Clubhouse put a big bullseye on social audio

I’ve previously written about Clubhouse (What makes Clubhouse great and what may cause its demise). Perhaps it’s boredom, or Zoom fatigue, but there’s something quite appealing these days about having social conversations without turning on a camera.

The early buzz of Clubhouse (despite being invite-only and iOS having a total reach of about 2 million users) along with the rising popularity of podcasts has shown that consumers crave social audio interactions and that there’s plenty of room for innovation in the space. Clubhouse was the trailblazer, but it sparked a huge interest in the category from established social networks, new startups and even the open source community. Now it’s up to the consumers to choose which will be the social audio platform(s) of choice. In this post I summarise the top innovations in the social audio space.

Clubhouse attracts competition from every direction

The platforms

The social media giants are racing to introduce their own social audio experiences. A few already launched but several others are in development. With an already existing user base, it’s easier for incumbents to roll out new features to a ready-made audience.

  • Twitter Spaces, already live, Spaces can host impromptu audio discussions, but has less bells and whistles than Clubhouse for host. There are no calendar reminders or clubs, but now the feature is available for free to any user with 600 followers or more. In addition, Twitter plans to experiment ticketed ‘spaces’ events in the coming months.
  • Facebook Soundbites – “we want everyone to have tools that are powerful enough for the pros, but intuitive and fun — like having a sound studio in your pocket”. It also joins a wider Facebook for Creators initiative, launched to help creators publish and monetise content.
  • Instagram announced last week that it will allow livestreams without the need to turn on video, essentially enabling live audio rooms.
  • Spotify acquired LA-based live audio app Locker Room and is reportedly on a hiring spree to launch their own social audio experience. This is in addition to their 2019 acquisition of Anchor,
  • LinkedIn launched a new ‘Creator Mode’ and is experimenting with social audio – “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity.
  • Slack is looking to build the B2B version of Clubhouse (Slack Virtual Hallways). Slack’s founder and CEO, Stuart Butterfield, said (on Clubhouse) that ” Slack would soon offer a feature akin to the audio-chat app Clubhouse, which allows users to drop into rooms for conversations without requiring scheduling a meeting or initiating a call”
  • Reddit is secretly testing audio rooms which are “exploring a new feature that would enable moderator-run voice chats”.
  • Discord launched ‘Stage Channels’ , a new feature that allows users to share a focused conversation with select individuals to an audience of listeners.
  • Telegram launched Voice Chat 2.0 in March offering Live talks in Telegram groups. The new features include powerful functionality: unlimited number of participants, recordable chats, raise hand mechanics, invite links to listeners and speakers, etc.

Startups

Like in the early days of Web 2.0, people on Twitter are asking for invites to the hottest new product, sharing their excitement (“Follow me”, “come to my session”, “I just posted”). There is a new wave of ‘spontaneous social apps‘, as documented by Techcrunch. Perhaps it’s a consequence of being stuck at home during the pandmic, and looking for more spontaneous, less planned, social interactions. While Clubhouse is the most popular of this lot, several new startups are vying to be the place where the conversation happens.

  • Racket.com – while not a direct competitor to Clubhouse, it offers an ‘instant podcast’ platform where users can record and publish a 10 minute session, alone or with other speakers. I’ve had a chance to record a few sessions and enjoyed the simplicity of the product. Racket is very “bare bones” at the moment in terms of editing abilities, analytics, social features etc. It has however, a clever marketing launch to build traction: a new user can reserve a username (capture interest), but requires 10 followers (or some hustle) to get an invite code. VC funding, if any, is still undisclosed.
  • Fireside app which got be known as “Mark Cuban’s Clubhouse Clone” is still not live, but promises to deliver a next gen podcast platform.
  • Riffr calls itself a social micro podcasting app. Started in 2016 by an agency called Mobile-Sphere, and seems to have no outside funding.
  • Spoon – audio live streaming. like a Twitch, but with audio. Founded in 2013 and originally from Seoul, Korea, Spoon claims to have over 20 million downloads and raised a total of $60M, most recently $40M series B in Dec 2019. Much of the monetisation for “DJs” (broadcasters) is based on tips.
  • Stereo, launched in 2020 and is based in LA. Enables audio live streaming (again, like an ‘audio Twitch’). 31 employees according to Linkedin, but seems to be bootstrapped.
  • Capuccino – an audio social network launched in July 2020 by French founders. The app offers users to record short voice memos (‘beans’) to be shared with friends and family who can also comment in voice. Similar to Saga, a family-focused audio social network.
  • Space – offers a widget that enables users to host live audio-only chat directly on their website. Run live podcasts, townhalls, AMAs with your users to increase engagement and get feedback over audio chat without taking them to a different platform 
  • Leher – India based audio rooms social network. Bootstrapped.

Open Source

  • Mumble – the first wide spread free and open source software for VoIP. Mumble is a low-latency, high quality voice chat software primarily intended for use while gaming.
  • Jam –  a self-hosted and open source alternative to clubhouse, Jam offers a minimal WebRTC based version of a Clubhouse-style “room”. Also offers a no-code option to easily add audio rooms to any website.
  • Element – a Matrix-based end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) secure collaboration and messaging app. It’s basically an open-source messaging platform like Whatsapp, designed for communities. It supports audio, and offers interoperability across Slack, IRC, Discord, etc.

