Amazon Buys Wondery as Podcasting Race Continues

Amazon is acquiring Wondery, the company behind podcasts such as “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death” and “The Shrink Next Door,” as the race to grab parts of the audio market continues.

The deal, announced on Wednesday, is the latest bet that media companies are placing on audio — podcasts in particular — as they search for new ways to distinguish themselves in an increasingly crowded streaming video market.

The deal values Wondery, which began in 2016, at roughly $300 million, a person briefed on the matter said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal terms were not disclosed.

Amazon called the Wondery deal a “pivotal moment to expand the Amazon Music offering beyond music as listener habits evolve.”

Podcasts have been exploding in popularity, with nearly a third of Americans saying at the beginning of 2019 that they listened to at least one monthly. They offer media companies a fast-growing medium and an opportunity to build out their offerings without having to go through powerful interests, like publishers and labels, when licensing music, and studios when licensing films.

Efforts to turn podcasting into its own celebrity universe have attracted the likes of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Wondery’s founder, Hernan Lopez, a former Fox executive, has added Hollywood treatment to its podcasts, replete with tag lines, trailers and billboards. “Dr. Death” is set to be developed into a television series on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service.

Mr. Lopez told The New York Times last year that he had “set out to create a company that could build on bringing to podcasting the skill set of television and movies, both in storytelling and production, as well as marketing.”

Mr. Lopez will step down as chief executive when the deal with Amazon closes, and Jen Sargent, Wondery’s chief operating officer, will take over management, according to an Amazon spokeswoman. In April, Mr. Lopez pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing him of bribing soccer officials in South America in exchange for broadcasting rights when he was an executive at Fox Sports.

Amazon would not “predict” when the Wondery deal was expected to close, the Amazon spokeswoman said, noting it is subject to “customary closing conditions.”

The Times announced a deal this year to acquire Serial Productions, the company behind the hit podcast “Serial.” Spotify has announced a string of deals to expand beyond its streaming music business, including an acquisition of the Ringer, the podcast company started by the former ESPN journalist Bill Simmons. That deal is valued at about $250 million.

The investment bank LionTree served as financial adviser to Wondery.

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