The Verge last Monday reported Mark Cuban is involved with building a platform called Fireside that will facilitate the broadcast of live conversation, like Clubhouse. On Wednesday, the NYT reported Facebook is in the early stages of building a Clubhouse competitor.
These two reports follow Twitter’s recent contribution to the social audio field with Spaces, which allows Twitterers to engage in live conversation and began testing in December.
Attempts to shamelessly copy Clubhouse (which launched March 2020) have picked up recently likely in part due to the app’s accelerating reach at the end of 2020.
In December, U.S. downloads of Clubhouse reached a staggering 852,000, nearly 15 times greater than and up 1,395% from 57,000 in November, when downloads were already up 256% month-over-month.
This mad dash for user share in the social audio space sends a clear message to major media organizations that might not already be aware of the trend and can afford to pay attention: Now is no time to ease up on investment in digital audio content.
Investment in this instance would refer to resources toward cultivating followings on these newish social audio channels.
While Cuban’s Fireside and Facebook’s Clubhouse(ish) product are not out yet, media players should consider the opportunity to cultivate followings on Clubhouse, where there doesn’t yet seem to be a meaningful presence of brand-driven activity, in the same way you might encounter on, say, Twitter.
For example, scrolling through the “Television” section of Clubhouse during the time of this writing surfaces many fan-driven clubs, rather than perhaps clubs hosted by stars of TV shows from big networks.
Some execs have taken notice. Media companies including Barstool Sports have set up Clubhouse accounts, the NYT reported on Monday. Some Clubhouse shows are even sponsored, according to Sheel Mohnot, founder of VC firm Better Tomorrow Ventures.
This seems like a particularly good time for companies to cultivate a Clubhouse following, which could ultimately be used to promote TV shows or new streaming services like Paramount+ before competitors try en masse.
Yes, Clubhouse is meant to be an app where you can gather with others and talk, but media companies can adapt. A studio having actors from their films host conversational Q&As with fans doesn’t seem to clash with the Clubhouse ethos of gathering with others to talk, for example.
Clubhouse currently doesn’t monetize users, indicating the company is sensitive in some way to how heavy of a brand presence there is on the platform. But it seems unlikely the user base of Clubhouse would reject brand-driven rooms on the sole basis of them being created by a big company, as long as the celebs involved and topics discussed were compelling.
It’s possible Clubhouse fades in popularity as COVID restrictions ease, but media companies could always eventually redirect Clubhouse-driven resources toward their podcast and audio departments.
A similar strategy could be employed via Twitter Spaces, although employees of certain media companies may not yet have access to the feature.
But platform-specific pushes aside, the bigger takeaway from the Clubhouse copycat frenzy is the implied current market interest in not only live audio but digital audio broadly, which includes podcasts.
While users can’t natively record Clubhouse chats, the fact that the platform’s users are willing to sit through live conversations with no time limit (which is sometimes what a podcast starts out as) suggests a lasting interest in the podcast format.
And that’s promising for media companies that have continued to build out podcast operations throughout the pandemic, as the year-over-year growth in U.S. podcast ad spend in 2021 is estimated to be nearly 35 percentage points greater than it was in 2020, per eMarketer.
This all seems to push back on the notion from years back that the podcast market might be in a bubble. Sure, some podcast companies, like Luminary, haven’t really panned out, but as early as December has a tech giant made a big podcast play, signaling growth on the horizon for the podcast market.
While there are lots of places consumers can currently listen to podcasts, Spotify is currently a leader in the space, according to Sensor Tower. Of the apps Sensor Tower categorizes as podcast apps, Spotify has generated the most U.S. downloads (3 million) from January to February 11.