Audio remains a huge opportunity and is likely to continue to grow. I want to echo the words of Aryeh Bourkouff (founder and CEO of Liontree) in his annual letter:

Despite being one of the oldest forms of media, audio assets and the greater opportunity remain undervalued. Audio will be a key component of the next wave of content and consumption, and it is set to continue to grow, even given the outsized attention and investment dollars lavished on the video industry due to the content spending habits of Netflix and the existential threat it has posed to the media industry for the last decade. More step-changes to come as the industry consolidates and the spending and monetization gap compared to video content narrows

Liontree Year End Letter, by Aryeh Bourkoff

Sorry to end on a shameless plug, but this is an area we cover closely at Remagine Ventures. If you’re a seed and pre-seed founder working on innovative products in this space, you don’t need to wait for a warm intro to contact Remagine Ventures. We’d love to hear from you!

The post Clubhouse put a big bullseye on social audio appeared first on VC Cafe.

Clubhouse put a big bullseye on social audio

I’ve previously written about Clubhouse (What makes Clubhouse great and what may cause its demise). Perhaps it’s boredom, or Zoom fatigue, but there’s something quite appealing these days about having social conversations without turning on a camera.

The early buzz of Clubhouse (despite being invite-only and iOS having a total reach of about 2 million users) along with the rising popularity of podcasts has shown that consumers crave social audio interactions and that there’s plenty of room for innovation in the space. Clubhouse was the trailblazer, but it sparked a huge interest in the category from established social networks, new startups and even the open source community. Now it’s up to the consumers to choose which will be the social audio platform(s) of choice. In this post I summarise the top innovations in the social audio space.

Clubhouse attracts competition from every direction

The platforms

The social media giants are racing to introduce their own social audio experiences. A few already launched but several others are in development. With an already existing user base, it’s easier for incumbents to roll out new features to a ready-made audience.

  • Twitter Spaces, already live, Spaces can host impromptu audio discussions, but has less bells and whistles than Clubhouse for host. There are no calendar reminders or clubs, but now the feature is available for free to any user with 600 followers or more. In addition, Twitter plans to experiment ticketed ‘spaces’ events in the coming months.
  • Facebook Soundbites – “we want everyone to have tools that are powerful enough for the pros, but intuitive and fun — like having a sound studio in your pocket”. It also joins a wider Facebook for Creators initiative, launched to help creators publish and monetise content.
  • Instagram announced last week that it will allow livestreams without the need to turn on video, essentially enabling live audio rooms.
  • Spotify acquired LA-based live audio app Locker Room and is reportedly on a hiring spree to launch their own social audio experience. This is in addition to their 2019 acquisition of Anchor,
  • LinkedIn launched a new ‘Creator Mode’ and is experimenting with social audio – “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity.
  • Slack is looking to build the B2B version of Clubhouse (Slack Virtual Hallways). Slack’s founder and CEO, Stuart Butterfield, said (on Clubhouse) that ” Slack would soon offer a feature akin to the audio-chat app Clubhouse, which allows users to drop into rooms for conversations without requiring scheduling a meeting or initiating a call”
  • Reddit is secretly testing audio rooms which are “exploring a new feature that would enable moderator-run voice chats”.
  • Discord launched ‘Stage Channels’ , a new feature that allows users to share a focused conversation with select individuals to an audience of listeners.
  • Telegram launched Voice Chat 2.0 in March offering Live talks in Telegram groups. The new features include powerful functionality: unlimited number of participants, recordable chats, raise hand mechanics, invite links to listeners and speakers, etc.

Startups

Like in the early days of Web 2.0, people on Twitter are asking for invites to the hottest new product, sharing their excitement (“Follow me”, “come to my session”, “I just posted”). There is a new wave of ‘spontaneous social apps‘, as documented by Techcrunch. Perhaps it’s a consequence of being stuck at home during the pandmic, and looking for more spontaneous, less planned, social interactions. While Clubhouse is the most popular of this lot, several new startups are vying to be the place where the conversation happens.

  • Racket.com – while not a direct competitor to Clubhouse, it offers an ‘instant podcast’ platform where users can record and publish a 10 minute session, alone or with other speakers. I’ve had a chance to record a few sessions and enjoyed the simplicity of the product. Racket is very “bare bones” at the moment in terms of editing abilities, analytics, social features etc. It has however, a clever marketing launch to build traction: a new user can reserve a username (capture interest), but requires 10 followers (or some hustle) to get an invite code. VC funding, if any, is still undisclosed.
  • Fireside app which got be known as “Mark Cuban’s Clubhouse Clone” is still not live, but promises to deliver a next gen podcast platform.
  • Riffr calls itself a social micro podcasting app. Started in 2016 by an agency called Mobile-Sphere, and seems to have no outside funding.
  • Spoon – audio live streaming. like a Twitch, but with audio. Founded in 2013 and originally from Seoul, Korea, Spoon claims to have over 20 million downloads and raised a total of $60M, most recently $40M series B in Dec 2019. Much of the monetisation for “DJs” (broadcasters) is based on tips.
  • Stereo, launched in 2020 and is based in LA. Enables audio live streaming (again, like an ‘audio Twitch’). 31 employees according to Linkedin, but seems to be bootstrapped.
  • Capuccino – an audio social network launched in July 2020 by French founders. The app offers users to record short voice memos (‘beans’) to be shared with friends and family who can also comment in voice. Similar to Saga, a family-focused audio social network.
  • Space – offers a widget that enables users to host live audio-only chat directly on their website. Run live podcasts, townhalls, AMAs with your users to increase engagement and get feedback over audio chat without taking them to a different platform 
  • Leher – India based audio rooms social network. Bootstrapped.

