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PRI and PRX Will Put Podcast, Programming Eggs in One Basket

Two big public media names announce a merger with seed money from WGBH

Two big names in public media and podcasting have announced merger plans.

Public Radio International recently approached PRX (formerly known as Public Radio Exchange) with a plan to combine in order to “respond to a profoundly changing marketplace to meet the heightened needs of the public,” PRI CEO Alissa Miller said in a press release announcing the change.

The press release says the new organization will emphasize programming, training talent and creating technology in order to increase its influence and reach — expanding upon an initial combined broadcast audience estimated at 28.5 million listeners monthly, in addition to 56 million monthly podcast downloads and numerous online viewers.

[Read: PRX Puts Podcasting in Its Catapult]

Under the new structure, the public media company (perhaps renamed P-R-Something?) will be headquartered in Boston and led by current PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman, who will retain that title in the new venture.

PRI’s Miller will also remain involved for the first year, serving as executive chair of the new board of directors — and perhaps working out of the Minneapolis or New York satellite offices. Current PRX and PRI board members will comprise the remainder of the new board of directors.

The new organization has secured a “$10 million commitment from Boston’s WGBH” but will operate as an independent organization, according to the announcement.

WGBH CEO Jon Abbott will have his own seat, and the money is ear-marked for a few projects: new content development, a new audio production studio and a PRX Podcast Garage in a new location. That’s consistent with how Hoffman described the organization’s plans: “This merger intensifies our focus on helping creative producers and institutions build audience and grow revenue.” A plan to develop podcast-specific ad technology will also bolster revenue, the organization hopes.

WGBH already has a longstanding relationship with PRI, which it acquired in 2012, and had co-produced content with for about 20 years. WGBH also invested in PRX’s RadioPublic last fall, Current reports.

In its coverage, Current also notes that Henry Becton, former WGBH president, serves on the PRX board, meaning he will have a seat under the new leadership structure.

“Our support of this bold merger extends WGBH’s commitment to a strong public media system and as a champion of creative collaborations and content production,” Abbott said in the release.

He also expressed hope that the new organization will have a “transformative impact at a time when there is tremendous hunger for new ideas and approaches in media.”

The merger’s impact on the larger public radio and podcast space is yet to be determined, but the Wall Street Journal points out that “PRX and PRI are two of the nation’s four national distributors of programming for public-radio stations and the first to combine operations.” Although American Public Media and National Public Radio are much larger, they PRI and PRX have a significant presence in the marketplace already. Additionally, WSJ cites PRX as the third biggest podcast publisher according to Podtrac data, and the article estimates that the new organization’s gross revenue for year one “estimated to be about $38 million.”

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