ESPN Removes Content From $100 Million-Backed Podcast App Luminary

Expert says the decision could negatively impact the startup’s growth, programming decisions
Stephen A. Smith's podcast was among the more than a dozen that Luminary pulled from its platform at ESPN's request. (Mitchell Leff/BIG3/Getty Images)
April 30, 2019 at 5:08 pm UTC

One of the biggest heavyweight sports media companies no longer has its podcast content on Luminary, the $100 million-backed app and network that launched a week ago.

Luminary Media LLC removed more than a dozen ESPN podcasts from its network on April 26 at the media giant’s request, ESPN spokeswoman Diane Lamb confirmed to Morning Consult via email. The decision by “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” has at least one industry expert forecasting potential long-term repercussions for Luminary, at least as it pertains to sports programming.

Luminary has positioned itself as a premium experience -- the “Netflix for podcasts” -- but, through open-source RSS feeds, instead promoted other publishers’ content as part of the app’s “free tier” experience, hoping that consumers would ultimately pay for its exclusive proprietary programming. Without permission, a formal publisher licensing agreement and a clear understanding of how podcast owners would receive accurate listener data, Luminary’s decision backfired.

Nicholas Quah, publisher of the premium podcast newsletter Hot Pod Insider, said the removal of a “massive podcast publisher” in ESPN doesn’t necessarily impact Luminary’s business model in the short term -- at least from a sports perspective since there aren’t too many podcasts of that genre on the platform.

But, he said, it could become an issue in the future if the long-term strategy is to grow the paid platform at scale: Subscriber growth and programming decisions could be adversely affected if there’s a hole in Luminary’s free content offerings without ESPN and other sports-centric podcasts. And as a result, a paucity of listener data could impact its decisions to commission more original sports podcasts as part of its premium experience, which it is offering for $7.99 a month.

“The fact that ESPN pulled out -- it gives them less opportunity to get that data and know what the people who have downloaded Luminary want at the end of the day,” he said.

In 2019, ESPN has been among the top-10 podcast publishers for unique monthly audience in the United States, according to Podtrac Inc., a podcast analytics company that only tracks viewership of its verified publishers. Prior to ESPN’s removal, Luminary featured over a dozen of its podcasts and audio shows, including “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” “First Take,” “Pardon The Interruption,” “The Adam Schefter Podcast,” “The Stephen A. Smith Show” and “The Lowe Post,” among others.

ESPN’s decision to request Luminary to remove its content followed steps taken by other major publishers. Another top-10 podcast publisher, Barstool Sports, home to its flagship “Pardon My Take” and more than two dozen other podcasts pulled their content from the platform. So did PodcastOne, which broadcasts “The Rich Eisen Show” and “The Dan Patrick Show.”

Norman Pattiz, founder and executive chairman of PodcastOne, described Luminary’s tactic as something that wasn’t necessarily a pain point, but wasn’t helpful, either. He said it appeared Luminary felt “entitled” to using PodcastOne’s content, audience and marketing to help it compete with them, and argued that the practice causes overall confusion with consumers in the marketplace.

Sports publishers weren’t the only media companies to act. Producers of “The Joe Rogan Experience” also had Luminary remove the show from its platform, while other major media brands declined to let it use its top program, as was the case with The New York Times’ “The Daily.”

Luminary declined to comment for the story.

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns previously worked at Morning Consult as a sports analyst.

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