Open Source

  • Mumble – the first wide spread free and open source software for VoIP. Mumble is a low-latency, high quality voice chat software primarily intended for use while gaming.
  • Jam –  a self-hosted and open source alternative to clubhouse, Jam offers a minimal WebRTC based version of a Clubhouse-style “room”. Also offers a no-code option to easily add audio rooms to any website.
  • Element – a Matrix-based end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) secure collaboration and messaging app. It’s basically an open-source messaging platform like Whatsapp, designed for communities. It supports audio, and offers interoperability across Slack, IRC, Discord, etc.

Audio remains a huge opportunity and is likely to continue to grow. I want to echo the words of Aryeh Bourkouff (founder and CEO of Liontree) in his annual letter:

Despite being one of the oldest forms of media, audio assets and the greater opportunity remain undervalued. Audio will be a key component of the next wave of content and consumption, and it is set to continue to grow, even given the outsized attention and investment dollars lavished on the video industry due to the content spending habits of Netflix and the existential threat it has posed to the media industry for the last decade. More step-changes to come as the industry consolidates and the spending and monetization gap compared to video content narrows

Liontree Year End Letter, by Aryeh Bourkoff

Sorry to end on a shameless plug, but this is an area we cover closely at Remagine Ventures. If you’re a seed and pre-seed founder working on innovative products in this space, you don’t need to wait for a warm intro to contact Remagine Ventures. We’d love to hear from you!

The post Clubhouse put a big bullseye on social audio appeared first on VC Cafe.

Twitter expands Spaces to anyone with 600+ followers, details plans for tickets, reminders and more

Twitter Spaces, the company’s new live audio rooms feature, is opening up more broadly. The company announced today it’s making Twitter Spaces available to any account with 600 followers or more, including both iOS and Android users. It also officially unveiled some of the features it’s preparing to launch, like Ticketed Spaces, scheduling features, reminders, support for co-hosting, accessibility improvements, and more.

Along with the expansion, Twitter is making Spaces more visible on its platform, too. The company notes it has begun testing the ability to find and join a Space from a purple bubble around someone’s profile picture right from the Home timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter says it decided on the 600 follower figure as being the minimum to gain access to Twitter Spaces based on its earlier testing. Accounts with 600 or more followers tend to have “a good experience” hosting live conversations because they have a larger existing audience who can tune in. However, Twitter says it’s still planning to bring Spaces to all users in the future.

In the meantime, it’s speeding ahead with new features and developments. Twitter has been building Spaces in public, taking into consideration user feedback as it prioritizes features and updates. Already, it has built out an expanded set of audience management controls, as users requested, introduced a way for hosts to mute all speakers at once, and added the laughing emoji to its set of reactions, after users requested it.

Now, its focus is turning towards creators. Twitter Spaces will soon support multiple co-hosts, and creators will be able to better market and even charge for access to their live events on Twitter Spaces. One feature, arriving in the next few weeks, will allow users to schedule and set reminders about Spaces they don’t want to miss. This can also help creators who are marketing their event in advance, as part of the RSVP process could involve pushing users to “set a reminder” about the upcoming show.

Twitter Spaces’ rival, Clubhouse, also just announced a reminders feature during its Townhall event on Sunday as well at the start of its external Android testing. The two platforms, it seems, could soon be neck-and-neck in terms of feature set.

Image Credits: Twitter

But while Clubhouse recently launched in-app donations feature as a means of supporting favorite creators, Twitter will soon introduce a more traditional means of generating revenue from live events: selling tickets. The company says it’s working on a feature that will allow hosts to set ticket prices and how many are available to a given event, in order to give them a way of earning revenue from their Twitter Spaces.

A limited group of testers will gain access to Ticketed Spaces in the coming months, Twitter says. Unlike Clubhouse, which has yet to tap into creator revenue streams, Twitter will take a small cut from these ticket sales. However, it notes that the “majority” of the revenue will go to the creators themselves.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter also noted that it’s improving its accessibility feature, live captions, so they can be paused and customized, and is working to make them more accurate.

The company will be hosting a Twitter Space of its own today around 1 PM PT to further discuss these announcements in more detail.

Clubhouse begins externally testing its Android app

Clubhouse, the voice-based networking app that’s now being knocked off by every major tech platform, is bringing its service to Android. The company announced during its weekly townhall event that its Android version has entered beta testing with a handful of non-employees who will provide the company with early feedback ahead of a public launch.

