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Insider June 3, 2022 — Live audio is a sinking ship

Plus, hot and fresh new pods

It’s been clear for a while now that live audio was going downhill, but the speed of Clubhouse’s decline is still shocking. I guess Oprah has better things to do now that we’ve all decided the pandemic is forever.

Plus, Pulitzer-winning Futuro Media gets a hefty Mellon Foundation grant, YouTube is more popular on smart speakers than podcasts, and lots of new content to dig into.

Clubhouse loses top execs as downloads plummet 80 percent

Things are pretty bleak at Clubhouse, according to a report from Protocol. The live audio app, which skyrocketed during the early pandemic and fetched a $4 billion valuation last year, has recently lost a number of its leaders as downloads have tanked.

On Wednesday, three top executives announced their departures: head of community Anu Atluru, an early employee and investor; head of international Aarthi Ramamurthy, whose spouse works for Andreessen Horowitz, a major backer of the company; and news head Nina Gregory, a former editor at NPR. The blood is in the water — app installations are down 80 percent from a year ago, according to data Sensor Tower provided to Protocol. Clubhouse did not respond to a request for comment on the piece.

What does this mean for live audio generally? Well, it can’t be good. Clubhouse is the grandaddy of live audio apps, with its success spurring tech giants to invest in the space. And even those investments seem to be waning. Bloomberg reported this week that resources for Twitter Spaces, arguably the most successful of the Clubhouse offshoots, will be scaled back. After making a half-hearted attempt at podcasting and audio generally, Facebook shut down a number of its efforts and is folding its live audio feature into Facebook Live. 

Now that normal(ish) life has resumed, appetites for live audio seem to be dwindling. Live audio filled a void during the darkest days of the pandemic, and it seems like there is not a big enough market to sustain all of the different outlets that have cropped up. Taking bets on which will be the last one standing.

Futuro gets Mellon Foundation grant to make future seasons of Suave and La Brega

Fresh off its Pulitzer win, Futuro Media has been awarded a grant from the Mellon Foundation to produce second seasons of podcasts Suave and La Brega. Both shows will return next year. The company would not disclose how much the grant was worth.

Futuro was founded by Maria Hinojosa, the longtime anchor of public radio program Latino USA, and produces podcasts with public radio outlets like WNYC and WBUR. Suave, a limited series that follows three decades in the life of a man sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile, beat out competitors from NPR and NBC for the Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting last month. La Brega, a co-production with WNYC, is a dual-language show about the Puerto Rican experience.

“We are so honored to receive this grant from the Mellon Foundation that will allow us to continue to shine a light on communities that mainstream media often ignore,” Hinojosa said in a statement. 

Podcasts snag a share of smart speaker listening, but YouTube is bigger

Music still absolutely dominates listening on smart speakers, according to new data from Edison Research, but podcasting has an 8 percent share. It slightly outpaces audiobooks, which account for 7 percent of smart speaker usage, and is equal with listening time for owned music (as opposed to streaming music from Spotify, Apple Music, etc., which took a whopping 41 percent).

Perhaps the most surprising datapoint is YouTube (yes, the video platform). Music and music videos on YouTube accounted for 11 percent of listening, equal with SiriusXM (an audio company). Edison will have more details on smart speaker usage when it issues its Smart Audio Report later this month.

Fresh pods

Sun’s out, birds are chirping, and, apparently, it’s new podcast season. Lots of high-profile launches to check out:

  • Celebrity chef José Andrés is launching Longer Tables, a Substack newsletter and podcast. While the newsletter will explore the intersections of food, politics, and history, the podcast will entail Andrés interviewing famous folks like Dave Matthews and Ron Howard about their food passions. There will also be a second podcast, Pressure Cooker, about how parents feed their children, which will be hosted by journalists Jane Black and Elizabeth Dunn. The subscription costs $6 per month or $50 per year, but there is an exception: people who want to subscribe but can’t afford it will be allowed to sign up for free.
  • Next week, Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries and the Financial Times will launch Hot Money, a show that looks at the business of online porn. A surprisingly spicy one from FT, but I’ll take it.
  • Slate debuted its seventh season of hit podcast Slow Burn on Wednesday, with the new season focusing on Roe v. Wade. Seems relevant!!
  • Next week, iHeartMedia will launch a limited series from Next Question With Katie Couric that’s also about the decimation state of abortion rights.  
  • HBO is celebrating the two-decade anniversary of The Wire with The Wire at 20. The eight-episode series is hosted by rapper and Wire alum Method Man.
  • Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary will host The Video Archives Podcast, a new show with Stitcher that will debut this summer, in which the two directors deep dive on classic films. I am sure film Twitter will be real chill about this one.

It’s been a slow week in podcast news (the first since I came aboard!), but between Spotify’s investor day and Apple’s developers conference, next week should prove to be spicier. Have a great weekend, gang!