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A dating app — not Facebook or Clubhouse — cracked getting audio to go viral

A dating app — not Facebook or Clubhouse — cracked getting audio to go viral


Why Hinge’s voice prompts took off

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Hello! I’m back from Thanksgiving break and now have mashed potatoes for brains. Really, I’ve eaten mashed potatoes five days in a row. I can stop, but I won’t stop until the leftovers are gone. Anyway, in between mashed potato servings, I did my best to “log off” and not think about audio — no offense — so instead, I binged the entire new season of Selling Sunset and played many crosswords. I’m back for you now, though, and we have a big issue ahead. We’re talking about how a dating app stumbled upon viral audio success, and I chatted with the CEO of podcasting’s latest $100 million-funded company, Podimo. Plus, an update to my RadioPublic story from last week and new Apple charts. Lots! Of! Stuff(ing)! On we go.

EXCLUSIVE: Hinge makes viral audio happen, despite many other apps trying

Today’s main story is one best told in a couple parts. The first: Last month, the dating app Hinge debuted voice prompts to daters’ profiles. Instead of telling potential matches about yourself with text, you could do so with your voice. Each clip can be 30 seconds, and, at launch, Hinge said two out of three daters it polled thought voice would help them “better determine their chemistry” with someone.

Fast forward to now, and, well, voice prompts are certainly doing something. The prompts have gone viral on TikTok and Twitter, with people reposting them either because they’re funny, cringe-worthy, or something in between. There’s impersonations, singing, sincerity, and bizarre moments. NBC News wrote about the viral fad a couple weeks ago, which you can read here.

I reached out to Hinge to get more concrete data on how this feature is performing and whether going viral was part of the plan. The company tells me 13 percent of new daters on the app build their profile with a voice prompt and that 46 percent of people on the app have listened to at least one voice prompt. A slow build, but one Michelle Parsons, Hinge’s CPO, interprets as encouraging.

“If you imagine the amount of extra time that it takes to add any piece of information to your profile, it’s already a friction point. So we’re really excited with this, and our plans are to continue to help users see the value, and things like them going viral on TikTok has definitely been very helpful for us here,” she says. She also adds that these new users — the 13 percent integrating the feature — are seeking voice prompts out on their own because their creation isn’t part of the onboarding flow. 

46 percent of users have played a voice prompt

People on the app record their voice in response to their selected but Hinge-curated prompts, so they aren’t just talking about nothing for 30 seconds. The most popular prompt so far, per a spokesperson, is: “A life goal of mine.” The second most popular is “All I ask is that you.” 

Throughout our chat, Parsons emphasized the reason Hinge thought voice prompts made sense in a dating app. Namely, if people are “trying to assess vibe, personality, what [a match] is looking for, [and] what’s it like to date them,” Hinge is best off giving them as much data as possible. 

“Our goals are to get users off of the app and into a relationship, or at the very least into a good date, and the constructed, the curated, doesn’t always necessarily relate to a positive experience with another person, and so we want to help users showcase more of their personality, more authenticity, which really comes from your voice — it’s really hard to hack your voice,” she says, adding that the team didn’t see “very high adoption” of voice calling, another audio-oriented feature, likely because making a cold call to a stranger is more intimidating than firing off a 30-second clip and hoping for the best. 

People took to voice prompts, not voice calls

Now, part two of this story is how Hinge got lucky with this viral moment. Lots of other apps are trying to create the TikTok of audio — Facebook chief among them, along with many decently funded startups focusing on shortform audio. Hinge didn’t set out to make a viral feature that would come with wide-ranging network effects, or at least Parsons says that wasn’t the intent. So why did this take off? For a couple reasons, I think. For one: Hinge already has a massive network. It’s been downloaded more than 5 million times and has a better shot of making a feature popular over a startup. (Facebook has yet to widely launch its attempt at shortform audio, Soundbites, and I’ll be watching how that performs for similar reasons.)  