In its release notes, Clubhouse referred to this test as involving a “rough beta version” that’s in the process of being rolled out to a group of “friendly testers.” That means there’s not a way for the broader public to sign up for the Android app just yet.

The lack of an Android client combined with its invite system initially gave Clubhouse an aura of exclusivity. You had to know someone to get in, and then you would need an iOS device to participate. But the delay to provide access to Android users also gave larger competitors time to catch up with Clubhouse and court users who were being left behind. One of the largest of the rivals, Facebook, recently challenged Clubhouse across all its platforms and services, in fact.

Facebook announced a full audio strategy that included a range of new products, from short-form audio snippets to a direct Clubhouse clone that works across Facebook and Messenger. It also announced a way for Instagram Live users to turn off their video and mute their mics, similar to Clubhouse. Even Facebook’s R&D division tested a Clubhouse alternative, Hotline, which offers a sort of mashup between the popular audio app and Instagram Live, with more of a Q&A focus.

Meanwhile, Twitter is continuing to expand its audio rooms feature, Twitter Spaces, and there are Clubhouse alternatives from Reddit, LinkedIn, Spotify, Discord, Telegram and others, in the works, too.

For Clubhouse, that means the time has come to push for growth — especially as there are already some signs its initial hype is wearing off. According to app store intelligence firm Apptopia, Clubhouse has seen an estimated 13.5 million downloads on iOS to date, but the number of daily downloads has been falling, mirroring a decline in the number of daily active users.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia’s data shows that Clubhouse’s daily active users are down 68% from a high in February 2021, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that Clubhouse is over — it’s just becoming less of a daily habit. But if the company is able to build out its creator community and establish a number of popular shows, which it’s aiming to do via its accelerator, it could still see users tuning in on a weekly and monthly basis. And those sessions would be longer in comparison with some other social apps, as Clubhouse users often tune into shows that run over an hour — even leaving the app open as they do other tasks.

For example, Clubhouse’s average session time per user is about 125% higher than Snapchat or Instagram. But compared with a streaming app like Spotify, sessions are shorter. Spotify’s average session per user is about 63% higher than Clubhouse, Apptopia data indicates.

However, Clubhouse is taking aim at the challenges around re-engaging people whose usage may have dwindled in recent days. Also during its townhall, the company announced it would introduce a bell icon for events that will allow users to be notified about the events to which they’ve RSVP’d. This will be important for creators who are advertising their events, as well.

Clubhouse didn’t give a specific time frame as to when its Android app would reach more testers or the wider public, only noting that it’s looking forward to welcoming more Android users in the “coming weeks.” In March, Clubhouse said the Android launch would take a couple of months.

Monetisation is Key to drive The Second Renaissance in the CREATOR ECONOMY

Creators that are able to grow a community while keeping engagement levels high have a greater opportunity to make a living from their craft more than ever before in history.

Consider this:

Jack Conte, Patreon’s CEO summarised it beautifully in the video below (or on this blog post if you prefer reading) by breaking down the evolution of the creator economy. He calls this period in time “The Second Renaissance”. You’ll notice that monetisation is a key part of the flywheel.

  • There are over 4 billion people online
  • Over a billion of them have a smartphone capable of creating high quality media
  • Creativity and content creation online are booming
  • The cost of creating content has gone down to almost zero
  • More than 50 million people in the US alone describe themselves as ‘creators’
  • New monetisation tools mean that creators are able to make a living from their craft
  • Their success is starting to impact culture, as kids aspire to become creators themselves

Show creators the money

As you can see, unlocking payments is key to driving more content creation and the platforms are racing to introduce new monetisation tools for creators. We’re moving from an ads model (based on volume) to a subscription/commerce model, based on engagement/value.

The audio space is heating up and a flurry of announcements around creator monetisation came out in the past few weeks:

And elsewhere creator monetisation tools and revenue streams continue to expand:

  • Ads and bran dealsYoutube reported $6 billion in revenue for Q1 2021, a 50% growth rate from the equivalent period last year. The sum is equivalent to the combined annual revenue of Snap and Twitter for 2020. While not all of it goes to creators, Covid-19 lockdowns drove a huge amount of volume to the platform.
  • Donations/pledges – Patreon, the early mover of creator monetisation tools, raised $155M on a $4 billion valuation in April 2021, tripling the valuation from a previous round in Sept 2020. They already distribute over $100M a month amongst their 200,000+ creators.
  • Premium contentTwitter announced “super follow” to enable users to charge their followers for access to additional content.
  • Digital collectibles and NFTs exploded (and then calmed down) as a way for creators to monetise digital collectibles and art
  • Social commerce – creators can monetise fandom by driving ecommerce purchases or selling their own merchandise via the social platforms. Examples include Benchmark-backed Popshop Live, or India’s SoftBank-backed unicorn Meesho.
  • Paid 1:1 Interactions and Livestreaming – from the celebrity greetings marketplace Cameo to dedicated providers like SuperPeer, Wisio or Heywith.
  • Subscription – OnlyFans, the adult content subscription platform reported that revenues surged to $2.4 Billion in 2020. Fans pay between $5 and $50 a month to get access to images, videos and other content.
  • Merchandising – t-shirts, hoodies, caps – anything you can put your name/brand on that will make fans interested is fair game. Merch is big on Twitch and with gaming streamers, esports teams, musicians etc. For example, Youtuber PewDiePie makes $6.8 million a month from Merch alone.

