Issue 299,  published March 30, 2021

Breaking: Spotify moves into social audio

Given Spotify’s grand ambitions to become the all-consuming audio platform of the universe, it has become a consistent point of curiosity as to what the company will do with the increasing interest around Clubhouse and the social audio category — or “live group audio,” as I prefer to call it — more generally. Frankly, the question was never an if, but a when and a how.

This morning, we have an answer: the Swedish audio streaming platform just announced that it has acquired a Los Angeles-based startup called Betty Labs, which is perhaps best known for creating Locker Room, the sports-centric social audio app. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but I imagine it’s fairly modest compared to the flashy sums paid out for the likes of The Ringer, Megaphone, and Anchor.

It’s an intriguing move, though I say this in part because I’ve been closely watching that app as a big sports consumer for a bit. The growing social/live group audio category strikes me as a natural fit with live sporting events, and Locker Room has done enough things of late to keep me curious as an observer. This includes a bevvy of interesting partnerships, at first with New York Times NBA reporter Marc Stein, and more recently with sports podcast publishers like Locked On and Blue Wire.

Just so we’re clear, though: This development shouldn’t be read as Spotify moving into the sports-centric social audio space, because Locker Room is quite obviously a starting point for a broader implementation of live experience features that’s meant to serve the needs of Spotify’s creator constituencies, which include music artists, podcast publishers, and many other kinds of talent. On that note, you should read the shape of this move as catering more towards the vertical creator-to-listener relationship as opposed to a more horizontal peer-to-peer social relationships, which makes up a good amount of the Clubhouse experience.

Here’s the section in the press release reflecting that: “Through this new live experience, Spotify will offer a range of sports, music, and cultural programming, as well as a host of interactive features that enable creators to connect with audiences in real-time. We’ll give professional athletes, writers, musicians, songwriters, podcasters, and other global voices opportunities to host real-time discussions, debates, ask me anything (AMA) sessions and more.”

This is my understanding of what happens next: the Locker Room app will continue operating in its current form for the next few months as the Betty Labs team is integrated into Spotify. Once that’s done, the app will relaunched (with a new name to signify its more generalized identity, yet to be determined) and will remain a standalone app. On the back-end, the app will be sorted under the company’s “Future Formats” division, led by Anchor co-founder Nir Zicherman. (Fun fact: When I asked Zicherman about the company’s interest in social audio after Spotify’s big livestream event last month, he said, “We think Live is interesting, we talk about it a lot, and we’re going to be watching Clubhouse closely.”) I’m told that a key focus of the Future Formats team moving forward is to make it easy for Spotify creators to record their live sessions on the Locker Room app — or whatever it’s going to be called — and upload them as a podcast through the Anchor platform.

I am, of course, very curious to see where this goes, and additionally, how this will affect the prospects of the social/live group audio space and Clubhouse specifically. Interesting, interesting.

I run this thing.