Two: The dating app space is particularly ripe for viral audio — context is everything. A random person telling you their opinion on what NYC pizza spot is the best or, god forbid, their life goal is incredibly boring. There are no stakes — why do I care? But if you’re instead assessing whether you want to literally meet this person or hook up with them, all of a sudden, that opinion is critical. (L&B’s, baby!) This is also probably why Clubhouse had such a pandemic moment. Currently, I can go talk to my friends and family IRL or over the phone or even go to a bar to chat up a stranger — why do I want to have someone talking at me through an app? But when we were all stuck at home, the stakes were real. When will I meet a new person again??

All of which is to say, these startups have a challenge ahead of them. TikTok made remixing sound and visuals viral fodder, and the same will happen solely for audio, too, I’m sure. But will it be inside a wholly new app or one you join for some other purpose and audio is the fun bit on top? My bet is on the latter.

Enjoying this story? Hot Pod is a newsletter from The Verge that delivers news, analysis, and opinions on the audio industry written by Ashley Carman. The weekly Tuesday issue is free, and you can subscribe to two additional Hot Pod Insider newsletters per week for $7 / month or $70 / year.

EXCLUSIVE: The newest $100 million podcasting app

There’s a new, highly funded podcast app on the market: Podimo. The app, which has yet to come out in the US but launched in 2019 and is already in multiple European and Latin American countries, announced its $78 million Series B funding round late last week, bringing its total funding to over $100 million. That’s a number familiar to those of us who’ve been watching this space for a minute now — Luminary famously launched with $100 million in funding, as did Himalaya. (Though a source told me Himalaya’s funding was made up earlier this year.) 

Funnily enough, Podimo’s strategy is somewhat similar to both those companies’ in that its business is built around subscription audio. Users pay a set amount per month to stream as many exclusive podcasts, audiobooks, and “experiences” as they want, and Podimo pays the creators of that audio based on their content’s popularity. (SoundCloud is deploying a similar model for music.) So, if you listen to podcasts on Podimo and 20 percent of your time is spent listening to one specific show, 20 percent of your subscription payment will go to that audio creator, minus the cut Podimo takes for its services. (RSS-based podcasts can also distribute on Podimo, but they get less of a cut of that listener revenue.) The idea is that creators will be incentivized to promote Podimo because they make money off the listeners there, and they’ll also be encouraged to go exclusive to make even more, along with other perks, like extra promotion. Podimo says it has over 950 exclusive shows and audiobooks on the platform currently.

Podimo raised $78 million in its Series B round

I spoke with Podimo’s CEO and founder, Morten Strunge, before the holiday to get a better sense of how Podimo plans to use this recent cash infusion and how its past couple years have gone. The question I most wanted to know, of course, was when Podimo might launch stateside. 

“It’s not the top of our list,” he says. “It’s not that we don’t see an opportunity for a service like Podimo in the US, but obviously competition is bigger there, and it requires deeper pockets to make a difference. So it’s definitely on our roadmap, but it’s not the first country.”

The funding he says will broadly go toward “content” and “creators,” like “bringing even more content onto the platform that in return will fuel user growth.” The team will also invest in marketing, the actual tech product, and expanding to new markets. Notably, Podimo partners with hosts and fronts the creation costs for exclusive shows, so this funding will help the team do more of that. Strunge also adds that 90 percent of listening happens in a user’s native language, so Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, and German, and the team is hyper-focused on approaching each of its markets locally. It already partners with Wondery, iHeartMedia, and Sony Music Entertainment’s Somethin’ Else to translate their English-language shows for Podimo’s users.

In Denmark, Strunge says the company has 100,000 paying subscribers out of a market of 6 million people. “What’s been important for us is to show that this is not a niche thing, but it’s actually a mass market thing, something that millions of people would subscribe to in a market like Germany and not thousands of people.”

It’s all very similar to the big subscription dreams of Luminary and Himalaya. Both were focused on the US, and neither panned out as expected. But maybe going abroad changes that outcome, especially with so many shows under its exclusive offering.

Phew, we’re past the two big pieces and can get you onto more news. I don’t want to spend too much time here, so I’m just going to drop a few things to think about, and we’ll get either more into later this week for you paying subscribers or onto new things. Who can say!