For creators to monetise better, the platforms need to continue innovating. A16Z, did a great job summarising how companies (vs. individual creators) are monetising beyond ads in their series ‘social is back’.

Source: A16Z, Six Ways New Social Companies Will Monetize Beyond Ads

Platform take rates = tax

Most creators build their audiences on Platforms etc. The platform provides the tools and in most cases the audience, but that of course, comes at a cost. The top creators are able to negotiate rates directly with the platforms and cut deals. For everyone else, take rates are ‘an invisible tax‘ on creators as Li Jin from Atalier Ventures puts it. Jin is advocating for the need to create a creator middle class to broaden the path for success.

The issue of payment fragmentation and take rates deserves as post of its own, but Lenny Rachitsky shared an interesting take on the topic earlier this week.

Creator Funds

If you agree that creators can effectively become small businesses by building a community and engagement, one of the opportunities in this space is providing the start capital for emerging creators. Patreon already provides cash advances, effectively ‘equity investments’ in the creator’s future revenue streams, and Tiktok announced a $1 billion creator fund last March to attract creators to the platform. Not everyone is happy, it seems.

New ‘creator funds’ are starting to emerge. A recent example is Creative Juice, a $2M fund to invest in emerging creators, backed partly by Index Ventures, Inspired Capital and creators like MrBeast. It’s described as “a groundbreaking way for creators to support each other and invest in their peers’ businesses.”

Creators are also increasingly becoming angel investors in B2C startups, similar to celebrity investments which are also on the rise, leveraging their profile to help their portfolio stand out.

Finally, a small plug to Remagine Ventures. If you’re a founder in the creator economy with a fresh take on these issues, we’d love to hear from you! We’ve made several investments in the space (some are still in stealth).

The post Monetisation is Key to drive The Second Renaissance in the CREATOR ECONOMY appeared first on VC Cafe.

In a room with no smart speaker, Alexa can’t hear you scream

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

For this week’s deep dive Natasha and Alex and Danny and Chris dove into the world of audio. Sure, you’ve heard of Clubhouse, but there’s lots more going on than just a single app’s cultural rise. So from the biggest companies to niche startups, we compiled all the recent audio news into a single show for all our delectation.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Facebook is building a number of audio products, including a Clubhouse clone and a short-form audio service that we think could be neat.
  • Reddit is also building a Clubhouse-like service, and Alex is excited about it.
  • It’s not just the established social networks that are trying out live audio. Peanut, a social networking app for women, added live audio “Pods” to its platform. It kicked off a conversation on what it takes to win this market, and what’s a smart versus silly bet.
  • While a drop in downloads doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in active users, it’s worth pointing out that Clubhouse’s monthly downloads dropped 72% in March. Where is that gosh darn Android app?
  • And Alex explained why the Clubhouse-NFL deal matters for the company, as it could molt into something more akin to a platform over time.
  • Danny explained how Apple and Spotify are building paid podcast services — more here, and here, respectively — and we have thoughts about which service is being more fair with the money. Natasha tied in how sentiment around the creator economy might be driving some of these individual-friendly business models.
  • Alex brought up TWiT’s new business model.

All told there’s quite a lot of excitement around the spoken word. Which is good as Equity is a podcast? Right?

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Apple unveils podcast subscriptions and a redesigned Apple Podcasts app

After years of increased competition from Spotify, Apple today announced its own expansion into podcast subscriptions. At the company’s spring event this afternoon, Apple unveiled its plans for a podcasts subscription service which would allow listeners to unlock “additional benefits,” like ad-free listening, early access to episodes and the ability to support favorite creators. The service will be available as part of Apple’s newly updated Podcasts app where free podcasts are also found.

The announcement of the new service, Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, follows shortly after an industry report suggested that Spotify’s podcast listeners would top Apple’s for the first time in 2021.

Apple CEO Tim Cook briefly introduced the subscription at the launch of today’s event, noting that this was “the biggest change to Apple Podcasts since its debut.”

Cook also noted the Apple Podcasts app had been updated, with newly redesigned show and episode pages that make it easier to listen, follow and share podcasts. The app will also include a new “Channels” feature that lets you find shows from favorite creators and get recommendations. This area will include both free channels and paid channels, which feature benefits for paid subscribers.

The channels themselves are groups of shows curated by creators, with “unique titles, descriptions, and artwork,” Apple says.

 

The app will also include a “Smart Play” button that helps listeners automatically start episodic shows from the latest episode and serialized shows from the beginning of each series, Apple says. Other new features let users save individual episodes for offline playback, an enhanced Search tab for quick access to Top Charts, and an updated Apple Podcasts Connect dashboard for podcasters. The dashboard allows creators to edit their shows’ metadata, schedule and manage show availability, organize shows into channels, manage multiple users and roles, and track how well their shows are doing via new performance metrics and visualization tools.

