Let’s stipulate the storm of user media (social audio, newsletters, live streaming) is evidence of something real and lasting. When this citizen media migrates to small business and the enterprise, we see that as confirmation, validation. Most of these efforts are in the investment phase, where startups and platforms consolidate ecosystems around the various disruptions.
Clubhouse is moving to a more careful onboarding process that eschews mandatory gobbling of your contacts data and your phone number as a requirement for invitations. Twitter is surprisingly far along on integrating a suite of pilot projects — its Clubhouse clone Spaces, the Revue newsletter creation and distribution tool, and whatever happens to the Periscope live video streaming services the company has abandoned as a standalone.
As the smoke clears, what emerges is a hybrid of work from anywhere and post-pandemic digital collaboration solutions. At the top of the stack, social audio delivers some real leadership in the casual way it captures user attention. While commuting listening is proscribed for at least the next quarter, exercise and mental health breaks pick up a lot of that deficit. Some of the resulting content is appointment focused, keynote events with industry leaders and celebrities. Smaller sessions are organized around self- and group-help concerns, and the usual assortment of get-rich schemes. Much of this competes directly with cable news and podcasts, and will likely absorb the older networks into the new paradigm over time.
You can see this at play in the streaming realignment, where cable-cutting is driving us toward broadband-based consumption of so-called linear television programming. Last night, we ended up switching from Comcast’s video access to CBS’s Grammy coverage in favor of IP streaming via the CBS All Access app (now renamed Paramount +.) The Comcast CBS channel was full of glitches and pixillation; the streaming version rock solid with what seemed like better video and audio quality. On the appointment television side of the equation, old-style network shows like This Is Us and Grey’s Anatomy are finding it more difficult to compete with Netflix, Prime, and other streaming originals. And then there are the kids, who refuse to even recognize anything they can’t stream as relevant.
Moving down the stack from streaming audio (I like that better than social audio as a thing) to the newsletter services, we discover what happens when fragmentation of the media produces too much content and not enough loyalty to a manageable number of suppliers. That loyalty thing is perhaps the new eyeballs, where the stickiness of the relationship is much more desirable for its ongoing lifetime value. Newsletters at their inception were aggregators built to skim the cream of relevant media, in effect replacing the home page and adding a social layer of authority. Now the glut has moved from posts and podcasts to the newsletters themselves.
To differentiate and encourage paid subscriptions, creators are now being wined and dined with tools for managing these microapp sites and competing with magazines and publishers for marquee authors. Newsletter stars start appearing on streaming audio in much the same way that Washington Post and New York Times reporters populate the CNN and MSNBC roundtables. Newsletter’s role as a blend of must reads is shifting to original material and a marketing channel for influence with the streaming audio communities. Twitter’s Revue newsletter tool already lets you drag and drop tweets into the latest issue. It seems a small tweak to use the newsletter as a calendar for upcoming Spaces notifications of events. The company has announced plans for Super Followers who can produce and receive subscribed content via this path between the platform and satellite services.
Twitter hasn’t been Super Clear on how or what video services they will maintain after they sunset Periscope, but closing the loop between streaming audio and on demand video programming gives Twitter a powerful advantage over services like Clubhouse that have fewer pieces of the puzzle. On the other hand, Twitter has to demonstrate newfound ability to launch and integrate the pieces to stay competitive with competitors both visible and in stealth. They include Facebook, Amazon and its growing ad platform, and streaming “Plus” services at a time where subscribers are dropping subscriptions to add new offerings from Disney, Apple, HBO Max, Paramount, and the cheaper free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) networks like Peacock and Hulu.
Working from anywhere is accelerating the streaming media transition. News becomes a notification-driven stream to dip in and out of as the vaccines begin to take hold. Work promotes attention and care of our values, while home brings a time of relearning how to breathe, treasuring our family and friends, and putting time into exploring things we have been fighting to keep alive: the rhythms of history, genealogy, climate change, the possibility that government can work for a change. As our anxiety moderates, we can dip into music, movies, sports, and other expressive uses of the powerful network we turned on to survive. Turn on, tune in, stay home.
Streaming audio can work for marketing, learning, sharing, and monetizing. It can also work for extending our collaboration with music, painting, storytelling, a kind of virtual comedy club, book club, and debating society. I can imagine the return of liner notes to the music experience, a kind of Prairie Home Companion writ small. The Grammys last night were awkward, strained by the exigencies of the virus. But the performances were bunched together, with the wonderful touch of the group of artists sitting on stools campfire-style after their song to listen and rock to the music of their fellow nominees. Clubhouse style.
We’re on the cusp of a powerful change in the way we live and work. Not just out of necessity but of a desire to fulfill the promise of global communication. We’ve laid the tracks of this new age of collaboration. Now we have to figure out what to do with it.
from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, March 12, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
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