Wondery CEO who designed a podcasting powerhouse vows to combat federal corruption expenses

Wondery Chief Executive Hernan Lopez and Chief Functioning Officer Jen Sargent in the company’s exhibit window in West Hollywood. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

When previous Tv set executive Hernan Lopez listened to the gripping genuine criminal offense podcast “Serial,” he was hooked. He considered the public radio collection was the start off of new variety of storytelling that would inspire the plan at the rear of his start off-up.

4 decades after its start, Wondery has grown into 1 of the nation’s biggest podcast publishers, drawing acclaim for manufacturing powerful audio systems centered on authentic-daily life tales. Some, like the healthcare malpractice investigation “Dr. Loss of life” and the correct criminal offense story “Dirty John,” which was generated in partnership with the L.A. Occasions and described by personnel author Christopher Goffard, have been formulated into Tv set displays.

Now, the West Hollywood organization is at a crossroads as it explores a attainable sale for the duration of a interval of quick consolidation in the podcasting marketplace.

Lopez also is facing a authorized struggle that has clouded his very own long run at the enterprise he established. He is among two previous Fox Television set executives billed with revenue laundering and wire fraud about alleged bribes involving broadcasting legal rights to the Planet Cup and other substantial profile soccer tournaments. Lopez has pleaded not guilty to the rates submitted in March.

“I am wholly self-assured that when I have the chance to be right before a jury, if it ever will get to demo, I am going to be vindicated,” Lopez said in an interview with The Situations.

He additional that the expenses have not transformed his position at the enterprise and that he has no intention of stepping down.

“I poured my coronary heart and my soul into this business that I’ve created from the floor up, and I intend to do that for as lengthy as I can and for lots of years,” Lopez explained.

The podcast industry, at the time fragmented and scattered with smaller sized publishers, is now dominated by a couple massive gamers. In modern years, Spotify, iHeartMedia and SiriusXM have used millions buying podcast companies to beef up their platforms. Final calendar year, Spotify purchased the New York-primarily based podcast production company Gimlet Media for about $230 million and recently announced a partnership with Chernin Leisure to flip some of Spotify’s primary podcasts into Television demonstrates and movies.

The aggressive weather has designed it more durable for more compact independent players like Wondery to endure on their individual, most likely producing it an desirable concentrate on for studios or other corporations in search of to increase their content material libraries.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that we go on to get approached over the years by providers that just want to directly get us non-public or make us aspect of their business [or] funds that want to devote in Wondery to assist us continue our advancement,” Lopez reported.

Wondery executives declined to disclose finances, but they mentioned that the small business is rewarding and that it has elevated $15 million from traders. Final calendar year, soon after elevating $10 million, Wondery was valued at extra than $100 million.

Bloomberg, which to start with claimed on Wondery exploring a sale, stated the corporation could fetch $300 million to $400 million.

Wondery has experienced conversations with companies which includes Sony, according to two folks common with the make any difference who declined to be named since they have been not licensed to remark. Other prospective consumers could include Spotify and Apple, resources claimed. A man or woman near to Spotify said they are not contemplating shopping for Wondery. Apple declined to remark.

“We have read a large selection of valuations,” stated Norm Pattiz, executive chairman of PodcastOne, a Beverly Hills-centered podcast community that was bought by LiveXLive in an all-stock transaction in July. “A ton of deals have been done, so evidently it can be a very good time to be a seller. The next pair of years will exhibit no matter if the buyers manufactured the proper bargains or not.”

Lopez, of Los Angeles, was beforehand head of Fox International Channels, a division of 21st Century Fox. He remaining the business in 2016. That same yr, he established Wondery, afterwards obtaining economical backing from Fox and other traders.

He recalled when the digital movie recorder TiVo arrived onto the sector and collection like “The Sopranos” changed the way Television demonstrates have been designed and eaten.

“There was a transform in know-how in television that modified not only the way folks view tv but the variety of tv that got designed and watched and was popular,” Lopez stated. “I experienced the plan that the exact point was going to happen to audio.”

The studio scored a strike with “Filthy John” — it also produced and marketed two other Periods podcasts, “Man in the Window” and “Detective Trapp.” Wondery’s own originals also proved popular, like “Dr. Death,” which premiered in 2018. The collection, which focused on a Texas doctor accused of medical malpractice, attracted 17.5 million listeners in its initial period.

The podcast has been developed into a Tv clearly show that will run on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new streaming provider and stars Joshua Jackson, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater.

To date, Wondery has produced more than 50 initial podcasts and has 16 reveals in Television set improvement. Lots of have attained No. 1 on Apple Podcasts.

Wondery experienced a U.S. viewers of additional than 8 million listeners in Oct, making it the sixth greatest podcasting publisher in the country, according to Podtrac.

With staff members dependent in West Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and London, Wondery now employs 70 people. Previously this yr, it expanded its West Hollywood business office, adding a new recording studio, to hold rate with the expansion.

Several of Wondery’s podcasts are obtainable on numerous platforms, a contrast to a developing amount that are special to just a single company.

“I see possibilities, for the reason that we’re in the special posture of getting equipped to give our talent, our creators, the widest probable viewers,” Lopez reported.

Final year, Universal Music Group declared a partnership with Wondery to build podcasts primarily based on its song library, labels and roster of artists. The collaboration’s initially podcast, “Jacked: Increase of the New Jack Audio,” will premiere Nov. 17.

“We felt like Wondery experienced done a good work of carving a area of interest out for them selves and becoming like the HBO of podcasting,” stated Barak Moffitt, executive vice president of written content system and operations for Universal Music Team.

In June, Wondery launched its individual application (with compensated and advertisement-no cost solutions) showcasing a lot more than 12,000 podcast episodes by the business and its partners, giving a lot more knowledge on how consumers eat its podcasts.

But the indictment in opposition to Lopez — the reason a lot of buyers backed Wondery — has designed uncertainty about the company’s long run leadership. Also named in the indictment was Carlos Martinez, the previous chief executive of Fox Networks in Latin The usa.

Lawyers for both equally adult men have said their clients were innocent and would be exonerated. A federal choose lately denied a movement by the former Fox executives to have a independent trial from a sports activities marketing team also associated in the government’s corruption investigation.

Some podcast executives are amazed that Lopez stays Wondery’s main government, said Nick Quah, founder of Incredibly hot Pod, which publishes newsletters about the podcast field.

“Individuals truly feel strange about it,” Quah claimed. “He is not just the chief of the enterprise, he is the face of the enterprise.”

Lopez, even so, appears to have the support of essential traders.

“Most people respects him equally internally and externally,” reported Jon Goldman, board lover of Greycroft, an trader in Wondery. “His instincts are wonderful, and his execution is flawless.”

Lopez is looking ahead, stating he wants to extend Wondery internationally. Previously, the business has translated these types of displays as “Dr. Death” and “Company Wars” into other languages and programs to do local language productions. It’s also operating with partners to adapt podcasts into other houses these kinds of as Television displays or guides.

“Every time we launch a new show, we are building this evergreen IP that actually can go various destinations,” mentioned Main Running Officer Jen Sargent. “Our goal however is to come to be the chief in the podcast room globally, with a brand name that is synonymous with immersive storytelling, and which is seriously what we are aiming for.”

This tale initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.