Apple said the new service will be available in May to listeners in more than 170 countries and regions.

In a press release, Apple said the first premium subscriptions would come from both “independent voices and premier studios,” including Tenderfoot TV, Pushkin Industries, Radiotopia from PRX, and QCODE, as well as larger brands like NPR, the Los Angeles Times, The Athletic, Sony Music Entertainment, and others.

“Fifteen years ago, Apple took podcasts mainstream, offering creators a premier, open platform to inform, entertain, and inspire hundreds of millions of listeners around the world,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, in a statement. “Today, Apple Podcasts is the best place for listeners to discover and enjoy millions of great shows, and we are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions. We’re excited to introduce this powerful new platform to creators around the world, and we can’t wait to hear what they make with it.”

Image Credits: Apple

Apple’s plans for a podcast subscription service was previously scooped by The Wall St. Journal, which said the company was preparing to add a paid subscription option to its product, as well as by Vox Media’s Peter Kafka, who said he believed Apple would introduce a paywalled podcast subscription product at today’s event. There were also hints found in the iOS 14.5 beta, which showed a redesigned Podcasts app featuring an account button on the Listen Now tab. MacRumors had reported that show notifications had been relocated here, and suggested that managing paid subscriptions may also be found in this new area in the future.

The move to enter the subscription podcast space follows years of significant investment by the Apple Podcasts and Apple Music competitor, Spotify, also a chief Apple critic.

Spotify in February noted it had tripled the number of podcasts on its platform, year-over-year, to 2.2 million. It has also forged a variety of exclusive deals over the years with big names like Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. And it has acquired podcast startups, ad tech and studios, including hosting and ad company Megaphone, creation tools from Anchor, content producers like Gimlet, The Ringer, and Parcast.

More recently, Spotify announced plans for its own podcast subscriptions via an Anchor feature and invested in live audio through its acquisition of live chat app Locker Room by Betty Labs. Spotify had said it would share subscription revenue with podcast creators, who would keep the majority of their earnings.

What podcast creators need to know:

  • We understand from people familiar with Apple’s Podcasts Subscriptions product that Apple will not dictate the terms podcast creators offer as part of their subscription. It’s an open marketplace where they can choose whether a subscription offers ad-free listening, bonus episodes, access to archival content or anything else.
  • Shows can be fully free, paid or “freemium” where there’s a mix of free content anyone can access, with the ability to upgrade to a paid subscription.
  • Pricing starts at around $0.49 per month in the U.S. (This is no App Store, apparently!) But creators can set their own pricing.
  • Apple takes 30% of the revenue in year one, then drops its cut to 15% in year two — just like it does for streaming services and other subscription products.
  • Podcasters can distribute their shows anywhere, they don’t have to be exclusive to Apple Podcasts. Presumably, this means podcasters could offer their paid content on other platforms, like Spotify, to increase their earnings.
  • Apple is not selling ads for podcasters at this time. Creators keep 100% of the ad revenue.
  • Creators will not have access to listeners’ personal data, like Apple IDs and their associated emails. The podcasts analytics offer anonymized, aggregated insights.
  • They will, however, be able to track new metrics like “most engaged listeners” and “top cities,” which could help them to tailor their podcast to their biggest fans or plan their next live show.
  • Subscriptions can be for either individual shows or groups of shows, called Channels. For example, paid podcast subscription service Luminary is a “Channel.” Podcast networks can also be Channels, like Radiotopia.
  • Channels can also be free, paid or freemium, just like individual shows. And they can also define their country-by-country availability and local pricing.
  • Subscription content is uploaded via Apple Podcasts Connect, not RSS.

Reddit unveils its Clubhouse clone, Reddit Talk

On the heels of Clubhouse’s latest fundraise, Reddit today officially unveiled its Clubhouse rival Reddit Talk following a recent report from Mashable that revealed the company had been developing audio-based social networking features. Like many of the newly launched Clubhouse clones, Reddit’s voice chat experience hasn’t deviated much from Clubhouse’s overall design where speakers sit at the top of the screen in a stage area of sorts, and listeners appear below — all with rounded profile icons, plus tools to react or raise a hand to ask to speak.

In Reddit’s case, however, it’s repurposed this Clubhouse-style format for its own communities, known as subreddits. Initially, Reddit Talk will live within subreddits, which are individual forums focused on a given topic or theme. Those community’s moderators will be the only ones able to start a talk for the time being, as the audio feature is still being tested, Reddit says.

These moderators will be given tools that allow them to invite users to join, mute participants, and remove speakers during the live sessions. They can also ban unwanted users from the talk entirely and stop them from being able to rejoin.

Although only the subreddit moderators can start talks, once they are underway, they can invite anyone they choose to join them to speak. The other users can listen to the Reddit Talk sessions across both iOS and Android.

