Aug 31, 2021 - Technology

Scoop: Amazon quietly building live audio business

Illustration of a microphone with a smiley face made from the Amazon logo

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Details: The effort, which is being led by Amazon's Music division, includes paying podcast networks, musicians and celebrities to use the feature for live conversations, shows and events.

  • The idea is that users could access live concerts or performances through their Amazon Music accounts. The company is in touch with major record labels about live audio events with artists.
  • The feature is being built to focus on live music, but the tech giant is also eyeing talk radio programs and podcasts as an extension to that effort, according to a source familiar with the plans.
  • Axios has previously reported that Amazon is looking to invest in localized podcast content, like news and sports. The company bought podcast subscription company Wondery for a reported value of $300 million last year.
  • Amazon also plans to integrate live audio into its live video service Twitch, according to two sources.

The big picture: Live audio services exploded during the pandemic, and have since seen big investments from Silicon Valley.

  • Clubhouse said Sunday that users create over 700,000 live audio rooms each day, up from 300,000 in May.
  • Spotify earlier this year acquired Betty Labs, an app developer, and a live audio app developed by Betty Labs called Locker Room. It has since launched Greenroom, a live social audio app focused on talk, music and sports, and has launched a livestream feature for concerts.
  • Twitter this week rolled out ticketed live audio events for its Spaces feature.
  • Facebook earlier this year launched a slew of audio products, including a live audio app that could rival Clubhouse called Live Audio Rooms.
  • Discord this year launched Stage Channel, a feature for audio-only chat rooms.

Yes, but: Sources familiar with the company's thinking say that Amazon isn't looking to build an audio social network like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, but rather a digital radio-like tool for live-streaming performances and conversations.

  • While that will likely include podcasts and talk radio programs, the company is focused mostly on music and events for now.

Our thought bubble: The opportunity for disruption in live radio is paramount, but tech companies have a long way to go if they want to recreate radio for mobile.

  • Terrestrial radio reaches more people on a weekly basis than any other type of medium in the U.S. — largely thanks to cars (per Nielsen). But, as Axios has previously noted, the radio business model has collapsed in the streaming era.
  • Radio revenues dropped nearly 25% last year during the pandemic.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

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