May 20, 2023 - Economy

A Rumble in new media

Illustration of an abstract sunrise and an old-fashioned microphone.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Rumble, the self-styled “free expression” video streaming service, just acquired podcasting startup Callin, and plans to turn it into a content management toolkit for Rumble's creators, CEO Chris Pavlovski tells Axios.

Why it matters: Rumble is betting that it can do what no other alternative social media company has been able to do so far — build a sustainable business.

Driving the news: It's an all-stock deal, with Rumble paying Callin shareholders a million shares upfront (worth about $9.5 million at the current share price), with another 1.5 million shares contingent on it reaching certain business milestones, per a new SEC filing.

Flashback: Incubated by Craft Ventures — the VC firm led by Silicon Valley investor and former PayPal exec David Sacks — Callin lets users create and host podcasts and tap into social features like adding guests.

  • It raised $12 million in Series A funding in 2021 led by Sequoia Capital, Goldcrest Capital and Craft Ventures, and quietly raised another $7.5 million from existing investors via a SAFE note in 2022, co-founder and CTO Axel Ericsson tells Axios.

How it happened: According to Pavloski, he and Sacks met a couple of years ago via Rumble’s acquisition of Locals, a subscription-based video and podcasting app backed by Sacks. Rumble approached Callin with an acquisition offer.

  • Currently, Callin has about 17 employees, more than 100,000 registered users, has hosted "tens of thousands" of shows and a similar number of episodes and "rooms," and has signed about 150 contracts with content creators, per Ericsson.
  • Though it had plans to generate revenue via common business models like ads and paid tiers, it never flipped on that switch.

The big picture: Callin will become another pillar of Rumble’s content business, anchored by its main content-streaming network.

  • Locals will serve as its subscription-based tier.
  • Callin will become the foundation for what the company calls Rumble Studios: a one-stop shop for content creation so that users don’t have to cobble together various recording and editing tools. It will be platform-agnostic so that users can distribute their content anywhere, says Pavlovski.

Moreover: Rumble, which went public last year by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, plans to turn its cloud service into a full-fledged part of its business.

  • It’s been the main cloud provider for Truth Social, Donald Trump’s social media company, since announcing a wide-ranging tech partnership in late 2021.
  • It plans to make a beta version of its cloud service publicly available in late 2023, according to Pavlovski.
  • Earlier this week, it also released an initial version of a sponsorship marketplace for content creators.

Between the lines: So what has the video upstart learned from other "free speech" social media platforms? “Try to make everything not dependent on everyone else,” Pavlovski said.

  • A number of apps that attracted right-leaning users, such as Gab and Parler, faced often insurmountable challenges to remaining online when their content violated vendors' own policies.
  • At launch, Callin said it would follow the policies of underlying tech platforms like Apple and Google (which Ericsson confirmed was mostly to access their app stores).

By the numbers: This week, Rumble posted $17.6 million in revenue for Q1 (up from $4 million in the year-ago quarter), and a net loss of $28.7 million (up from $3.9 million in the year-ago quarter).

What they’re saying: “We started going in this video direction [besides audio] and the realization is essentially that we should double down on the live experience,” Ericsson tells Axios.

  • "So the product vision, I think, aligned quite a lot with what Rumble is also interested in."

The intrigue: As part of the deal, Sacks is joining Rumble’s board of directors — potentially a delicate situation given his close relationship with Twitter owner Elon Musk. (Via a representative, Sacks declined to comment to Axios.) Pavlovski, however, denies that the two companies are competitors.

  • “Twitter is very complementary to Rumble,” he says, adding that apps like Twitter and TikTok are helpful in terms of content discovery.
  • Still, Musk has expressed interest in bolstering Twitter’s video features. Earlier this week, it enabled Twitter Blue subscribers to upload up to two hourlong videos.
  • Meanwhile, former Fox News star Tucker Carlson announced he'd be relaunching his talk show on Twitter.

The bottom line: Time will tell if Rumble can succeed where others have failed.

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