Happy Tuesday, peeps. We’re so close to Thanksgiving, I can taste the cornbread casserole. Yes, that is my dish, and yes, I’m from the Midwest. No further questions, please! We have a relatively light one today, which seems to be because many companies are taking it easy through the rest of the year. The social audio companies, however, are continuing to land the deals and make the news. No rest for the startups. Although I have lots of things to say about Spotify’s audiobook company acquisition from Thursday, I’m saving it for hopefully later this week. (If you work in the literary world and have some thoughts on the audiobook market, feel free to reach out!) Otherwise, let’s get to it.
The New York Times says COVID misinformation is rampant in audio
The New York Times has chimed in on how podcast and radio hosts are handling the pandemic — they’re spreading misinformation, heeding their own advice, and dying because of it. Dark. The piece names and shames a who’s who of radio and podcasting companies, including iHeart Media, Spotify, and Apple, which have allowed some of these shows to distribute their programming on their respective platforms. (Shockingly, Cumulus doesn’t come up in the piece despite being the place where a star podcaster and radio host is protesting a corporate vaccine mandate.) The piece specifically focuses on where these podcasts are distributed, not who’s making or monetizing them.
To give you a sense of what we’re working with in this story, among the quotes is one from a pastor and podcaster who says the vaccine is “an egg that hatches into a synthetic parasite and grows inside your body.” (His show is available through iHeart’s app, reports the paper.) Someone watched too much Alien and didn’t realize it was fiction, I guess. This was the same person who also apparently said a “Jew coup” was behind the efforts to impeach former President Donald Trump.
I feel like I’ve read this same story a bunch already, but the thing I’m watching and wondering about, that the Times’ piece mentions, is how tech companies’ moderation policies are likely stricter than many audio-specific companies’. It links iHeart’s content policy, as well as Spotify’s and Apple’s, but one that doesn’t come up — and I’m curious to know if it even exists — is Cumulus’. iHeart also declined to tell the Times whether it had any sort of policy around COVID misinformation. I care about this partially because I think as more listening time goes to the tech platforms, including Facebook, there could be a world in which a podcast can’t be published on the big tech platforms, and podcast companies have to distribute their shows through other means. (Also, moderating these podcasts will be difficult, if not impossible, which I went long on here in February and is likely the more pressing concern.) I sense impending drama, and I’m ready.
Now, let’s move into tech world.
Spotify keeps trying to make Greenroom happen
Spotify yesterday announced it has a new slate of live social audio shows launching along with the news that people no longer have to log in to listen, which, great. They can do so from their browser or phone, meaning promotion of the programming will be much easier. The less friction the better. Among the shows is one about being a Taylor Swift fan and going deep on her music and another from Spotify Original podcast host Lauren Simmons where she’ll answer Gen Z’s questions. IDK! Spotify did promise to make its audio content and product all about the fans, and this seems to fulfill that promise pretty specifically. Will it be enough to compete with Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, though?
Clubhouse hosts Oprah, only 40K people reportedly tune in
On Sunday night, Clubhouse’s head of global marketing Maya Watson got on the app and with her came Oprah Winfrey and her bestie Gayle King. The group, along with other Clubhouse folks, discussed Winfrey’s Adele interview and how it came together. This is a major get for any platform; an exclusive Winfrey chat immediately following the premiere of a highly anticipated two-hour interview? I mean.
One recording of the show indicates only 22.7K people tuned in at all, including people who might have even just dropped in briefly before leaving. A Clubhouse spokesperson, however, says a “glitch” prevented the full room and its full audience from showing up in a single recording. A second recording, of which Oprah is part of around 15 minutes, indicates 18.6K people tuned in. Spokesman Grey Munford says these numbers are a cumulative count of unique listeners, therefore, he says, 41.5K people tuned in overall.
Here’s the thing, though: at CBS, where the special premiered, 10 million people tuned in. We could interpret this in a couple ways. One could be that if the app can’t draw in a major audience for the queen of television then why even try? The other is Winfrey and the Clubhouse team suffered from a lack of marketing. If CBS had simultaneously promoted the special and the Clubhouse after-event, maybe it would have stood a better shot at success. But alas, here we are. I will say, as an aside, this is the first Clubhouse replay I’ve watched, and the experience is well built. You can skip around, view who’s talking, and essentially, relive the event as if you were in the app when it happened.
Okay a couple more small things and then we’ll wrap.
Snapchat keeps signing music deals for its TikTok copy, Spotlight
I’ve been wanting to check in with Snapchat’s TikTok clone Spotlight and finally have an opportunity for an update. Now, you might wonder, why here in this audio-centric newsletter? To which I’d argue these short videos are, yes, visual experiences, but ones that are highly reliant on audio, particularly audio with the chance to go viral. So with that context, Snapchat yesterday announced it signed a deal with Sony Music Entertainment to bring its artists’ tracks to the platform. It’s now on par with TikTok, having signed deals with all three major labels — Sony, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.
More interesting to me, though, is the deal Snap signed earlier this month with NBCUniversal to bring audio from The Office, Bridesmaids, Parks and Recreation, and Saturday Night Live to the app. This feels like the beginning of something big — dialogue and scripting having the chance to go viral, which is much more in the podcasting vein. Also it comes with the idea that companies could make actual deals for access to that audio? Maybe there’s something here for comedy podcasts.
One last thing before we go.
Twitch launches an incubator program for musicians
The worlds, they converge. Twitch, primarily known for its gaming livestreams, is eyeing the music space. It already signed a deal with Warner Music Group to bring its musicians to the app for exclusive channels, but now it’s launching an incubator program for artists called The Collective. Chosen participants will receive hands-on guidance from the Twitch team, as well as “prioritized discovery, promotion, and activations” from partners, like Amazon Music and Rolling Stone. The idea seems to be to make Twitch a place you spend more time in, even if you’re not streaming a video game, and the payoff for the musicians is reaching a young demographic and learning from the Twitch team itself. All the tech companies want to own not just your visual attention span, but your ears, too, and Twitch offers an audio-only mode.
Alright, we’re out of here. I’m back Thursday for you paying subscribers, and if you’re interested in signing up, you can do so here. We deliver scoops, exclusives, and more analysis. If you care about audio, you should be reading it, just sayin’. Talk to you later!
Correction November 16th, 10:30AM ET: An earlier version of this article and headline stated that Clubhouse’s Oprah room only had 23K listeners, but a Clubhouse spokesperson says its public metrics for the room weren’t wholly accurate. He claims 40K people tuned in, across two recordings, because there was a room “glitch” that split it into two different recordings with two different audience numbers that he says are cumulative.