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Facebook Hears The Siren Call, Rolling Out New Features Embracing Audio.

Audio has become too hot a medium for Facebook to ignore any longer. And on Monday, the company rolled out several audio-centric products that could not only help radio personalities connect with their listeners in a format that’s tailor-made for broadcasters, but the social media giant said it is also adding new features that will help made podcasts more discoverable.

“The high-level picture here is that we think that audio, of course, is also going to be a first-class medium, and that there are all these different products to build across this whole spectrum,” Zuckerberg said during an interview on the Discord app. “Every once in a while, a new medium comes along that can be adopted into a lot of different areas,” he added.

Soundbites is a new feature that will allow users to create and share short-form audio clips, an addition that draws obvious comparisons to Clubhouse while Zuckerberg said it could also seem like an audio version of TikTok. For many radio hosts with big social media footprints, Soundbites will offer an opportunity to reach listeners where they are already connected.

“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,” said Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook App in a blog post. To kickstart Soundbites, he said Facebook is introducing an Audio Creator Fund to support emerging audio creators and get early feedback on the new product experience.

Radio stations may also be able to embrace Live Audio Rooms, a new feature that will allow for group discussions. Starting this summer, Simo said they will make Live Audio Rooms available to public figures so they can host conversations with public figures, experts, and fans, adding it will be “without the added pressure of being on camera” in an apparent swipe at Zoom.

Here Come Podcasts

Facebook said within the next few months users will also be able to listen to podcasts directly on the company’s app, both while using the app or when the app is in the background. It will also offer podcast recommendations based on a person’s interests. Facebook will also offer fans of a show ways to comment on an episode and recommend a series to friends.

“Audio as a medium just allows for longer-form discussions and exploring ideas,” said Zuckerberg. “You can get into topics that frankly are a lot harder to with other mediums. And audio, I think, is just a lot more accessible because you can multitask while listening.”

Zuckerberg said Facebook is building a discovery tool to help producers share their shows with Facebook users. "We're really focused more on the creator side than the consumption side," he said.

Some specifics are still being sorted out. But it appears Facebook will access the podcast content through its deal with Spotify that will bring streaming music into the social network. Dubbed “Project Boombox,” Zuckerberg said Spotify will power their audio player.

More than 170 million people are already connected to hundreds of thousands of podcast pages on Facebook according to the company, and more than 35 million people are members of fan groups around podcasts.

Zuckerberg said the company is also developing a new platform that will help creators monetize their content through donations or subscriptions. In some cases that could mean charging for a single purchase to enter a Live Audio Room. And he said their new Stars tipping program has so far also been successful.

To some executives, Facebook adopting new audio features has long been seen as inevitable. Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, said at the 2019 Podcast Movement conference that it seemed like a no-brainer. “Facebook is obsessed with filling your newsfeed with pictures and videos, but you can’t share audio,” he pointed out. “It’s odd because podcast is one of the most social media. It’s so word-of-mouth-focused and yet I can’t really share it. That will get fixed.” That prediction has now come true.

Simo said Facebook has “seen the continuing rise of audio on our platforms” pointing out they have already seen the number of audio calls and messages growing on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. He sees the new features on Facebook’s app as an extension of that. “We think a lot of magic happens at the intersection of audio formats, as well as at the confluence of text, audio, and video,” he said.

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