Spotify shows how the live audio boom has gone bust
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Lots of news to start the week. Let’s get right into it: Spotify Live gets the axe, the Obamas land another podcast deal, and iHeart signs a wellness podcast.
Spotify Live is shutting down, and what’s left of live audio is sparse
In the latest sign that live audio is well and truly on the way out, Music Ally reports that Spotify is shutting down its Spotify Live app. On the app, which still has a handful of chat rooms, users get a notice saying the service is going away at the end of the month.
“After a period of experimentation and learning about how Spotify users interact with live audio, we’ve made the decision to shut down the Spotify Live app,” Spotify spokeswoman Gayle Gaviola Moreau said in a statement to Hot Pod. She added that the company will continue to explore live streaming in scenarios where it makes sense, such as artist-focused “listening parties.”
The post-pandemic hasn’t been kind to live audio, which flourished with the launch of Clubhouse in the spring of 2020. Clubhouse peaked in mid-2021 when lockdowns and pandemic restrictions still hampered normal socializing, grabbing an incredible 4 billion dollars. Since then, the number of monthly active users on Clubhouse has dropped by 82 percent, according to data provided by Sensor Tower.
While Clubhouse is still limping along, the companies that followed in its footsteps have largely abandoned their pursuits. Last year, Facebook folded its live audio rooms into its overall live chat feature. Last month, Reddit announced the shutdown of Reddit Talk. Spotify, which built its live product by acquiring Betty Labs in 2021 for more than $60 million, put the product through multiple rebrands and brought in high-profile podcast hosts to make the app shine. But the app only racked up 670,000 downloads, according to Sensor Tower (by comparison, Clubhouse had 35 million downloads in 2021 alone). Spotify began prioritizing its apps late last year, and given Spotify’s layoffs and belt-tightening, it seemed inevitable that the app would fall by the wayside.
What remains of the live audio ecosystem, besides Clubhouse, is Twitter and Amazon’s Amp. Twitter Spaces emerged as the most successful of the live products, but it’s on shaky ground. As a platform, Twitter made more sense for actual conversations and was well on its way to building Spaces into a comprehensive audio product complete with playlists that mix podcasts with chat rooms. Then Elon Musk took over, the podcasts were thrown out, and most of the Spaces team was fired. It may not be going away, but Spaces is clearly not the priority as the company tries to salvage its valuation.
Amp, despite the layoffs, may turn out to be more interesting. Although it has talk shows, it’s billed as a “live radio” app where would-be DJs can curate their own music stations and use the kinds of social features that came out of the live audio boom. For Spotify’s point about “party listening,” social audio might have some legs when it comes to music specifically, rather than just listening to people talking. And if not, then Amazon will be fine either way.
Any way you look at it, it’s hard to argue that live audio is still very much alive. When Spotify, a company focused exclusively on audio, doesn’t see a way forward, it might be time to call live audio what it is: a (very expensive) fad.
Obama High Ground inks advertising and distribution deal with Acast
After reportedly exasperating Spotify’s exclusivity model for podcasts, the Obamas are moving toward wider distribution for their audio projects. The former first couple signed a multi-year deal with Amazon’s Audible after their deal with Spotify expired last year. And now, thanks to Audible’s shorter exclusivity window, Higher Ground has signed an exclusive deal with Acast, which will distribute their podcasts across other platforms.
With the new deal, advertisers can now buy spots through Acast’s Higher Ground shows like Renegades: Born in the USA, the fever dream boom fever that features conversations between the former president and Bruce Springsteen, The Sum Of Us, hosted by author and policy expert Heather McGhee and The Big Hit Show audio series with Alex Pappademas.
Acast will also handle advertising and distribution for Higher Ground’s current and future projects originally produced for Audible. Last month, Higher Ground launched its first Audible podcast, Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast, which has a two-week exclusivity window for episodes on the platform. After that window passes, the episodes are then distributed by Acast to platforms like Apple and Spotify.
It seems like the Obamas struck a happy medium between outreach and the kind of big podcast money that only comes with exclusive licensing. And for Acast, this is definitely a win. The company has already signed a number of high-profile shows, including WTF with Marc Maron and Anna Faris Is Unqualified, and the Higher Ground deal will only add to its package in the industry.
iHeart signed Jay Shetty on purpose
Look, the deals are still happening! Megahit podcast Wellness On Purpose with Jay Shetty has signed with the iHeartPodcast Network. Shetty, who is an author, life coach and the chief purpose officer of the app Calm (can we invite him with silly titles, honestly), launched the show in 2019. It has since become a mainstay among the top 25 shows. good on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Unlike some other audio giants, iHeart doesn’t play the franchise game. When appearing at the Hot Pod Summit in February, Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia’s digital audio group, explained that the company has more to gain by distributing their shows as widely as possible than trying to get people into the app iHeart (which, according to a study by Cumulus and Signal Hill Insights, represents just 3 percent of all podcast listening).
And while Shetty is already comfortably positioned among the top podcasters, he may find it appealing that iHeart also has a massive broadcast network that can be used to plug his show and bring in even more listeners. “We have about 70 shows on the iHeart Podcast Network that drive over 1 million monthly downloads or more,” Byrne said at HPS. “The only reason we have that number is because of radio marketing.
That’s it for today! See you next week.
Correction 5:05 PM ET: An earlier version of this article stated that Twitter no longer retains old Spaces records. The company has actually stopped saving broadcast recordings.