Wondery, the indie podcast producer and network, has launched a dedicated app that features its lineup of original programming. The hope: that the new Wondery App will grab more listeners by the ear — and have them part with cold, hard cash to listen to its shows ad-free.
Hernan Lopez, founder and CEO of four-year-old Wondery, touts the new app as having a user interface and personalized features closer to mobile apps for services like Netflix or Hulu than traditional podcast-listening apps. The Wondery App is available as a free download for iPhone from Apple’s App Store (at this link) and as a beta version for Android (at this link).
While the Wondery App is free — and users can listen to thousands of episodes for free, with ads — the goal is to upsell fans to the Wondery Plus subscription service. Launched in early 2019, Wondery Plus costs $4.99 per month or $34.99 for an annual subscription. Until now, subscribers have had to add podcasts using RSS feeds or listen to them on the company’s website.
The Wondery App at launch includes more than 50 shows, with full seasons of originals like “Joe Exotic: Tiger King,” “Dr. Death,” “Bad Batch,” “The Shrink Next Door,” “Business Wars,” “American History Tellers,” “Tides of History,” “The Daily Smile” and “Imagined Life.” Set to premiere July 1 for Wondery Plus customers — a week before it goes wide on free podcast platforms — is “Guru,” hosted by Matt Stroud, exploring the case of James Arthur Ray, a motivational speaker found guilty of homicide in connection with the deaths of three people who attended one of his self-help retreats.
“Very early on, when I started the company, we knew at some point we wanted to have our own place where listeners could listen to the Wondery shows,” Lopez said. “But we also knew we had to wait until we had enough shows, and the Wondery brand had enough breadth for people to go through the trouble of downloading an app and use it on a daily basis.”
In addition to being ad-free, Wondery Plus offers early access to select shows and exclusive bonus content. With the Wondery App, subscribers can access exclusive ad-free content such as “Blood Ties,” “The Sneak,” and “Hollywood and Crime: Billionaire Boys Club” before it launches on free-to-listen podcast platforms.
Wondery Plus is “going to be an increasingly important part of our revenue,” Lopez said.
Of course, it’s not clear how many fans of the podcaster’s programming, which is widely available to listen for free elsewhere, will be motivated to subscribe because of the new app. While Wondery has about 20 million monthly unique listeners, Lopez acknowledges that only a portion of that audience will convert into paying customers. “We want a subset of those listeners who want to pay extra to have an exclusive place to binge and access our podcasts on their phone at their convenience,” he said.
What the company does not plan to do is turn the Wondery App into a general podcast player, such as Stitcher, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. “There are so many great podcast players with millions of podcasts,” Lopez said. “The Wondery App is the best place to listen to Wondery content.”
The Wondery App makes recommendations based on listening habits and preferences, and it includes an auto-play feature to let users binge on their favorite podcasts. It’s also designed to help users easily find specific episodes. In addition, the app has dedicated video trailers integrated into the UI, like video-streaming apps.
“Our content is really made for bingeing, much like television shows,” said SVP of product management Neel Ketkar, a former Fox Networks and Fox Broadcasting exec who joined Wondery last September.
Another key piece of Wondery’s business is adapting its most popular originals for TV. Universal Content Productions, for example, is developing a “Joe Exotic” show based on the Wondery podcast with Kate McKinnon set to star and executive produce and also is producing a series adaptation of Wondery’s “Dr. Death” for NBCU’s Peacock, with Jamie Dornan, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin set to star.
L.A.-based Wondery currently has 65 employees. In the past several months, the company has hired additional employees for the design, development and marketing of Wondery Plus.
Lopez, formerly CEO of 21st Century Fox’s Fox International Channels, founded Wondery in 2016. The company’s investors include Lerer Hippeau, Greycroft, BDMI, Advancit Capital, Water Tower Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures and Waverley Capital, the VC firm formed by Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Luminari Capital’s Daniel Leff.