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Spotify makes its live-audio move with Locker Room acquisition


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“There are elements of live listening that will eventually exist on Spotify too. You should imagine that functionality being available,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Music Ally in February this year, when we asked him whether his company had plans for radio and/or Clubhouse-style live audio. And now we have a sense of when ‘eventually’ will come – it’s in the next few months.

Yesterday, Spotify announced its acquisition of startup Betty Labs, which is the creator of a live audio app called Locker Room – essentially Clubhouse for sports, where fans can talk to one another about teams, matches and other sports news. It only came out in October 2020, so this is a swift launch-to-exit story indeed.

Spotify said it plans to “evolve and expand Locker Room into an enhanced live audio experience for a wider range of creators and fans… We’ll give professional athletes, writers, musicians, songwriters, podcasters, and other global voices opportunities to host real-time discussions, debates, ask me anything (AMA) sessions, and more.”

There’s some fun to be had reading analysis of the deal. “Social audio also means podcasters like [Joe] Rogan and [Bill] Simmons could now broadcast in real time, rather than on delay, while musicians might one day be able to broadcast their concerts or other recordings live to listeners,” was NBC News’s take, sparking a surge of sarcastic “they just invented radio” quote retweets big enough to be seen from space.

It is true that hailing ‘live audio broadcasts’ as a big disruption is silly. However, the point about Clubhouse (and Locker Room) is that it’s not just one-way broadcasting: it’s two-way and interactive: members of the audience can join in. That’s not a revolution – radio has its phone-ins and plenty of DJs using texts and tweets to connect in their audiences – but it can be a step on, with the right features and good moderation.

Spotify’s plans for Locker Room are going to be interesting, and they mark a change in the company’s famous “everything linear dies” strategy – because on-demand content will kill it. Actually, Clubhouse has shown that (for its niche audience) linear can evolve. Now Spotify has the chance to see how that works for an even more mainstream audience.

One more thing: note that ‘good moderation’ comment above. As Spotify scales up Locker Room, it’s going to need good moderators: people with the skills and experience to interview stars, connect with listeners and keep things flowing. Perhaps the broadcasting industry should prepare for another round of poachings by the streaming world…

Stuart Dredge

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