More Talk Show Follow Up

On the second episode of “The Talk Show,” John Gruber ‘finally’ discussed his reasons for leaving the 5by5 Network. Without going into detail, he cited “long standing business disagreements.”

I’ll take that as confirmation of the t-shirt sales being the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

It points to a much larger problem: There’s no money in podcasting. It’s advertising-driven. The only way to bring in real money is to grow a large network and sell ads across the whole spectrum. And unless there’s an understanding and a deep contract between podcast network owner and podcast hosts, you’re just walking into a sea of hurt. At some point, the business needs will need to trump the host’s needs, and something will give. The business dies, or the podcast(s) die(s).

What we have here, I imagine, is that conflict come to life.

5by5 is not Mule – 5by5 is one man’s business and livelihood, put together with a bunch of his friends and acquaintances. But, in the end, he still has a roof over his head and a wife and kids to bring money home for.

Mule Syndicate is an off-shoot of a web design company. It’s not The Business. It’s a hobby thing. It doesn’t have the same pressures on it that a full podcasting network has. Or, at least, it doesn’t yet. As it grows more popular and more shows appear, Mule will have to decide to either get serious about the business behind the network or cut it loose, because it’ll take too much time, attention, and resources to keep running properly.

Perhaps it won’t be so harsh, though. I’m sure the man who famously gave the “::bleep:: You, Pay Me” talk has contracts in place with his current hosts, with ad splits in writing and all the rest. But we’ll see what happens if the upstart podcast network finds its feet and starts to grow too fast.

Meanwhile, let’s hope this means Dan Benjamin is having conversations with his podcasts’ hosts about what happened and how he’s going to prevent it from happening again. Maybe more things are being put into writing. Maybe someone else will jump ship for a “better deal.” I don’t know. I just know that I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, and we’re likely to see it again.

As much as I love the podcasts I listen to – they’re all I’ve listened to for the past five years, really – I have to admit that there isn’t the mainstream acceptance and audience for them that would be required for a network to truly take off, with few exceptions.

The TWIT network is seemingly stable with a ridiculous growth rate and a million dollar studio, but that’s partially funded by its owner’s day job, and comes with a large built-in audience from a long-dead cable network that we never got in my area back in the day.

Meanwhile, Rev3 has changed business models repeatedly, and now has sold itself to a cable channel which will no doubt change it once more.

And have you noticed how it’s the same dozen companies sponsoring all of the aforementioned podcasting networks? And a lot of them, I imagine, aren’t straight up cash deals – they’re bounty systems. If someone signs up for their services with a given code, that network gets money. Otherwise, nothing. Adam Curry and Leo LaPorte discussed this in passing on TWIT this week, as a matter of fact.

But there isn’t a terribly deep pool of podcast sponsors out there. After you get past SquareSpace and Audible and a couple of software companies with relatively expensive programs to offer, the well dries up fast.

And I have a long list of dead and gone podcasts to show for it in my iTunes feed. . .

American Idol 11 – Finale Part One

Coming tomorrow night to FOX: The Coronation of King Phillip.

I guess it’s the theory that the voting public that watches “American Idol” is made up of a disproportionate number of texting tweenie girls, but the odds of a Southern good-looking boy winning “Idol” only increases every year. It’s not so much that the show needs a rules change as it needs a new audience.

But, to me, it’s no contest. Phillip won the first night of the finale, hands down. “Stand By Me” was underutilized. He skated by on that one and did nothing memorable. But the Billy Joel song (“Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out)” was an awesome original take that had all the Phillip hallmarks. And the Idol song was — well, I didn’t like it the first time, but got into it on a second viewing a lot more. It’s not the power ballad approach to the Idol Song, though I guess it is when you consider who was singing it. But it’s a catchy ditty that’ll stick with you, and shows you how good Phillip can be when he isn’t bouncing behind his guitar and pointing his toes in or awkwardly looking for something to do with his non-microphone hand when he’s guitarless.

(Though if you like songs titled “Home” with a strong drumbeat, might I recommend Marc Broussard’s powerhouse song?)

Meanwhile, Jessica went with a karaoke night. The first two songs were very well sung. She’s got impressive pipes, and we all know she can hit those notes. A few years back, that might have been enough to win it for her. But these days, it’s pure karaoke. She stuck to the songs very closely. They were in her wheelhouse. It seemed too easy for her. She would have been better off going back to that Beyonce song with the red doors or something.

And that Idol song continued a long-standing tradition of everyone on Idol hating the Idol song. It’s bad when the judges all hate the song and the contestant agrees with them. Ouch. It all adds up to a bad night.

Philip wins it tomorrow night.

The finale would have been much more interesting with Joshua Ledet, though, don’tcha think?

Being a compendium of wild speculation

Update: And, of course, within an hour of posting this, Dan Benjamin has issued a carefully scripted five minute statement. Basically, Gruber told Benjamin it was time to move on. Benjamin was hurt/disappointed that Gruber took “The Talk Show” name with him, feeling that it was a show and a format they had developed together. And that’s it. Unless, of course, he’s hiding the truth that you’ll read in speculation below. ;-) And that’s that.

The sudden appearance of John Gruber’s “The Talk Show” podcast on the Mule Radio Syndicate last week set tongues wagging in the tech podcasting community. There was no announcement from any side of the story about the change. Gruber didn’t announce that the show was ending at 5by5 or beginning anew somewhere else. 5by5 didn’t announce or hint at the show leaving. And Mule didn’t tease its Big Get.

