Facebook Reveals Audio Products, Including Clubhouse Rival

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced an upcoming suite of new audio products including a push into podcasting and Live Audio Rooms, an audio-only version of the Rooms videoconferencing product, intended to rival the popular Clubhouse audio app. Live Audio Rooms will roll out this summer as a test to public figures and groups. Users will be able to record and distribute their conversations and eventually charge for access to the rooms via a one-time fee or subscription. Meanwhile, Clubhouse closed a new Series C funding round.

Vox reports that Facebook also announced “a podcast discovery product that will be connected with Spotify, which has invested heavily in podcasting over the past couple of years.” Zuckerberg, it adds, “has made his interest in Clubhouse … quite clear,” appearing on the app for multiple chats including one with Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek.

Some observers believe Clubhouse, which hosts chats with audiences up to 5,000 people, “may have a hard time recapturing the buzz it had in 2020 and earlier this year, when much of the world was locked down and looking for distractions.” In February, Clubhouse revealed it had 10 million users, but hasn’t updated its user totals since then.

Clubhouse is, however, “still limited to Apple iPhone users, and when it opens up to the world of Android users, its numbers will likely shoot up again.” In other words, it’s too early to assess if the format Clubhouse introduced will endure and “way too early to figure out if Facebook’s massive scale will help the platform dethrone Clubhouse.”

The Verge reports that Facebook is also unveiling an Audio Creator Fund to “support emerging audio creators.” Facebook’s tipping system, Stars, will be also be instituted for Live Audio Rooms. All of the Live Audio Rooms conversations “can also be turned into Soundbites” a forthcoming feature that allows people to create and share short-form audio clips “along with an algorithmic feed to promote them.” Users will be able to create Soundbites, which will be found in News Feed, via a Facebook tool the company dubs “a sound studio in your pocket.”

With regard to podcasting, Facebook will start by “recommending shows and episodes based on people’s interests,” letting people comment on them and recommend them to friends. It added that 170 million people on Facebook are “connected to a page that’s linked to a specific podcast, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts.” Zuckerberg stated that an upcoming partnership deal with Spotify will “bring [that] company’s player over to Facebook, letting people stream music and podcasts from their News Feed.”

Axios reports that Clubhouse’s new Series C funding now values the company at $4 billion, “an astonishing number for an app that’s still in beta and has no revenue.” Andreessen Horowitz general partner Andrew Chen is leading the round and was joined by DST Global, Tiger Global and Elad Gil.

Other tech players are jumping on the audio bandwagon (see related articles below). Twitter, Apple, LinkedIn and Discord are among the companies launching new audio-based products or expected to announce soon. And Reddit just unveiled its Clubhouse rival called Reddit Talk.

“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,” reports TechCrunch. “In Reddit’s case, however, it’s repurposed this Clubhouse-style format for its own communities, known as subreddits.”

Growing a Global Community, Clubhouse, 4/18/21
Spotify Acquires Betty Labs, Creator of Live Audio App Locker Room, Axios, 3/30/21
Twitter Unsurprisingly Confirms Spaces Are Coming to Desktop Web Browsers, The Verge, 4/1/21
Discord Stage Channel Introduced as the Latest Rival to Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Gadgets 360, 4/1/21
Facebook Tests Web-Based Audio Q&A Application ‘Hotline’, ETCentric, 4/9/21
Spotify, LinkedIn, Facebook to Compete in Live Audio Space, ETCentric, 4/1/21
Audio Takes Off During the Pandemic, Axios, 2/15/21