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Wondery, the independent podcast producer and network, has launched a dedicated app that showcases its range of original programming. The hope: that the new Wondery app will grab more listeners – and part them with hard cash to listen to its shows ad-free.
Four-year-old Wondery founder and CEO Hernan Lopez touts the new app as having a user interface and custom features that are 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 the Apple App Store (on this link) and as a beta version for Android (on this link).
While the Wondery app is free – and users can stream thousands of episodes for free, with ads – the goal is to sell fans 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 had to add podcasts using RSS feeds or listen to them on the company’s website.
The Wondery app at launch includes over 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”. The July 1 premiere for Wondery Plus customers – a week before it airs on free podcast platforms – is “Guru,” hosted by Matt Stroud, exploring the case of James Arthur Ray, a motivational speaker convicted of homicide in connection with the death of three people who attended one of his mutual aid retreats.
“Very early on when I started the business, we knew at one point that 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 was big enough for people to bother to download 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” ahead of its launch on free-to-listen podcast platforms.
Wondery Plus “is going to be a growing portion of our revenue,” Lopez said.
Of course, it’s unclear how many fans of the podcaster’s lineup, which is widely available for free listening elsewhere, will be motivated to subscribe because of the new app. While Wondery has around 20 million unique listeners per month, Lopez acknowledges that only a portion of that audience will convert to 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 phones at their convenience,” he said.
What the company doesn’t plan to do is turn the Wondery app into a general podcast player, like 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 autoplay feature to let users binge on their favorite podcasts. It is also designed to help users easily find specific episodes. In addition, the app has dedicated video trailers built into the user interface, like video streaming apps.
“Our content is really made for the frenzy, kind of like TV shows,” said senior vice president of product management Neel Ketkar, a former Fox Networks and Fox Broadcasting executive who joined Wondery in last September.
Another key part of Wondery’s business is adapting its most popular originals for television. Universal Content Productions, for example, is developing a “Joe Exotic” show based on the Wondery podcast with slated star and executive production Kate McKinnon and also producing a serial adaptation of “Dr. Death” for NBCU’s Peacock, with Jamie Dornan, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin set to star.
Los Angeles-based Wondery currently has 65 employees. In recent months, the company has hired additional employees to design, develop and market Wondery Plus.
Lopez, former CEO of Fox International Channels from 21st Century Fox, founded Wondery in 2016. The company’s investors include Lerer Hippeau, Greycroft, BDMI, Advancit Capital, Water Tower Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures and Waverley Capital, the capital firm. venture formed by Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Daniel Leff of Luminari Capital.