Facebook’s announcement that it is finally embracing audio has raised more questions than answers about how the social giant’s sonic plans will impact radio and how the industry might benefit from new tools the company is rolling out. While the ultimate value for radio likely won’t be known until Facebook reveals more specifics, a pair of features has caught the attention of broadcasters.
“Facebook finally getting serious about audio is a positive thing for radio brands and personalities that are wise enough to make their content available wherever their listeners are, instead of relying on forcing people to a broadcast experience,” says Daniel Anstandig, Founder and CEO of tech provider Futuri.
With Apple concurrently teeing up subscription-based podcasts and redesigning the Apple Podcast app, “It sure seems like the sleeping giants are starting to wake up to audio,” says Jeremy Sinon, Hubbard Radio’s VP of Digital Strategy.
While the ultimate value for radio likely won’t be known until Facebook reveals more specifics, a pair of features has caught the attention of broadcasters.
To the consternation of personalities and programmers, Facebook has never made it easy to share audio on its platform. Soundbites, described as a tool to allow users to create and share short-form audio clips, could check that box. “All any creator has ever wanted from Facebook is a way to post audio in the feed properly. You’ve always had to put it in a video,” Sinon notes. “If they’re going to let us post audio in the feed… fantastic.”
In its announcement last week, Facebook described Soundbites as “short-form, creative audio clips for capturing anecdotes, jokes, moments of inspiration, poems, and many other things we haven’t yet imagined.” That has broadcasters wondering if the company will put a cap on the length of Soundbites, and whether the feature will enable audio to be uploaded. Still, many see it as a step in the right direction in that it will allow posting audio into the Facebook feed.
Live Audio Rooms
Hosts may also be able to embrace Live Audio Rooms, a new feature that will allow for group discussions, a la Clubhouse and similar voice chatrooms like Twitter Spaces and Mark Cuban’s forthcoming Fireside. Once again, the devil is in the details. Clubhouse doesn’t allow users to import audio into its platform – or export audio out of it – which limits how it can be used by broadcasters. Whether Facebook implements similar restrictions remains to be seen.
“You need to be able record what you’re doing and repurpose it or be able to import audio from somewhere else into those rooms,” says Sinon. “And if you can’t do these things you’re quite limited.”
Anstandig sees potential for radio in both features. “There are many ways stations and personalities can use features like Live Audio Rooms and Soundbites to grow audience and build brand loyalty, even if the path to monetization isn't quite clear yet,” he says. “The marketing value alone can be huge.”
A First-Class Medium?
Beyond the new audio features there were reactions – some annoyed, others amused – to a comment from Mark Zuckerberg. “We think that audio is of course also going to be a first-class medium, and there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” the Facebook CEO said during an interview on the Discord app.
“Obviously, audio has long been a first-class medium, as evidenced by radio's reach and revenue and the massive growth of podcasting,” Anstandig pointed out. “But now that Facebook sees that Clubhouse is buzzy, fun, and has a $4 billion valuation, they want to play ball.”
The radio/audio world “didn’t need additional validation that people like to listen to things to get enjoyment, to be informed, to get motivated, to relax, and to make connections,” said Jared Willig, Senior VP of Digital Strategy & Operations at Townsquare Media. “But big internet-only companies investing in audio is only good news for Townsquare, and for the industry.”
Others said it remains to be seen how well Facebook actually understands audio. Yet only one week after its announcement, the social giant began allowing users to access podcasts and music via Spotify without ever leaving the Facebook app.
While the industry waits to see how Facebook executes its audio strategy, its arrival in the space is yet another confirmation of the heat audio is generating. “Broadcasters should think of Facebook Audio as one more opportunity for tune-ins of existing content and brand extension,” says Anstandig.
Adds Sinon: “We have to pay attention to anything that comes out like this that is audio based. It’s critical to analyze these types of tools and make assessments of whether this is right for you or not.”