The Augmentation of Audio

13 October 2021
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Audio for publishers has taken off over the last decade. Whilst radio journalism has always been a standalone product, the boundaries between all media types have been eradicated in the world of audio.

This has not only been caused by an increase in consumption of audio products within journalism, but with the rise of new forms of audio apps. Earlier this year, we took a look at 3 trends in news audio to prepare for in 2021 and following the fruitful nature of discussions around audio at the Digital Growth Summit, we take a look at the potential of audio.

Short-form audio’s changing face

By now, most people have heard of Clubhouse. Coming into the audio market as a disruptor, it took everyone by surprise. With its exclusive invite-only, Apple-Only appeal, Clubhouse connected these communities around topics that interested them. Sadly for Clubhouse, this hype stagnated as the world reopened and the app, whilst still popular, receives less rave reviews. The trends that Clubhouse set off though are interesting.

Voice notes and short-form audio have an intriguing opportunity to play a role in the audio future. Or that’s certainly what start-ups such as Beams, Pludo, Quest and Racket are betting on.

The aim of these platforms is to create audio clips that go viral, much like video clips from TikTok. What differentiates these ambitious start-ups from Clubhouse is that these voice notes can be pre-recorded and then stored as “micro podcasts”. The conversation can therefore take place over a longer period, not just over 1 session like Clubhouse. The voice notes do have a time limit meaning each person in the discussion has a set amount of time to make their point. The success of these short-form start-ups will be intriguing to follow, with even Facebook now getting in on the action.

It should be noted though that in a bid to remain relevant, Clubhouse have recently introduced a recording feature “replays” enables app users to record a room. These features give the platform more of a voice-note, podcast feel.

This craze of short-form voice note audio goes beyond new platforms. Damian Radcliffe of the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that media companies are using voice notes as a new form of interaction with their audiences. Radcliffe highlights the example of the BBC’s Americast (a podcast that I listen to fondly as a politics grad!). As part of their “Americanswer” section, listeners were encouraged to submit questions via voice note to be answered by the hosts. They were encouraged to use voice notes so that the audio could be used on the programme.

Audio Articles going beyond accessibility

Audio articles have been a feature that have often gone under the radar. Whilst these are evidently a great accessibility feature made by publishers, their appeal is growing beyond this. This is especially the case in a world where time is precious. The ability to use audio to develop habits is therefore precious for publishers.

The Washington Post launched their audio articles in 2020, and despite the home office becoming the norm, they still noticed that their busiest subscribers appreciated being able to consume their journalism whilst running daily errands. The Guardian began their own audio edition in 2012 and since then have vastly expanded their audio offerings. Particularly popular amongst consumers, including myself, are their long-read articles. These are now available as audio articles to help better fit into their consumer’s lives, or their “habitat” as we refer to it as at Twipe in our research about the importance of habit formation for the success of reader revenue based models.

The Guardian - The Audio Long Read | Play on Anghami
Source: Anghami

Elsewhere in the industry, The Irish Times have recently started releasing AI narrated articles with the help of start-up Speechkit. The audio articles are currently free of charge, with 15-20 being produced daily. The hope is that these articles will increase the accessibility of the publishers. Norwegian publisher Aftenposten are also developing a new tool to provide a synthetic voice to voiceover all of their stories. Even The New York Times this week announced the launch of New York Times Audio and you can test the beta version here.

The audio article trend has also been leveraged by new publishers. Katie Vanneck-Smith of Tortoise Media told the Digital Growth Summit that Tortoise release their weekly article in audio form. The decision behind doing this was made by studying consumption trends within the industry and setting out to build tomorrow’s news today. For Tortoise, this has been successful, with the average age of their subscriber being much less than the industry average at 29 years old.

The Nordics and Gen Z love Podcasts

Podcasts are a traditional but timeless audio tool. They have become the evergreens of the audio world. Publishers across the world offer their own podcasts, with some being subscriber-only features, such as Der Spiegel with their Audio+ Subscription. There has been a magnitude of pieces looking at podcasts. Instead, we will focus on who actually listens to them, and where.

In last week’s article from The Fix, David Tvrdon shows that the Swedes love podcasts. Topping the global list, 47% of Swedes claimed that they had listened to a podcast over the course of the last 12 months. In Reuters Digital News Report, the popularity of podcasts across the Nordics remained high, with their data finding 37% of Norwegians, 29% of Finns and 28% of Danes listened to podcasts.

One trend that explains this popularity of podcasts in the Nordics is the sustained popularity of public service radio. Research from June 2021 found that Denmark’s public service provider DR had a 77.6% share of the radio market. In his article, David Tvrdon identified Swedish Radio podcasts as being the most popular for a number of years.

At the Digital Growth Summit 2021, Emma Tucker, Editor of The Sunday Times, argued that it is conceivable that more news content will be delivered in audio rather than print in the next 10 years. She added that she found young people are still interested in the news, but they just prefer it in audio form. When looking at the numbers, this interestingly rings true, particularly in the world of podcasts.

My experience of young people is not that they’re not interested in news, they are… they just like to hear it through headphones.

Emma Tucker, Editor at The Sunday Times

Research from YPulse found that 62% of 13-39 years olds listen to podcasts. On top of that, they found that 26% listen to podcasts every week. So why is this the case? Well, as we know, Gen Z care strongly about the wider world. According to Spotify’s Culture Next Report, 62% of millennials and 52% of Gen Zers said audio amplifies more diverse perspectives than traditional media. 

Following further interest at the Digital Growth Summit, we will host a webinar on Gen Z in December 2021. To be kept up to date, leave your email here.

Where do people get their podcasts?

The podcast platform mix is changing. Whilst at the beginning of the podcast boom, we saw people consuming their podcasts through specific channels like Acast and Anchor, as well as through public service radio apps like BBC Sounds, the tech giants have been investing in their podcast offerings. Spotify have been particularly active in this area. They have not only purchased Anchor, but they have also paid significant fees for exclusive podcasters including Joe Rogan, Barack Obama, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

This significant investment perhaps explains why Spotify has become the go-to podcast place for Gen Z, with 47% consuming their podcasts there. This is compared to 16% on Apple and 10% on YouTube. In fact, Transistor found that the younger the consumer, the more likely they are to use Spotify as their podcast platform. eMarketer’s latest research also uncovered that Spotify will overtake Apple in US podcast listeners for the first time this year, marking a truly significant shift in the podcast world.

Source: Transistor

The success of public service media companies in podcasts still remains prominent. In their Digital News Report for 2021, Reuters found that the most popular podcast platform in the UK was BBC Sounds, used by 29% of people. This trend continued across other countries including Australia, where 22% cited ABC as their preferred platform and Germany where 15% selected ARD Audiothek. Whilst we have seen success for public service media companies, publishers success remains limited.

Dutch publisher NRC have embarked on an attempt to disrupt the status quo by launching their very own audio app. Unlike most publishers and public service podcast providers, NRC’s app features external as well as NRC podcasts. The podcasts on the app are editorially curated and feature a range of languages. This shift in the role of the editors is somewhat a sign of a shift into the future of the news industry. As mentioned in his article, Alan Hunter explained that the Editor-in-Chief is the main driver of change in any newsroom and their role must change with the times. NRC are clearly ahead of the curve. The success of their audio app will be important for publishers to monitor.

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