The creative synergy between classmates Matt Belknap ’93 and Sean Carr ’93 has come a long way since their attempt to make a film about a bologna sandwich as sophomores in a CA film class. The company they dreamed up during hikes in Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon, ART19, has recently burgeoned, to the point where they can barely keep up with the demand they face.
ART19, which officially launched in August 2016, is a podcast hosting, distribution, and monetization platform, reflecting a need Belknap recognized during his own early days as a podcaster. While working in the film industry with the goal of becoming a screenwriter, he got involved in the alternative comedy scene in LA. In 2006, he started a podcast called Never Not Funny with one of his favorite comedians, Jimmy Pardo. Carr was less familiar with the world of podcasting. Like Belknap, he moved to California to pursue an interest in filmmaking. Positions at 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks gave him “a terrific amount of exposure to the industry, but the work wasn’t glamorous,” he says. He went on to found his own literary management and production company, but problems with the business model were frustrating him — and, unrelatedly, so was the sense that he was getting out of shape. He solved the second problem by suggesting to Belknap that the two start taking daily fitness hikes together.
“Hiking every day, we needed something to talk about, so we talked about our professional challenges,” Belknap says. For him, this meant describing the difficulty of monetizing podcasts in a useful way.
ART19 is a podcast hosting, distribution, and monetization platform, reflecting a need Matt Belknap ’93 recognized during his own early days as a podcaster on Never Not Funny with comedian Jimmy Pardo.
At that point in 2010, “bigger names were beginning to enter the space, but almost none of them were making money,” Carr says. Podcasts are typically free to listeners, like blogs. Carr remembers talking with a high-profile comedian affiliated with Howard Stern who was selling mugs to listeners to support his own podcast. “It was unimaginable to me that a guy with this much stature in the comedy world was going to the post office three times a week to ship $7 mugs to individual listeners,” he says. “In essence, that’s the problem we set out to solve.”
The obstacle, as Belknap and Carr explain, was that the existing technology had severe limitations. With episodes essentially static once they were produced and distributed, podcasters could not reliably measure their audiences, regionally target their advertising, or refresh the promotions on old podcasts.
Carr, who has a background in computer science, soon realized he could develop technology to fix that problem. A fully integrated platform for targeting ads, inserting them dynamically, and measuring audience engagement made ART19, now located in the San Francisco area, stand out. Once podcasting found its footing as a medium, it was easy to demonstrate to podcasters why it would be useful to have listeners in New York City hear different ads from listeners in Canada, or have listeners who downloaded a comedy podcast from three years ago hear a promotion for a comedy tour happening next month.
‘Spoken-word audio is massive all over the world, and podcasting is free of the gatekeepers that control other types of broadcasting. As smartphones and connected cars proliferate, we believe there’s going to be widespread growth in podcasting.’
The two acknowledge that they owe a debt of gratitude to CA alumna Sarah Koenig ’86, host and executive producer of Serial, which almost singlehandedly turned the podcast medium from a niche into a phenomenon, with over 68 million downloads its first season.
“As recently as early 2014, podcasting was still something of a dirty word,” Carr recalls. “People didn’t see its potential and scale. Then in late 2014 came what in the industry is now called ‘the Serial effect’: a podcast that transcended a niche community and became water cooler conversation, part of the zeitgeist.” Suddenly there was an interest in podcasting, from big media companies, strategic investors, and angel investors. “The same people who months before had taken no interest in what we were trying to do were changing their tune,” he says. “Since we rolled out our beta in September 2015, we have been extraordinarily lucky. Recent growth has been off the charts.” Among their investors was CA alumnus John Laurence ’92, who also served on ART19’s board of directors. (Additionally, Jon Lewin ’93 is an advisor, and Ben Upham ’94 worked on ART19’s social media strategy.) Companies currently using their product include The New York Times, Yahoo, Fox Sports, Recode, Time Inc., Mother Jones, Scripps, Midroll, Vox Media, Sports Illustrated, and numerous grassroots podcasters.
“Spoken-word audio is massive all over the world,” Carr says. “And podcasting is free of the gatekeepers that control other types of broadcasting. As smartphones and connected cars proliferate, we believe there’s going to be widespread growth in podcasting.”
The increase will be reflected not only in quantity but in quality and range, Belknap adds. He predicts that the next big stage in podcasting will be scripted shows, analogous to an HBO or Netflix breakout drama like The Sopranos or House of Cards. And ART19 is one company making that change all the more likely to happen.
Learn about other CA alumnae/i involved in podcasting, and listen to sample podcasts in our online exclusive.