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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The mass adoption of wireless headphones and smart devices, combined with people being home all day and not in public spaces, has created a boom for audio — and every big media and tech company is scrambling to claim a piece of it.

Why it matters: The audio boom is milestone for accessibility and a boon to content creators, but it also presents new challenges for content moderation.

  • "The intimacy of audio could be tailor-made for our shelter in place, contact-free lives," says John Lustyan, Founder & Managing Partner of illum, a media consultancy, told Axios.

Driving the news: Almost overnight, audio chat features have become top-of-mind for Big Tech giants, looking to edge out the up-and-coming social chat app Clubhouse.

Be smart: The social media audio boom mostly centers around ephemeral conversations. Users can open Clubhouse or Twitter (Spaces) and drop in on conversations that are meant to be casual, and not recorded to be listened to later.

In the workplace, the audio boom looks a bit different.

  • Those products, like audio messaging platform Yac, are designed to be asynchronistic, meaning users are meant to listen to pre-recorded messages from colleagues at their leisure.
  • Workplace companies, like Slack, are trying to figure out ways to integrate these types of audio tools into their mostly text-based products. Most video conferencing companies offer users the ability to dial in without having to use video.

By the numbers: The audio content and software boom is happening as new hardware makes listening and voice commands much easier.

  • For the first time ever, wireless headphone and earbud shipments surpassed wired headphones and earbuds last year, according to data from the Consumer Technology Association. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population uses voice assistants, per eMarketer. Roughly a quarter of the adult population own a smart speaker.
  • Music, audiobook and podcast services are expected to reach $10 billion in revenue, up 19% over last year, per CTA. Audiobooks are the fastest-growing sector within the book publishing industry, according to The Association of American Publishers.
  • Spotify says it now hosts 2.2 million podcasts, up from 700,000 in 2019.
  • The audio boom has triggered a mergers and acquisitions frenzy, especially around podcast companies.

The big picture: Audio presents enormous opportunities for brands and content creators to reach people in a more accessible way — when they're on-the-go or using their eyes for some other activity. But the scale of audio conversations will make it very difficult to fact-check conversations or stop bullying and harassment in real-time.

  • Already, we're seeing some of these issues play out. Clubhouse — which requires an invite to access — is reportedly already being blocked in China, and it's starting to face allegations that the platform isn't adequately built to stop harassment.
  • Facebook said Thursday on a call with reporters that it's exploring ways to monitor audio content, as well as any type of mixed media content, for harmful or illegal things that violate its rules.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

University of Michigan reaches $490M settlement in sex abuse case

Jon Vaughn, a former University of Michigan and NFL football player, speaks at a press conference in Ann Arbor, Mich., in June 2021. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The University of Michigan on Wednesday reached a $490 million settlement with over a thousand survivors who allege that they were sexually assaulted by a former physician in the school's athletic department.

Driving the news: "It's been a long and challenging journey and these survivors have refused to remain silent," attorney Parker Stinar said Wednesday.

3 hours ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Rising rates may hammer the stock market

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Stocks are much more vulnerable to interest rate swings than they used to be.

Why it matters: A sharp rise in rates in early 2022 is the key reason the stock market is off to an ugly start. And with the Federal Reserve making noise about trying to keep inflation in check, rates could go higher.