Image Credits: Reddit

While the overall style is very much Clubhouse-like, Reddit has added its own touches. For example, users can react to speakers using a different set of emojis than you might find on rival services. Reddit’s product images today showed reactions that included popular Reddit designs like a rocket ship, the Reddit alien, and the diamond emoji, among others. Reddit says it’s currently testing a way for moderators to customize the background colors and the emoji used in their own communities when they launch Reddit Talk. They’re also able to change their own avatar’s appearance to fit the talk, too.

Reddit suggests the new audio features will make sense for things like Q&As, AMAs, lectures, sports radio-style discussions, community feedback sessions or even just hangouts.

The company is currently developing other features designed specifically to support AMAs and other types of conversations, it also noted.

In the comments of the Reddit Talk announcement, Reddit responded to questions from users about why it’s doing this, and acknowledged the Clubhouse similarities.

Image Credits: Reddit

“We believe that there is more to offer here by letting users have real-time live voice discussions with others in their communities — maybe talking about a sporting event while it’s on TV or listening to a casual chat or AMA with field experts,” Reddit’s Product Lead for creators wrote. “Yes, there are a few different platforms diving into live audio right now. Our hope is that by announcing this early with a community-first design, we will see engaging conversations hosted first by moderators, who we’ll be working with closely to ensure we’re creating a unique, supportive, and positive user experience,” the comment read.

There are more than a “few” other platforms now building out Clubhouse clones at this point, of course. Facebook has several tools on the way, Twitter has Spaces, and there are audio platforms in various stages of development from Discord, Telegram, Spotify and even LinkedIn, in the works.

Reddit Talk is not publicly available as it’s in a test period. But community moderators can join a waitlist to be alerted as to when they can try out the feature for themselves. After the test period, Reddit says it will work with moderators to allow other trusted users to host talks through the new feature, too.

LinkedIn confirms it’s working on a Clubhouse rival, too

Clubhouse’s list of competitors is growing. LinkedIn has now confirmed it’s also testing a social audio experience in its app which would allow creators on its network to connect with their community. Unlike the Clubhouse rivals being built by Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn believes its audio networking feature will be differentiated because it will be connected with users’ professional identity, not just a social profile. In addition, the company has already built out a platform that serves the creator community, which today has access to tools like Stories, LinkedIn Live video broadcasting, newsletters and more.

And just today, LinkedIn formalized some of its efforts in this area with the launch a new “Creator” mode that lets anyone set their profile as one that can be followed for updates, like Stories and LinkedIn Live videos, for example.

This focus on creators puts LinkedIn on competitive footing in terms of expanding its own Clubhouse rival, compared with other efforts by Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, or Discord — all of which have their own audio-based networking features in various stages development at this time.

Though Twitter’s Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, is already live in beta testing, its full set of creator tools have yet to arrive. In fact, it was only last month that Twitter announced its plans for a larger creator subscription platform via a new “Super Follow” feature, for instance. And it only this year entered the newsletter space via an acquisition. Facebook, meanwhile, has historically offered a number of creator-focused features, but has just recently gotten invested in tools like newsletters.

LinkedIn says its development of an audio-based networking feature came about because its members and creatives have been asking for more ways to communicate on its platform.

“We’re seeing nearly 50% growth in conversations on LinkedIn reflected in stories, video shares, and posts on the platform,” Suzi Owens, a spokesperson for LinkedIn, said when confirming its audio feature’s development. “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity. And, we’re looking at how we can bring audio to other parts of LinkedIn such as events and groups, to give our members even more ways to connect to their community,” she said.

As a result of creators’ interest in this space, the company moved quickly to develop its own Clubhouse-like feature, where there’s a stage showcasing the room’s speakers and a set of listeners below. There are also tools to join and leave the room, react to comments, and request to speak, according to screenshots of the interface first discovered in the LinkedIn Android app by reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi.

Note that Paluzzi populated the user interface with his own profile icon, shown in the image he tweeted. That is not part of the LinkedIn mockup. Instead, LinkedIn shared its own conceptual UX mockup of its in-room experiences with TechCrunch, which shows a more fleshed out example of how the feature may look at launch.

Image Credits: LinkedIn

LinkedIn believes that because the audio experience will be connected with users’ professional identities, they’ll feel comfortable speaking, commenting and otherwise engaging with the content, the company told TechCrunch. It will also be able to leverage its existing investment in moderation tools built for other features — like LinkedIn Live — to help to address any concerns over inappropriate or harmful discussions, like those that have already plagued Clubhouse.

“Our priority is to build a trusted community where people feel safe and can be productive,” Owens noted. “Our members come to LinkedIn to have respectful and constructive conversations with real people and we’re focused on ensuring they have a safe environment to do just that,” she said.

Plus, LinkedIn says that audio networking makes for a natural extension of other areas, like Groups and Events — areas for networking that have continued to grow, and particularly during the pandemic.

In 2020, some 21 million people attended an event on LinkedIn, and overall LinkedIn sessions increased by 30% year-over-year. The company’s 740 million global members also last year built community, had conversations, and shared knowledge, with 4.8 billion connections made.

