Bloomberg Beta leads $1.4M Funding Round To Make Podcasts As Easy As Radio With Curation and AI
Scout FM, a voice-first, curated podcast service for smart speakers and mobile devices, launched today with the goal of transforming how people discover and listen to the wealth of audio content available in podcasts by combining the familiarity and ease of radio with the power of editorial curation and AI. With a simple interface, Scout FM makes it easy to listen on Amazon Alexa, iOS, and Android devices, opening the world of podcasts for mainstream audiences.
Listeners don’t need to pick one of over 500,000 actively publishing podcasts; instead they say “Alexa, open Scout FM” or open the app and choose a station on topics like “Brain Food,” “Daily News” or “True Stories.” What people listen to—and what they skip—customizes a station to each person’s individual tastes, introducing new shows over time.
“On-demand listening, which is the typical format of podcast apps, is next to impossible on smart speakers. The huge challenge is the absence of a visual user interface. Until now, that meant that listeners had to remember the names of individual podcasts and episodes without any menu,” said Cara Meverden, Scout FM co-founder and CEO. “We turned this big constraint into an opportunity to create a simple guided experience for smart speakers, which translated into a surprisingly refreshing experience on mobile.”
Co-founders Cara Meverden (CEO), Saul Carlin (President and COO) and Dan McCartney (CTO), all Medium alumni who left following the company’s early-2017 pivot, started experimenting in August with Alexa skills that would eventually lead to Scout FM. The team spent nine months conducting user studies, focus groups and A/B tests while working on a pilot version of the service under the codename Subcast. By March, they had launched 30 skills and accrued over 1.5 million listening minutes, delivering the audience insights that gave rise to today’s launches. These included:
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On average, Alexa listeners listened for twice as long as mobile app listeners. Interviews revealed that listening at home tended to be more open-ended, like after work or before bed. Mobile app listening tended to be in the car or on-the-go.
A/B tests between Alexa’s voice, Polly voices, and recorded human voices revealed a clear winner: Alexa skills with human voices retained 30-40% better.
Early experiments tried to train Alexa users on using custom commands, like “I love this” or “change channel.” The team conclusively saw that unless presented with options, users quickly forgot how to interact with the skills.
For Daily News, people get into habits and want the same shows but for other topics like Brain Food or True Stories, people crave variety and love finding new things.
Podcasts with the radio-quality production value and journalistic story arcs performed dramatically better with listeners who were new to the medium, as compared with the typical unscripted format of long-tail podcasts.
Scout FM has raised $1.4M in seed funding from Bloomberg Beta, Precursor Ventures, Advancit and #Angels.
“The Scout team’s unique insight is that podcasts, no matter how good, won’t go mainstream until it is much simpler for consumers to find and listen to the content that’s right for them,” said Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures. “The fast adoption of smart speakers changes this. We can open up podcasts to an entirely new audience.”