How Twitter’s podcast bet could pay off
Twitter could be the first platform to successfully introduce social media features and discoverability into a podcast player.
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How Twitter’s podcast bet could pay off
From the very first time I heard about it, I never thought Clubhouse would become a mainstream social app. It’s not that there isn’t any utility for live audio; it’s just that the utility is extremely limited. I found it unlikely that millions of people would open an app every day so they could listen in on what are essentially conference calls. Instead, Clubhouse’s early surge in downloads could be chalked up to FOMO — partially due to its invite-only nature — and I wasn’t surprised in the least when those downloads quickly petered out.
That being said, I’ve been impressed with Twitter’s efforts to clone Clubhouse with Twitter Spaces. Whereas Clubhouse positioned live audio as its central feature, Twitter Spaces are merely a side functionality to the core product, and therefore they have a lower bar to clear in terms of proving usefulness. It’s extremely easy to dip in and out of Spaces while scrolling through the feed, and it’s a great way for creators with already-existing audiences on the platform to provide another layer of interaction for their followers.
Twitter increased the functionality of Spaces even more earlier this year when it introduced the ability to record them for future playback. The most interesting use of this functionality, I think, is when podcasters conduct a live Twitter Spaces with their audience and then distribute an edited version of the discussion within their podcast feeds. For example, last week I participated in a Twitter Spaces session run by the folks behind the Techmeme Ride Home podcast, and then over the weekend they published it as a bonus episode.
Given Spaces’ role as a low-effort podcasting tool, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Twitter’s product team is making a concerted effort to expand into traditional podcasting. Last week, it announced that it’s incorporating podcasts into its Spaces tab, making it possible to discover and listen to already-existing shows. Here’s how its official company blog post described the move:
Our internal research indicates that 45% of people who use Twitter in the US also listen to podcasts monthly, so we’ll automatically suggest compelling podcasts to help people easily find and listen to the topics they want to hear more about. For example, if someone regularly interacts with Vox content on Twitter, they’ll probably see a Vox podcast in a Spaces hub.
Adam Bowie, a longtime veteran of the radio industry, got early access to the new podcast tab, and he offered his initial reactions in a blog post. While the tab correctly guessed at some of his interests, he still found the tool underwhelming. Here’s a sampling of his critique:
What I don’t see is any way to Follow or Subscribe to [a] podcast. There’s no way to curate the titles you want to listen to … I think in general, Twitter could be a decent discovery mechanism for podcasts – assuming users actually press the “audio” button in their apps.
In the short term, Twitter needs to improve navigation and allow users to in some way curate their lists of podcasts and subscribe to titles. Another thing I didn’t mention was that you only seem to be able to get to a specific episode of a podcast. There doesn’t seem any way to explore all the episodes of that podcast that are available – just the episode that Twitter is recommending. That’s not very helpful.
It seems clear that, at least at this point, Twitter isn’t trying to replace your podcast player of choice, and right now it’s treating podcasts as merely an additive bonus feature in order to make its audio tab more enticing.
But could Twitter become a more central player in the podcast ecosystem, actively competing with the Spotifys and Apple Podcasts of the world? I think so, but it would need to do a few things first.
To start, it would need to introduce RSS functionality so that it can pull in a much larger ecosystem of podcasts. Right now, it seems to mostly be experimenting with large, mainstream shows, and that’s not going to cut it for most serious podcast listeners. You should also be able to actually subscribe to podcasts within the app. That’s the basic functionality found on any podcast player.
But Twitter could actually take it a step further by allowing you to connect your podcast to your already-existing Twitter account. That would give it much richer data for when it recommends podcasts within the audio tab, and it gives creators an incentive to promote their podcasts within Twitter. Right now, I’m sure a large percentage of my Twitter followers don’t even know that I have a podcast; I would relish the opportunity to push my show on them.
Once this more robust functionality is rolled out, then that would probably result in even more podcasters hosting live Twitter Spaces, especially if they can charge for access through Twitter’s Super Follows subscription product. If Twitter pulled off the integration well, then it could be the first platform to successfully introduce social media features and discoverability into a podcast player.
However, that’s a big “if.” Twitter’s history is littered with bungled or half-abandoned products, ranging from Vine to Revue. While it’s built out an innovative tool with Twitter Spaces, there’s plenty of competition in the podcast space, with major players like Spotify and SiriusXM spending billions of dollars to acquire talent and tech. It will take a lot of focus and investment for Twitter to gain market share, and those are two attributes that the company isn’t exactly known for. While I’m hopefully optimistic about Twitter’s podcasting ambitions, I’m also not holding my breath.
What do you think?
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It's always exciting to read about local news cooperatives like this one. I think local journalists have a better chance of reaching sustainability faster if they team up. [Nieman Lab]
I appeared on another podcast! For this one, I talked about local news startups and how they can get to sustainable revenue faster. [Lion]
This Twitter thread is fascinating. We think of email as decentralized, but if you try to send email from your own server, the largest email platforms will often just mark it as spam. [Twitter]
A good profile of Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer, which has an increasingly large media footprint in the US. [WashPo]
This is a really interesting way to grow an email list, though it might be hard to replicate if you don't already have a large audience on social media. [Media Voices]
I'm seeing more and more of the largest creators launch their own product lines. It gets them off the hamster wheel of constantly drumming up new sponsors, and then they have actual equity in the product's success. [Bloomberg]
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It started with podcasts, but now it's moving into text-based reporting.
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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at email@example.com. For a full bio, go here.
"To start, it would need to introduce RSS functionality so that it can pull in a much larger ecosystem of podcasts."
Reminds me of the recent discussion between Myke and Grey on Cortex re: RSS + Podcasts + YouTube... https://overcast.fm/+E7b4_Vc2Q/45:48.
"If I can't get it in a podcast app it's not a podcast."
Granted, that's referring to YouTube. Still, is this considered a podcast in Twitter or a distribution point for the "actual" podcast?