Facebook, Twitter and an increasingly audio social future

When pandemic lockdowns swept the country in the spring of 2020, there were concerns that the booming podcast industry was taking a hiatus – the dramatic drop in the number of people commuting meant fewer people listening on the go. Podcast downloads initially fell 10% between February 25 and March 25, but instead of that decline accelerating, digital audio rebounded and 2020 has propelled a new generation of social audio businesses.

The new format – live chats – has emerged as an audio trend that prompts social media giants to redouble their efforts to keep their control over internet experiences. One of the audio newbies, Discord – which started out as a chat platform for gamers and has been around since 2015 – has seen its popularity explode. Meanwhile, Clubhouse, which was launched during the pandemic, has rapidly grown its user base to millions and its valuation to billions.

Defying expectations, podcasting revenues continued to grow and eMarketer had to revise its estimate for 2020 from a 1% drop in the time American adults spend with audio, to 8.3% growth, for about an hour and a half a day. Clubhouse claims that users spend an average of more than an hour per day on the app.

While people may have commuted less and perhaps spent the early days of the pandemic watching the news, the versatility of the audio format endured: people listened while cooking, cleaning and cleaning. ‘exercise. As it turns out, audio can be the last unfilled window of consumers’ time: there are many more occasions in which someone can listen, or even participate in a conversation, than they can paste. eyes on a video.

Witthaya Prasongsin | Moment | Getty Images

Discord landed at # 3 on this year’s CNBC Disruptor 50 list due to its scale and rapid growth. The company that allows people to converse via text and audio chat, as well as video, says it has around 150 million monthly active users, up from 56 million at the end of 2019. The company allows people to create “channels” or virtual rooms, which serve as online communities to talk about different topics. While the company’s early adopters were largely focused on video games, the company’s appeal has grown significantly over the past year or so as people have found communities on the platform to talk about. video games, news, sports or fantasy football and their neighborhoods.

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Its CEO Jason Citron wants to provide the best version of community “space” on the Internet, whether it’s reinventing a dorm, library, restaurant or auditorium experience in a virtual environment. Citron says that many Discord users still experience it today in smaller groups of friends, say six to ten people, but the company sees significant potential to meet the needs of the larger communities around. topics of interest, and it is a goal of new product development, including its Internship channels.

“We see a tremendous opportunity to develop our business model,” he said.

The platform caught the attention of Microsoft, who came up with a $ 10 billion bid for the platform – in an ironic twist, Citron and his Discord co-founder Stanislav Vishnevskiy were gamers who created the company because they were frustrated with communication technologies like Microsoft’s Skype.

Discord has raised nearly $ 500 million from investors including Sony Interactive Entertainment, Tencent, Index Ventures, and Reid Hoffman’s Greylock.

Clubhouse launched in April 2020 as an invite-only live audio chat platform with events hosted by community members. The app’s audience grew in the first few months of the pandemic, supported by the frequent participation of Andreessen Horowitz’s partners, who led three rounds of investment in the company.

Response from Facebook, Twitter, Spotify

But it was in February that Clubhouse user numbers really took off: Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg both popped up in Clubhouse discussions, drawing in so many listeners. that the rooms have exceeded their limit of 5,000 people at most and have sent people into overflow rooms. Conversations – some with 2021 The No.1 company of disruptors, Robinhood CEO, Vlad Tenev – about the WallStreetBets business phenomenon has generated buzz and interest. (Discord has also found that its user base is growing among stock traders this year.)

For Clubhouse, exclusivity helped: the company capped the number of people who can join. New users needed an invitation from a member, and the company didn’t switch from iOS devices to Android devices until May after a year of iPhone exclusivity. CEO Paul Davison told CNBC this week that since Android’s launch, “millions more” have been waiting to join the platform.

The voice is the oldest medium. … The voice is a lasting medium.

Paul Davison, CEO of the Clubhouse

In the ultimate validation of innovative Discord and Clubhouse models, social media giants have launched similar services. Twitter started testing Spaces, to allow people to click on a tweet to enter a live chat, late last year and rolled it out in 2021. Facebook announced “ live audio rooms in April – Zuckerberg said the company had been working on audio for “a very long time” – and also began testing a question-and-answer product where creators can speak to an audience (with video or audio only), which can ask questions via text or audio.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn is working on an audio feature that will focus on business conversations. To expand the conversations happening around the water cooler, Slack, recently acquired by Salesforce, experimented with a feature designed to recreate the spontaneity of conversations in office hallways. And in March, Spotify bought Betty Labs, the parent company of Locker Room, an alternative to the Clubhouse.

Some social media trends come and go, but Davison, CEO of Clubhouse, told CNBC this week that the story was on his company’s business model side: “Voice is the oldest medium. … We we have come together with other people in small groups and speak from the beginning of civilization. … The voice is an enduring medium. “

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About Elaine Morales

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