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Lots of news to start the week. Let’s get down to business: Spotify Live gets the hatchet, the Obamas land another podcast deal, and iHeart signs a top wellness podcast.
Spotify Live is shutting down and what’s left of live audio is in short supply
At the last sign that live audio is well and truly on your way out, ally of music reports that Spotify shuts down its Spotify Live app. On the app, which still has a handful of chat rooms, users receive a notification that the service will be going away at the end of the month.
“After a period of experimentation and learning about how Spotify users interact with live audio, we have made the decision to discontinue the Spotify Live app,” Spotify spokeswoman Gayle Gaviola Moreau said in a statement to hot pod. He added that the company will continue to explore live streaming in settings where it makes sense, such as artist-focused “listening parties.”
The post-pandemic hasn’t been kind to live audio, which thrived with the rise of Clubhouse in the spring of 2020. Clubhouse peaked in mid-2021 when pandemic lockdowns and restrictions were still hampering normal socializing, leading to a huge valuation of $4 billion. Since then, the number of monthly active users on Clubhouse has dropped by 82 percent, according to data provided by Sensor Tower.
While Clubhouse continues to limp, the companies that followed in its footsteps have largely abandoned their activities. Last year, Facebook added its live audio rooms to its general live chat feature. Last month, Reddit announced the closure of Reddit Talk. Spotify, which built its live product by acquiring Betty Labs in 2021 for more than $60 million, has put the product through multiple rebrands and brought high profile podcast hosts to make the app shine. But the app only racked up 670,000 downloads, according to Sensor Tower (for comparison, Clubhouse had 35 million downloads in 2021 alone). Spotify began de-prioritizing its programming late last year, and given the layoffs and belt tightening at Spotify, it seemed inevitable that the app would fall by the wayside.
What remains of the live audio ecosystem, aside from Clubhouse, is Amazon’s Twitter and 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 current affairs conversations, and was well on its way to turning Spaces into a full audio product with playlists that mixed podcasts with chat rooms. Then Elon Musk took over, the podcasts were scrapped, and most of the Spaces team was fired. It may not go away, but Spaces is clearly not the priority as the company tries to salvage its valuation.
Amp, despite their layoffs, could be more interesting. Although it does have chat programs, it bills itself as a “live radio” app where aspiring DJs can curate their own music stations and use the kinds of social features that came out of the rise of live audio. To Spotify’s point about “listening parties”, social audio could have some advantages when it comes to music specifically, rather than just listening to people talk. 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 as lively. When Spotify, a purely audio-focused company, doesn’t see a way forward, it may be time to call live audio for what it is: a (very expensive) fad.
The Obamas’ Higher Ground signs an ad and distribution deal with Acast
After reportedly chafing at Spotify’s exclusivity model for podcasts, the Obamas are moving towards wider distribution of their audio projects. The former first couple signed a multi-year first-look 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 a separate deal with Acast, which will distribute its podcasts on other platforms.
With the new arrangement, advertisers can now buy slots through Acast on Higher Ground shows like Renegades: Born in the USAthe boomer fever dream capsule featuring conversations between the former president and Bruce Springsteen, the sum of ushosted by author and policy expert Heather McGhee, and audio docuseries The big hit show with Alex Pappademas.
Acast will also handle announcements and distribution for current and upcoming Higher Ground projects originally produced for Audible. Last month, Higher Ground launched its first Audible podcast, Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast, which has a two-week window of exclusivity for episodes on the platform. Once that window passes, Acast distributes the episodes to platforms like Apple and Spotify.
It seems the Obamas have struck a happy medium between reach and the kind of big podcast money that only comes with exclusive licenses. And for Acast, this is certainly a victory. The company has already signed a series of high-profile showsincluding WTF with Marc Maron and Anna faris is unqualifiedand the Higher Ground deal will only add to his cachet in the industry.
iheart signs By the way with Jay Shetty
Look, the deals are still happening! Megahit Wellness Podcast By the way with Jay Shetty has signed with iHeartPodcast network. Shetty, who is an author, life coach, and purpose director of the Calm app (honestly, we can relax with the nonsensical titles), launched the program in 2019. Since then, it has become a mainstay among the top 25 programs on Manzana. Podcasts and Spotify.
Unlike other audio giants, iHeart doesn’t play the exclusivity game. Appearing at Hot Pod Summit in February, Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia’s digital audio group, explained that the company has more to gain by distributing its shows as widely as possible than by trying to corral people into the iHeart app (which, according to a study by Cumulus and Signal Hill Insights, it only accounts for 3 percent of all podcast listeners).
And while Shetty is already comfortably positioned among the best podcasts out there, you might find it appealing that iHeart also has a massive streaming network that can be used to connect your show and attract even more listeners. “We have about 70 shows on the iHeart Podcast Network that generate more than 1 million monthly downloads or more,” Byrne said at HPS. “The only reason we have that number is because of broadcast marketing.”
That’s all for today! See you next week.
Correction 5:05 pm ET: A previous version of this article said that Twitter no longer stores old Spaces recordings. In fact, the company has stopped storing broadcast recordings.