,500 hours of audio content in 2021.

“We expect the business at The Athletic character-wise to look very much like the business we have at the Times, which is an ad business to get the differential value from being a subscription-first.” Kopit Levien said. She said there is also an opportunity to work with a select group of marketers on multiplatform partnership, including an audio opportunity. “It will be quite similar to the playbook that we really understand and having been running for some time at the Times,” Kopit Levien said.

The Times achieved $2 billion dollars in annual revenue for the first time since 2012, with total revenue growing 16% in 2021 compared to 2020. The company reported fourth quarter revenue of $594.2 million, a 17% increase from a year earlier. The company does not release podcast-specific revenue. But it did say fourth quarter 2021 digital advertising revenue increased 23% percent from the prior year, primarily as a result of higher direct-sold advertising, including podcasts and traditional display ads.

“We like our ad business better today than in quite some time. We worked really hard to have a business that runs on the same high-octane gas as the subscription business,” said Kopit Levien. “We’re optimistic that is a sustainable strategy.”

The Times says it expects its digital advertising revenue to increase 18% to 22% during the current year, although with the addition of The Athletic, it says the growth rate will be in the 20% to 24% range.

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