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Podcast-Clip Startup Podz Taps Katie Couric, Paris Hilton, Mara Schiavocampo as Investors and Advisers

Podz - Katie Couric, Paris Hilton,
Greg Allen/Invision/AP (Couric); Brendan Forbes (Hilton); Evan Agostini/Invision/AP (Schiavocampo)

Podz, a startup whose app auto-generates highlight clips of podcasts to create what it touts as the industry’s first “audio newsfeed,” has enlisted a trio of female investors and advisers for its launch: former TV news host Katie Couric, influencer and entrepreneur Paris Hilton, and investigative journalist Mara Schiavocampo.

In a nutshell, Podz works like this: The free app uses machine-learning algorithms to identify the best 60-second highlights from podcast episodes, then assembles those into a personalized feed for users based on their expressed interests and listening history. The Podz app also links out to the full episodes.

Couric, Hilton and Schiavocampo are themselves podcast creators and — naturally — expect that Podz can help them find new listeners.

“I come to this both as a content creator and consumer,” Couric told Variety. “I’m hoping it will get more people interested in my podcast, but selfishly I also want to use it for myself.”

Couric, who launches the next season of her interview podcast “Next Question” later this month, likened the Podz app to channel surfing. “Like most people these days, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of content out there — it’s the tyranny of choice… I am attracted to this whole idea because I’d like to have a sampling of interesting podcasts that are out there without spending 45 minutes figuring that out.”

Hilton just announced a three-year deal with iHeartMedia, which will encompass a new podcast/social media hybrid format, dubbed “PodPosts,” comprising short-form audio clips in podcast feeds.

“As a businesswoman and an innovator, I stay ahead of trends and see no limits to the power of audio,” Hilton said in a statement. “Hosting my own podcast, ‘This Is Paris,’ and investing in Podz will bridge the gap between social media and audio. I love Podz’s emphasis on discovery to help creators reach new audiences.”

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The Podz app’s setup screen Courtesy of Podz

Podz (listentopodz.com) initially is available for Apple iOS devices, with an Android version in the works, according to co-founder and CEO Doug Imbruce. Out of the gate, Podz provides 60-second highlight clips for about 5,000 of the biggest podcasts. The company doesn’t have commercial deals with the podcasters or publishers; Imbruce likens Podz’s approach to the way Google’s search engine indexes websites.

“We imagine a world where podcasts effectively compete for attention with 100-character tweets and 10-second stories,” Imbruce said.

Of course, whether Podz catches on as a new way to skim podcasts remains to be seen. Setting up the app is simple: You indicate your interest areas (e.g., “sex & dating,” “news”) and also can optionally let the app access podcasts you’ve subscribed to in Apple Podcasts. Podz then displays a TikTok-style vertical feed that autoplays the audio excerpts of shows it has selected for you; you can swipe up to advance to the next clip. Overall, the experience is like flipping through a bunch of talk-radio stations.

Imbruce officially formed Podz in January 2020. Previously, he was co-founder of Qwiki, which developed an app that automatically generated movies based on a user’s photos and videos. Yahoo acquired Qwiki in 2013 for a reported $50 million. Since leaving Yahoo in 2015, Imbruce has remained an active angel investor (his past investments include Uber, Robinhood, Flexport, DoorDash and Tubi).

The idea for Podz came about after Imbruce and his collaborators saw that only a few podcasts have been able to gain significant listenership. “There’s such a gap between quality audio being created and the amount being consumed,” Imbruce said. “The problem we’re solving is one of podcast discovery, initially. Right now podcasts are silo’d.”

To train its system for picking out the best 60-second bits from a podcast, the Podz team hired freelance editors who listened to more than 100,000 hours of audio to identify the audio highlights from each episode. “It’s always improving,” Imbruce said.

So how will Podz make money? Right now, it’s not selling ads or using other monetization features, but Imbruce pointed to in-feed advertising models used by apps like Instagram and TikTok as one of its potential revenue streams.

New York-based Podz has raised $2.5 million in seed funding led by venture-capital firm M13 along with Canaan Partners, Charge Ventures and Humbition. Currently, the company has 10 full-time employees.

M13 general partner Latif Peracha noted that only an estimated 1% of podcasts attract an audience of more than 5,000 listeners. “The growth of audio is leaving individual creators behind, and Podz equips these creators with the distribution tools needed to increase their reach and discovery,” Peracha said. “Doug and team have the consumer mobile track record to build the default platform for discovering audio.”

The Podz app also lets users save clips for later listening, as well as connect to Apple Podcasts to get access to podcast subscriptions (with support for Spotify podcasts on the road map). Podcasters and other users soon will be able share Podz highlights on social channels with one tap.

Down the line, according to Imbruce, the Podz app will allow users to record their own audio, create their own highlights and share those on the service and other networks.