Serial Productions, the podcast production company, has been acquired by the New York Times, adding high-end capability to the newspaper’s arsenal, while expanding the number of stories Serial can make at a time.

The theme tune of that first Serial has become shorthand for the eruption in podcasts’ popularity. Serial was the first podcast to be termed major, with a gripping opening series that asked whether a Baltimore high schooler killed his ex-girlfriend years before.

According to sources with the knowledge of the deal, the newspaper paid around $25 million for the production company, which was formed in 2017 by Julie Snyder, its executive editor; Sarah Koenig, host of Serial; and This American Life’s Ira Glass. In addition to the acquisition, the company also announced an “ongoing creative and strategic alliance”.

It’s a bit of a tangle: This American Life will continue to collaborate with Serial Productions though the latter will be owned by the Times. In return, This American Life will benefit from the NYT’s marketing firepower.

“The idea,” said Sam Dolnick, assistant managing editor responsible for audio at the NYT, “is to drive New York Times readers and listeners toward Serial Projects.”

“There’s going to be ways that we can help Serial tell more stories, bigger stories and, down the road, figure out how our newsroom and theirs can coordinate even more deeply.”

Currently, the production firm only works on one project at a time, and the acquisition is designed to both increase its capacity to do more projects and to bring creative expertise to the papers already very strong audio presence. For Serial, its podcasts will benefit from a direct line to the Times’ more than six million subscribers.

The New York Times is no stranger to podcasting, with popular shows like The Daily, a news analysis show, an audio edition of its extremely popular Modern Love column, and long-form series like the investigative documentary Caliphate.

Last March, at SXSW Interactive, Sebastian Tommich, The New York Times’ global head/advertising and marketing solutions, hinted at a strong expansion of content that appears to have come to fruition.

“I think the headline message is we are not going to go out and try to be the Netflix or the Spotify of podcasts. We will be much to an HBO … We have lots of good stuff coming.”

The scramble for podcast dominance has been a long-running story in media, which accelerated last year with Spotify’s acquisition of the production firm Gimlet, as well as the podcast creation app Anchor FM.

For the New York Times, the empire it is looking to build is different, as it seeks an HBO position over a platform. Serial offers storytelling added to the March acquisition of Audm, a service that translates long-form (and often paywalled) features into audio.

Sourced from the New York Times, WARC, Nieman Lab