Facebook is going all in on audio. The company announced multiple products on Monday that emphasize voice content over text, images, or video. The products will be released over the next few months and, in some cases, will start with a limited set of people.
Most notably, Facebook is indeed launching a competitor to the buzzy social audio app Clubhouse with a feature called Live Audio Rooms, which will be available this summer. It’ll first roll out to groups and public figures as a test, but it will eventually make its way to Messenger, too, so people can hang out with friends. Users will be able to record their conversations and distribute them, and eventually, people can charge for access to these rooms through either a subscription or one-time fee.
To get people to join, Facebook says it’s introducing an Audio Creator Fund to “support emerging audio creators.” All of these conversations can also be turned into “Soundbites,” a forthcoming feature that allows people to create and share shortform audio clips along with an algorithmic feed to promote them. Think TikTok, but with audio clips.
Soundbites will live within the broader News Feed. Users will be able to record them in a separate tool within Facebook, which the company describes as a “sound studio in your pocket.” In a chat with Casey Newton, the author of Platformer and a contributing editor at The Verge, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg equated Soundbites to Reels, Instagram’s TikTok competitor, but for audio.
He also added that he likes audio over video or images because it allows people to multitask and host longer, nuanced conversations.
“The high-level picture here is that we think that audio is, of course, also going to be a first-class medium, and that there are all these different products to build across this whole spectrum,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook also plans to take on a bigger role in podcasting. The company says it’ll start recommending shows and episodes based on people’s interests and that people can comment on them and recommend them to friends. The company says 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 says a partnership with Spotify is forthcoming, too, which will bring the company’s player over to Facebook, letting people stream music and podcasts from their News Feed. Zuckerberg emphasized that this feature is for music. But still, Facebook users will be able to share Spotify podcasts and let people listen without having to leave the Facebook world — they just have to link their accounts.
“Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts,” a Spotify spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Facebook, fueling audio discovery around the world.”
Finally, Facebook’s tipping system, Stars, will be coming to Live Audio Rooms as well as for individual creators and public figures.
How serious Facebook is about audio and whether users actually want it over other formats is still unclear. On one hand, the audio industry is hot right now, with most major tech companies wading into the broader podcasting industry. Clubhouse and other audio startups have also made live audio a popular way to interact, and already, multiple big platforms have integrated the format into their apps.
On the other hand, live audio has clearly found its moment during the pandemic, when everyone’s been starved of human interaction and mostly confined to their homes. Podcasting offers edited, on-demand conversations, which people have enjoyed for years, but whether the live formats will survive remains an open question. Facebook has also routinely gone all in on a format, only for it to languish. It went for longform video with IGTV but has since pivoted to a focus on Reels. It launched and subsidized Facebook Live content, which has since mostly fallen by the wayside. The same could happen for audio, but Facebook is clearly using its size to try to make its mark on the industry.