Tech firms in new battle for millennials

A young man listens to music

A young man listens to music on his headphones. Tech firms are battling for audiostreaming market.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Millennials want news, fun and discussions through the earphones. And now, tech companies are scrambling for a share of the new frontier, Facebook being the latest to join the bandwagon.

Facebook says it is banking on the new innovation as audio seamlessly fits within people’s busy lives, allowing them to share their personal stories or join a global conversation “in any way, anytime, anywhere, even on a bad hair day without any makeup or in your car or on a run!”

Video conferencing has been widely criticised, making people resentful of FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blue Jeans and Google Duo during the pandemic, due to video and screen fatigue.

Their solution? Audio streaming, that requires minimal attention and allows you to do other activities. This has made listening to audio content reach an all-time high, according to a March report by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Noting the rise and success of Clubhouse, Facebook, which has more than 2.5 billion users across the globe, has now joined Patreon, Greenroom and Twitter Spaces in the audio space, rolling out a feature called Live Audio Rooms.

Though launched too late, according to the current speeds in the digital revolution, the new feature enables users to discover, listen in on and join live conversations with public figures, experts and others about topics they’re interested in.

Invite friends

“Speech, sound, and language are the building blocks for how we connect with each other. That’s why good audio experiences can feel immersive and intimate at the same time,” says Fidji Simo, head of Facebook App.

“They make you feel like you’re right there in the room with your friends and family, sitting around at the dining table, even if you’re miles apart.”

Public figures can invite friends, followers, verified public figures, or any listeners in the room to be a speaker. The host can invite speakers in advance or during the conversation. There can be up to 50 speakers, and there’s no limit to the number of listeners.

However, the feature, launched on June 21, is yet to reach popularity levels enjoyed by its competitors, with Facebook now employing a number of strategies to make it more appealing to the African audience.

The social network is betting on the experience of existing podcasters and internet celebrities for its initial roster of podcasts, while planning to introduce a new feature called ‘Soundbites,’ which will allow users to post short audio snippets to their feed like they currently do with a photo or video.

Soundbites are short-form, creative audio clips for capturing anecdotes, jokes, moments of inspiration, poems, and any other things users can think of.

“We’ll start testing Soundbites over the next few months with a small number of creators and refine the product with their input before making it available to everyone. To start, we’re collaborating with creators to experiment with different concepts,” says Ms Simo.

Artificial Intelligence

Through its advances in Artificial Intelligence, Facebook says it can make your audio quality sound good, even if you record from a busy street corner.

“You will be able to use music from Facebook’s Sound Collection in the background of your story to set the tone. And with the ability to mix audio tracks, a growing collection of sound effects, voice effects and filters, it should be a lot of fun too.”

But Facebook is facing a huge challenge. Right now, it’s still too difficult for most people to create audio rooms, and the best audio creation tools are reserved for the pros.

“It’s still too hard to discover and share awesome audio content, and too cumbersome to assemble the right group of people to have a conversation about your favourite topic, at the right time,” admits Simo.

But she promises that the company is utilising the full spectrum of audio technologies to solve these hurdles.

“From audio quality enhancements, captions, speech translations, and superhuman hearing, our goal is to make audio presence easy, natural, and immersive so you can more fully experience social presence.”

More than 170 million people are already connected to hundreds of thousands of podcast pages on Facebook, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts — but until now, you had to leave the Facebook app to listen to these episodes.

Discord, which launched in 2015 and has 100 million users, decided this year to pivot from an audio platform for gamers to an audio platform for everyone.

Make money

But how will these audio features help creators make money? First, no advertising in Live Audio Rooms will be allowed, but listeners can pay to send their discussion hosts what Facebook calls ‘Stars’, which can be traded in for cash.

Those who send Stars will be highlighted in a special ‘front row’ section that everyone will be able to see. Listeners can purchase Stars packs during the conversation and send them anytime. Facebook takes a cut of the money users pay for Stars.

“We’ll also offer other monetisation models, like the ability to charge for access to a Live Audio Room through a single purchase or a subscription. To kickstart Soundbites, we’re introducing an Audio Creator Fund to support emerging audio creators and get early feedback on the new product experience.”

Clubhouse, which had 10 million weekly users as at May, has launched an in-app donations feature as a means of supporting favourite creators, while Twitter will soon introduce a more traditional means of generating revenue from live events - selling tickets.

The company says it will begin rolling out applications for Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces to allow hosts to set ticket prices and how many are available to a given event, in order to give them a way of earning revenue from their Twitter Space.

10,000 followers

Super Follows allow creators on Twitter to generate monthly revenue by offering paywalled content to followers who subscribe to them. To be eligible, users over the age of 18 need to have 10,000 followers and at least 25 tweets in the last 30 days.

Twitter will only take 3 per cent of creators’ revenue after in-app purchase fees — but, on the App Store and Google Play, in-app purchase fees are 30 per cent, which means that creators will take home about two-thirds of what their followers are paying.

“We updated our revenue share cuts after spending more time thinking about how we could support emerging voices on Twitter,” says senior product manager at Twitter Esther Crawford.

“Our goal is to elevate people driving the conversations on Twitter and help them earn money.”

Patreon, a web-based social audio platform for artists and web content creators, only takes between 5 per cent and 12 per cent of a creator’s earnings.

Clubhouse, which is slowly becoming the YouTube of audio, and Facebook’s Instagram have features that let listeners tip speakers or award badges in a live audio space, but the apps don’t yet allow for advance ticket sales.

Another way for top creators to make money on these apps is through Creator Funds. Spotify’s Greenroom and Clubhouse have both announced plans for Creator Funds, but it’s not yet clear how the earning potential will compare with selling access to Ticketed Spaces on Twitter.

Facebook’s entry into the audio trend is late but it remains to be seen how much it will offer content creators if it has to capture existing podcasters as the social network audio competition intensifies, with Microsoft’s LinkedIn and Salesforce’s Slack also working on their own audio room features.

Other audio streaming startups that are charging to the billion-dollar market are Riffr, Wavve and Spoon.

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