Like many companies which saw a pandemic boost, LinkedIn believes the pandemic only accelerated the natural progression towards online networking, remote work, and virtual events, which were already in place before lockdowns. For example, LinkedIn says that more than 60% of its members were working remotely by the end of 2020, versus 8% before the pandemic. LinkedIn believes the shift will stick, as more than half the world’s workforce is expected to continue working from home at least some of the time, even after the pandemic comes to an end.

That leaves room for new forms of online networking to grow, as well, including audio experiences.

LinkedIn doesn’t yet have an exact timeframe for its launch of the audio networking feature, but says it will begin beta testing soon.

Facebook’s Clubhouse rival looks a lot like Clubhouse right now

Facebook is building a Clubhouse rival, The New York Times reported in February. But what that product will look like or how it will work have been questions that have remained unanswered. However, new screenshots of a Facebook audio product, still under development, show what appears to be a live audio broadcast experience that’s more of an extension of Facebook’s existing Messenger Rooms, rather than a standalone app experience. Facebook confirmed with TechCrunch the images are indeed examples of the company’s “exploratory audio efforts,” but cautioned that they don’t represent a live product at this time.

The company said also that detailing what a product may look like based on these images would be inaccurate. We’ve decided to publish them anyway with the caveat that, of course, in-development features are very different from live products. Anything and everything could still change between now and a public launch.

But the images at least help demonstrate how Facebook is thinking about live audio and where such a social experience could fit within Facebook’s existing app. And that’s worth considering.

The photos themselves have been shared by mobile developer and reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who came across Facebook’s live audio developments and user interface experiments within the Facebook Android app’s code. Like other reverse engineers, Paluzzi digs around in the code to uncover unreleased products in various stages of development. Some of the products he finds are tested and scrapped, while others eventually make it to market.

In Facebook’s case, the images he shared show a “Live Audio” option for Rooms — Facebook’s social Zoom competitor which first launched last May. At the time, people were hungry for video chat options before our collective Zoom fatigue set in as the pandemic wore on. Now we all want to turn our screens off, and hang out in Clubhouse instead.

Currently, when a Facebook user creates a Messenger Room — which you can do from either Messenger or the Status box on Facebook — it’s a group video chat. Here, friends and family can virtually hang out or even co-watch Facebook videos together. But while Rooms support up to 50 people, they’re not meant to offer a large, public broadcast experience.

The new images show an expansion of Rooms, where you’ll be able to pick from one of three different “types” of Rooms — either a private video room (much like you what’s available today), or either a public or private audio room. The private audio room would be just a place to voice chat with a group of friends, while the “Live Audio” room would instead be an audio-only room where you could broadcast to wider group of listeners.

The latter would be given its own Room Link, which speakers could then promote across Facebook — either in Messenger, through a Facebook post, or within a Facebook Group — or anywhere else on social media and the web.

Meanwhile, the Live Audio Room experience — which Paluzzi mocked up with images of Mark Zuckerberg’s face to represent the users profiles — looks a lot like Clubhouse. The speakers are shown at the top of the room where they’re represented with larger, circular profile pics, while the room listeners appear below. There’s also a “followed by speakers” section that leads the audience section — again, much like Clubhouse.

Paluzzi says the way the live audio rooms product is being developed, it would allow for rooms that anyone on Facebook could join, and those rooms could be accessible from Facebook itself — meaning you would not have to switch to Messenger to join a room. When not expanded to full-screen, the room would display its title, the number of speakers, and total listeners so you could get an idea of the room’s popularity.

Of course, what Paluzzi has come across is not a final product — it’s just a user interface, buried in the code, and none of the backend works. Facebook also stressed that the images were just audio experiments, as noted above.

But the images themselves are real and represent something Facebook has built. They’re worth examining, despite any attempts to downplay their importance.

“We’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people,” a spokesperson said, commenting on the images Paluzzi had published.

It’s no secret that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is bullish on audio, of course. In fact, he’s already appeared on Clubhouse a couple of times, and recently spoke about the potential for social audio in a Clubhouse Room hosted last week by former TechCrunch editor Josh Constine, now an investor at SignalFire. During the chat, Zuckerberg said he believes audio has a number of advantages over other formats.

“You don’t have to prepare. You don’t have to look good before you get on to go to a podcast or Clubhouse or whatever you’re doing,” he noted, of the hosting experience. Plus, he added, “you can walk around a lot more easily. You can consume it without having to look at the screen and kind of do that in the background while doing something else.”

Zuckerberg also praised Clubhouse for what it had pioneered, saying it would end up “being one of the modalities around live audio broadcast.”

Image Credits: Alessandro Paluzzi

In other words, it appears Facebook sees Clubhouse as a feature it can reproduce — similar to how it borrowed the concept of Stories from Snapchat for Instagram, and the way it’s more recently copied the TikTok experience for Instagram Reels. It doesn’t have to launch a new app to counteract the Clubhouse threat, it just has to launch a place for people to use audio on Facebook. (And of course, there’s something to be said about praising Clubhouse on Clubhouse while simultaneously building a copy.)

“Overall, I think that this is going to be a pretty big space,” Zuckerberg said of social audio. “The work that we’re doing in this is trying to basically build out a bunch of the tools across the spectrum of how people would want to use audio. I’m really excited about this,” he added.