Facebook is pulling back from its foray into podcasting
Facebook’s interest in podcasts is fading, barely a year after it began.
Last April, during a hot market for audio, Facebook launched Live Audio Rooms, short-form stories called Soundbites and podcasts for U.S. users. The company signed deals with creators and sponsored one of the industry’s biggest U.S. conferences: Podcast Movement. Facebook product managers even appeared on the longtime industry program “New Media Show” to encourage podcasters to join the platform.
But nowadays, the company is emphasizing other initiatives in conversations with podcast partners, including events in the metaverse and online shopping, according to industry executives who work with the platform. They asked not to be identified because their discussions with Facebook haven’t been disclosed publicly.
Facebook’s waning interest in podcasting is a disappointment for some in the growing industry because the scale of its platform offers a large potential audience, and with it, the possibility of more advertising revenue. Instead, parent company Meta Platforms Inc. is turning its attention to the metaverse and short-video projects amid increasing competition and a precipitous drop in its stock price.
A spokesperson for Facebook said the company is still working on podcasts even as it’s accelerating work on priority features such as Reels and Feed. The company is seeing good engagement for its audio products, according to the spokesperson, who declined to provide specifics.
Hip-hop stars, executives and creatives flocked to the invite-only audio chat app Clubhouse, giving it instant cache and, ultimately, a $1-billion valuation.
Facebook’s move into audio, in some ways, felt inevitable. It did so during a moment of audio mania last year, when the live audio platform Clubhouse was valued at $4 billion and every tech company wanted to copy its product.
Spotify Technology had a market value of more than $50 billion a year ago, double what it is now, and Amazon.com Inc. was signing major audio deals. So when Facebook said it was introducing audio experiences, no one was entirely surprised.
To break into the space, the company also explored starting a training program to bring creators onto the platform. Steph Colbourn, the founder and chief executive of Editaudio, said a group working with Facebook floated the idea of paying her to train 15 or so podcasters from diverse backgrounds on how to create their shows and use the platform, but it never followed through on the idea.
Then, after sponsoring Podcast Movement in August, Facebook didn’t sponsor the conference’s offshoot event in March and didn’t send a single person to attend, according to the event’s attendee list.
At the same time, some initial Live Audio Rooms partners are no longer hosting conversations, and their deals were not re-upped. Civil rights activist DeRay McKesson, for example, signed an initial six-show agreement, which he says went well. But his deal hasn’t been renewed.
Apple said it will make podcast subscriptions available on its Podcasts app next month. One analyst called it “an offensive and defensive move” against Spotify.
In another sign of changing priorities, one prominent podcast product manager at Facebook, Irena Lam, appears to have transitioned to a music-oriented role, according to her LinkedIn page.
But even Facebook’s limited podcasting efforts have been a source of growth for some content providers.
TYT Network, which produces political programming, said Facebook is its second-most-popular listening platform, after Apple Podcasts. The network added podcast content to Facebook in September, and since then, the platform has contributed “hundreds of thousands of additional monthly listens,” according to Chief Marketing Officer Praveen Singh. That’s double the audience TYT gets on Spotify, she said.