It just… happened. It was similar, as I tweeted over the weekend, to the way Apple does things. It waits until it’s ready and then releases it. It doesn’t mention that it’s working on anything or tease that anything is coming or pre-announce it (unless it’s forced to by a government agency’s clearance necessities, as with the iPhone.) So, in that way, it’s fitting.

Still, the “radio silence” from all ends on the issue is deafening. The last episode of “The Talk Show” on the 5by5 network ended without cause for alarm. Sure, you could dive deep into it and suspect something was amiss. But Gruber’s typically abrupt style and the banter between he and host Dan Benjamin didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. If you wanted to read into it, you could. The show ended with Benjamin teasing “The Talk Show” t-shirts for sale in time for WWDC. And Gruber has since started a Just-In-Time-for-WWDC “Daring Fireball” t-shirt sale. Did “The Talk Show” end at 5by5 over merchandise sales? Did Gruber think Benjamin overstepped his bounds in an attempt to raise money for his network on the back of Gruber’s name and show at a time when Gruber was planning his own t-shirt sale? This wouldn’t be an unprecedented thing. I can cite an example or two in the comic book industry, for example, where creators left a publisher over a sudden change in contract terms or a new business model mandated by economic necessity, sometimes with very bad feelings on all sides.

That last episode was on 02 May. There was no show the following week. I guess we should have seen that as a hint. The last time Gruber missed a show, Benjamin brought in Jim Dalrymple to guest host. That was episode 85 on 28 March. The next month, Dalrymple started his own weekly chat show, “Amplified,” which is like “The Talk Show” with more music talk and less James Bond and baseball chat.

Gruber appeared on an episode of “Mac Break Weekly” on the TWIT Podcasting Network last month, too. I have a hard time that he had returned to the show to test the waters or to talk with someone there about moving the show to TWIT, though, for a couple of reasons. One, Chief TWIT Leo LaPorte was not in the U.S. at that point, taking part in a photographic adventure in Europe. Second, Gruber has appeared on the TWIT network before, though sparingly. Third, he was invited on the show by his friend and the episode’s interim host, Andy Ihnatko, with whom he had just attended a Mac conference in Ireland. So I’m not lending that any credence.

Or is the silence from all sides just an example of their typical business practices. The behind the scenes stuff stays behind the scenes and the shows carry on. Why tarnish a good thing with a public airing of dirty laundry, if any exists? Or, if there is none, maybe the belief is that the behind the scenes stuff should stay quiet no matter what – this way, the precedent is set and in the case of something ugly happening, it’s standard operating procedure not to say anything and nobody would be the wiser.

I have a hard time believing Gruber left 5by5 to join Mule so that he could host his own show. Benjamin is so busy building his network and adding new shows to it that it would have been a relief for him to host one less. “The Talk Show” was a cornerstone of 5by5 going back to its earliest days, so why would he want to lose it? And being able to sell advertisers on a plug not just on the podcast but also on DaringFireball, “The Talk Show” was a very attractive deal, indeed.

There, you can speculate some more: Did Gruber not get a cut of that advertising? Somehow, I doubt that. But there’s a possible scenario. Did Gruber get a more attractive offer from Mule and a bigger cut of the advertising? (To quote Monteiro: “Eff you. Pay me.”)

Or is all of this speculation just hiding a simpler truth: Gruber wanted to work for a different buddy of his. Mike Monteiro’s style – sarcastic, opinionated, abrasive – is more fitting with Gruber’s own style. Maybe the two just get together better and Gruber wanted to help a buddy out with his new business venture. Monteiro, remember, started his show on 5by5 before leaving to start his own podcasting network around it. So the switch isn’t – again, here’s that word – unprecedented.

But if that’s the case, why the silence? Wouldn’t Benjamin make a big deal of wishing his friend well on his other friend’s new network?

Or, oh, let’s engage in more groundless speculation: Is Benjamin pissed at Monteiro for using 5by5 to kickstart his own upstart tech network with shows directly competing with his own? Is Benjamin’s silence just a way of not promoting someone else’s network, particularly another network with many of the same sponsors? That would be a smart business move.

Or is Gruber just a jerk who walked out on his buddy?

Or did Benjamin make a key mistake in the way he positions his network? In conversations with the hosts, he always points out that it’s their show. He’s just helping host it and shepherd it along. So now, when one host takes “his” show and moves out, Benjamin can’t be surprised or shocked that the deal he’s publicly espoused hasn’t worked out in his favor.

We just don’t know. We may never know. I’m sure some loose lips at WWDC will let the rumors fly. Or maybe someone will say something before then, officially. And maybe we’ll believe it.

I love the drama.

The long and short of it is, let’s hope everyone is happy and produces good shows. I’m not a regular listener of “The Talk Show” just because I read Daring Fireball everyday and feel like most of the podcast is a repeat of what I read there. So this move doesn’t affect me directly. It only hurts me if it hurts 5by5, which has two or three other shows I’m a big fan of. ( “Build and Analyze” and “HyperCritical” are two of my current favorite Never Miss shows.) And Benjamin has already announced a new weekly show “Big Week” that’ll effectively replace it. So maybe it’s just more of the same ebb and flow of podcasting. The 5by5 Network is littered with dead shows, and now The Talk Show is just one more. It just happens to be the first to move under undefined circumstances.

And so it goes. Now excuse me while I go listen to a podcast completely unaffiliated with any of these networks. I need to get away from it all for the next hour or so…