UPDATE: RadioPublic says it’s fixed its app

Last week, I reported on issues podcasters were having with the RadioPublic app — their RSS feeds weren’t updating; they couldn’t get in touch with anyone from the company; and new shows couldn’t be added to the catalog. The company tells me it has now fixed the issue. Matt MacDonald, CPO at Acast and RadioPublic co-founder, says the issue had to do with an expired SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt. Here’s what MacDonald had to say about the issue:

“We have systems in place to readily catch bugs, problems our podcasters encounter, and issues affecting feeds. This issue in particular was of a nature that evaded those systems. It’s one we regrettably missed and should have caught.

 Since resolving the issue, we’ve updated RadioPublic’s systems to avoid future problems of this nature. Our team continues to monitor that all our services are running smoothly, and when our Pro users encounter issues and contact us, we continue to provide individualized support.”

Let me know if you keep running into issues, but this should hopefully be solved for now!

Apple divulges the most popular subscription shows

Apple Podcasts is getting into the end-of-year content early with new charts and curated content. The company released its curated selection of the best shows and episodes of the year just around an hour ago — A Slight Change of Plan from Pushkin is its top pick — as well as new charts around free and paid shows.

I’m including screenshots of the full list below, but I want to specifically call attention to the top paid shows. Three Uncanny Four’s Bad Blood: The Final Chapter is the top paid show, which, as we last know from September, had 6,000 paying subscribers. We can probably presume that’s gone up a bit since the Theranos trial has picked up, but that’s essentially the ceiling. (What happens to this feed when the trial ends?) Otherwise, Betches has two shows in the top 10 individual subscription shows, and people are apparently paying for Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon’s program, too, which hm, who knows what’s going to happen after all this recent Cuomo controversy. Apple spokesperson Zach Kahn had nothing to share around when or if these charts might get updated again. I might have more on this on Thursday once I have time to parse, but if you have thoughts, let me know!

Spotify and Netflix are friends who launch audio hubs together

I have seen a lot of hype over Spotify and Netflix’s news last week that they’re partnering to launch an audio hub on the Spotify app. This means Netflix’s publicly available podcasts (read: available everywhere) are now in one place on the Spotify app, along with music from popular programs. Currently, one soundtrack, The Harder They Fall, is called an “enhanced album” with the Spotify logo on the cover, which means it includes a video intro from writer, director, and soundtrack EP Jeymes Samuel. Despite the hype, I’m unconvinced this is a monumental moment. If Netflix were ever to go the exclusive podcast route, I think they’d likely include them in its own app — why would it cede any of viewers’ attention to Spotify? 

Could this mean more collabs in the future between the two companies? Sure. Does this just logically make sense as a partnership? Yes. People want to listen to Netflix soundtracks, and Spotify is making it easier for them to do so along with some bonus content. Friends!

Clubhouse monthly users reportedly fall off a cliff but are still millions-strong

Insider published a big look at Clubhouse this past week that hits the major points of conversation around the app: the dearth of advertisers, a drop-off in downloads, and controversial “drama rooms.”

The main data takeaway is a graph depicting that in July, Clubhouse reportedly peaked with 13.45 million monthly active users but just a couple weeks ago had fallen to only 6.78 million. Its daily active users dropped from 4.09 million at its peak in February to around 942,000 two weeks ago. All that data is according to a company called Apptopia.

A spokesperson told Insider the app is a place where “millions gather daily” and that overall growth exceeded expectations. “We expect to see a regular fluctuation as we grow,” this spokesperson added, along with the fact that 700,000 rooms are created daily, and the average time spent on the app is 70 minutes. Millions of people logging on monthly doesn’t read so badly to me, but the drop is steep and something Clubhouse is going to need to turn around before its competitors seize the market.

All right! That’s it for today. I’ll catch you paying folks Thursday, and for those of you who have yet to subscribe, I don’t have a Black Friday special for you, except that for $7 / month, you can impress all your friends and family with far too much audio industry knowledge. A deal IMO.

Today’s Storystream

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