The Evolution of Audio: From Broadcast and Streaming, then Podcasts and now Live Online Chat Shows

I don’t really think online chat shows are a significant advance on a regular radio show. After two decades of significant hardware and software advances to tackle and disrupt most traditional forms of media though, it is not surprising that the extent of the disruption will be less and less.

The general trend has been to make channels available to everyone and for creators to become the centre of a media company rather than a media owner controlling the talent to service an audience.

There is a reason most media are not individual creators as there is a lot more that goes into running a successful media operation than being a great storyteller.

For creators in podcasting, YouTube, gaming, TikTok or social media influencing, long term success came from collaborations either with other creators or with those that help amplify marketing or sales.

Sales is the big question for most media businesses as the traditional model was to use the free content to attract the audience and then offer that audience to advertisers who would like to reach them.

Brands can now access their customers directly but they do not help attracting those that are not yet customers.

Creators may prefer to just create their content and not have to deal with sponsors or advertisers but the environment has tended to be ad funded and so convincing consumers to pay directly comes with its own challenges.

It has never been easier but the largest online platforms are still ad supported and so a new generation of users expect content to be free and accept that they would be required to see ads in exchange.

What is Clubhouse?

Founded by a relatively older pair of serial tech entrepreneurs, Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth set out to build what they describe as a place to find something that may be about something you know or something you don’t. You may be challenged by a point of view very different to your own or you may be entertained by a comedy or poem or drama, at the end you are supposed to leave better off than when you first connected.

That is a laudable goal but also the intention for most media platforms. In the beginning it may even be possible but as the platform grows you need to have robust ways of managing moderation and even if you do, those that disagree will take to other platforms to accuse you of failing to do so.

It launched in March 2020 as the world went into lockdown. It is still in beta and only available on iOS with an invite being required to join. It grew slowly at first but took off in late 2020 as big name entertainers and influencers not only participated on the platform but became investors in it.

Unicorns (companies valued at over $1 billion) are not too rare in Silicon Valley but they don’t generally make it to that status in less than 12 months.

A big investment from the venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz helped propel it to $100 million and then in early 2021 to $1 billion.

The user number growth has soared to over 10 million which may still be small compared to Facebook or YouTube, but it is incredible growth for something that still has such restricted access. That may be part of its buzz as people try to find someone they know with a spare invitation. A useful element that is likely to disappear as the platform opens up is that you can see who invited you to the platform. It may be helpful if the platform uses it to manage user behaviour although holding a user responsible for the behaviour of the person they invited may seem unfair.

Up to 5 000 people can join a room to listen to what is being discussed and if the moderator opens the conversation you can request the opportunity to speak.

Recordings are not allowed and there is no text, pictures or video which during lockdown was a good option for those that could not leave the house to head over to the Clubhouse to meet some people they may wish to chat to or one day meet in real life. For users they can create their own rooms or arrange for friends to get together and hang out without the need to worry about how they look or the state of their homes.

For some who are still on the road, they could create a room while driving and see who might want to chat for a while.

Is it enough to make it a $1 billion company?

The short answer is no, but there are some very real world practical options that could see companies and governments make use of it to manage news conferences as an example.

It would allow news conferences to be held and save reporters from having to commute and to attend more in one day. It would also allow consumers to attend sessions with brands to discuss features or issues.

There are lots of questions though too about how to manage rooms when someone shares false information or groups gather to

But the buzz has also created many working in creating their own versions and so there is no guarantee that this is the unicorn that will become the YouTube of audio chat apps.

Who is competing?

Spotify has bought an app that currently focuses on sports chats that it will be using to connect artists with fans, while maintaining the sports options and expanding to have podcasters create some episodes via the live versions. The podcast How I Built this recorded their episode with the Clubhouse founders on Clubhouse.

Twitter is adding this function via their Spaces option which is being tested to move the text based conversations to audio.

Twitch the video game streaming platform is looking to create options for gamers to connect and discuss their favourite games while Discord which is already an audio based app that allows gamers to chat with each other but will now allow those not playing to gather and talk about gaming.

The application that may offer the most competition is LinkedIn who could create networking opportunities, Q&As with people in certain industries or between business and regulators.

Radio has shown what is possible for the last century and this is the next chapter to showcase how humanity can best use its original innovation, our voice.

By Colin Cullis – Talk Radio 202

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