The famous lyrics go, “Video killed the radio star”. Video and radio, or rather video and audio, has changed a lot since the 80s and though the ‘audio star’ might have been dead once, an audio war seems to be well and truly alive today.
An audio war you say?
Indeed we do. All the big hitters online these days have audio-specific products in their portfolio, chief among them being the ability to listen to podcasts and/or music. There is Google Podcast, Amazon Music streams podcasts, Apple Podcasts has been tweaking its app, and in April Facebook announced that they will also be providing users with its own in-app podcast player. This is in addition to audio-specific apps like Spotify, Audible, and more. With all of these providers of podcasts, they will inevitably be working toward improving and one-upping each other to gain more of the podcast environment’s market shares. This has been particularly evident in recent months with various providers making an announcement about their audio and podcast features as well as rolling out updates.
Who are the players and where do they stand?
Some of the most known players in the podcast environment are currently Amazon, Apple, and Spotify. These are well-known podcasting platforms with proven track records for quality and usability. The pros and cons of using one or the other are often user-specific. If you are a loyal Apple user, Apple Podcasts would be your go-to. If you have an android device, Spotify could be your perfect app. Other players like Google also have a good presence.
Facebook has also finally joined the show with their announcement of an in-app podcast playing feature. In its partnership with Spotify, Facebook will have a mini-player allowing users to listen to music and podcasts without leaving Facebook. This announcement came only days after Apple also revealed their next podcasting chapter and various apps recently rolled out their updates. Coincidental timing?
It’s not just announcements and updates that are making waves. Ultimately, this latest obsession with social audio was reignited by the launch of a little thing called Clubhouse on Apple – the app that lets you listen in on live conversations.Clubhouse took exclusivity to the max with its invitation-only use.It was great to reduce stress on servers but that and the fact that it took them over a year to introduce an Android version of the app has possibly shot them in the foot. Not to be outdone by a newcomer, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram all quickly rolled out similar features. The most recent development is Facebook’s testing of its Live Audio Rooms that began in Taiwan in May. With these tech giants having similar features on apps people already use, Clubhouse will have some serious competition and the number of downloads, after having peaked in February of this year, has been on a steady decline.
The two major factors that will determine the success or downfall of podcasts or live audio streaming will be, as is often the case, money and customer satisfaction.
It can’t all be free but it should all be great
The creators’ ability to monetise their podcasts and audio streams, as well as the pricing of apps for users, will greatly determine the victors of our audio war. Podcasts, much like YouTube, has been an advertisement-based product. Despite the frustration caused by having to listen or watch an advertisement in the middle of your podcast or video, advertisements are a tried and tested revenue-generating stream and a way for marketers to target their audience, a fact that companies like Facebook will no doubt make full use of with the ads displayed on the platform. Alternatives have gained more and more traction however and paid subscription guaranteeing ad-free content has become the norm. Apple’s next step in their podcast service is subscriptions to specific podcasts. Creators pay Apple an annual fee to offer subscriptions and then Apple also takes a cut from the listeners that subscribe. Listeners get add free and bonus content. This provides listeners with great content and creators with an income, and of course Apple with a nice profit. This is set to rival other sites, like the very successful Patreon, that offer similar services to all sorts of content creators. Other apps also work on listeners’ subscription, like Spotify that provides add free content to paying users. Clubhouse is also working on creator payments as a means to keep creators and users happy.
User satisfaction will be a very big determining factor. Many users are happy to pay for their subscription, but then they expect a good and usable app. Spotify, Amazon, and Apple have had some issues after recent updates with many users complaining that the apps have either become unusable, barely functional, or awful in the case of Spotify and Amazon Music. Apple’s old and well-known bugs and problems have still not being corrected according to recent user complaints. While the big tech companies can ride out most any bad review, ones like Clubhouse might not be able to and they will have to give some serious attention to identified problems.
Along with satisfaction, the personalization of the apps will also be important. With Clubhouse and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms both providers will need to have on-point algorithms to suggest and punt the correct content to their users. It is a problem that came with live-streaming that the simple wealth of content to choose from makes it difficult to accurately recommend content. Facebook, might have the advantage here as it focuses on the groups people already follow and recommend appropriate content accordingly. Clubhouse has an uphill battle to be able to recommend content as accurately, but they are already working on it and added features like being able to RSVP to a discussion.
So who will win the audio war?
Ultimately, this question is almost impossible to answer. The big hitters, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, have all been doing just fine for years regardless of whether they offer similar services or not. They all have their own loyal users and Facebook teaming up with Spotify to provide in-app podcasting, probably ensures that Spotify will also continue to thrive, regardless of any unhappiness with the latest updates. What’s more, these bigger companies have the experience and resources to deal with issues and improve their features and offerings fairly quickly should they want to. It is the smaller newcomers, the underdogs, that will be struggling and might have their big ideas incorporated into the big tech companies that can improve upon them faster and more efficiently. There are success stories, however, TikTok was once a newcomer when it came to video clips, yet it has gone from strength to strength. What is a definite fact is that despite popular media once thinking that audio was usurped by video, it is not the case today and with the masses wanting to listen to interesting, add-free podcasts and chats on user-friendly apps while going about daily activities indicates that it is also here to stay and providers will continue to vie for market shares.