Live Video Streaming Takes Center Stage as Clubhouse-led 'Live Audio' Trend Fades

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Live Video Streaming Takes Center Stage as Clubhouse-led 'Live Audio' Trend Fades
Evan Xie

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Spotify plans to shut down its standalone live audio app, the logically-titled Spotify Live, at the end of April, as part of a larger shift away from real-time programming.

This represents something of a reversal from the last few years for the Swedish audio platform. In the early days of the pandemic, live group chat or “social audio” apps – led by Clubhouse – briefly became a major viral trend, with scores of bored people stuck at home logging in for large-scale free-ranging conversations. In March of 2021, seeking to join the wave, Spotify acquired Betty Labs, the startup behind the live chat app Locker Room, for around $67.7 million.

The Live Audio Autopsy

Locker Room was a sports-focused platform giving fans a place to connect, discuss their favorite teams and, let’s be honest, trash talk at a time when in-person events weren’t happening and sports bars were shut down. The app hadn’t built a massive community at the time of the acquisition – only counting around 19,000 installs post-launch – but nonetheless gave Spotify a presence in the exciting new world of social audio. At the time, the company’s research and development chief, Gustav Söderström, openly acknowledged that features like Locker Room might not ever drive revenue but added “it has potential, and it’s our job to explore.”

Despite Locker Room’s relatively slow start, on paper, the deal made some sense. Whereas a new upstart app had to attract a lot of users quickly in order to jumpstart worthwhile conversations, Spotify already had hundreds of thousands of people listening to the latest Gorillaz joint, ready to try out any new features the moment they appeared. As well, Spotify already collects personalization data on the listening habits of its users, in order to better recommend content to them. Tying that recommendation engine into curated programming – say, alerting a user when a hot podcast about a subject of specific interest to them was starting – seemed like a natural evolution for live audio platforms.

By June 2021, Spotify had launched its own live audio app – Greenroom – which was rebranded to Spotify Live in 2022. This was accompanied by a large-scale marketing push by the company around live content, incorporating the company’s line-up of big-name celebrity podcasters, like “Call Her Daddy” host Alex Cooper, “Daily Show” vet Hasan Minhaj, and influencer Tana Mongeau.

By late 2022, though, it became clear that internet users were losing interest in live audio, either due to an end to pandemic lockdown protocols or just the trend wearing itself out organically. In December of last year, Spotify started quietly cancelling a number of its live shows, including “Deux Me After Dark,” “Doughboys: Snack Pack,” and “The Movie Buff.”

In general, Spotify plans to pivot away from live content and deeper into new music discovery, with a variety of new features helping artists to promote songs to potential new fans. At a March promotional event, the platform introduced “Marquee,” a new way for artists to promote and sponsor their own releases, and an enhanced discovery tool helping artists and labels to prioritize specific tracks they want to promote.

Spotify’s not alone, either. Facebook also saw the writing on the wall and scaled back its Clubhouse clone – “Live Audio Rooms” – in mid-2022. Amazon also laid off half of the team working on its Amp live radio app last year, after it failed to generate significant interest from users.

Hope for Live Streaming Video

Yet while live audio seems to have faded, live video remains a key area of interest among the major streamers. Hot on the heels of its big Chris Rock live comedy experiment, Netflix has announced another livestreamed event – the Season 4 “Love is Blind” reunion. Couples and singles from the show will reunite along with hosts Vanessa and Nick Lachey for a livestreamed breakdown of the season’s biggest events on April 16 at 5 pm PT.

Netflix hasn’t released specific viewership numbers around the Rock special. It managed to land in Netflix’s Top 10 chart in the US on its debut week, despite only being available to stream for the final two days of eligibility, and the streamer has planned more live events in its wake, so we can presume it was at least somewhat successful. The streamer also presented the SAG Awards live on its YouTube channel this year.

User-generated content hubs like Twitch and YouTube aside, most of the interest in livestreamed video from the major subscription players remains centered around sports coverage. While there’s undoubtedly a large audience that enjoys watching live sports, moving these eyeballs on to streaming platforms also remains a bit of an inexact, uncertain science at this point.

According to Nielsen, Amazon’s 11-year mega-deal to bring “Thursday Night Football” to the Prime Video platform averaged around 9.58 million viewers per game in its first season. Amazon’s own internal figures put the numbers at more like 11.3 million viewers. That’s still below the viewership on “Thursday Night Football” games back in the 2021 season, when they were also being simulcast on Fox and cable’s NFL Network, but it’s still better than many had predicted, considering that the games were now streaming behind the Prime Video paywall.

With Amazon’s contributions more than making up for the loss of ad revenue, the NFL financially profits off of the deal, according to The Athletic. Apple’s “Friday Night Baseball” live streams go fully behind the paywall this year, after some games were available to stream for free last season. That company also may still be looking to get deeper into live video; a recent report indicated that they’re considering a bid on English Premier League soccer rights as well. Ultimately, it may just come down to the content itself. While “live podcasts” failed to become appointment viewing once Americans were freed from lockdown and allowed to go to brunch again, baseball and football games retain enough significance to get Americans to actually plop down on their couch at a pre-set time and flip on their favorite streaming devices. - Lon Harris

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Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

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This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.


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