Will Clubhouse Replace Podcasts?

Clubhouse is the latest social media app to take the world by storm.

The invite-only drop-in audio platform, backed by VC firm Andreesen Horowitz, now has more than 2 million people using it each week and is valued at over US$1 billion.

The platform received a huge push recently when Elon Musk tweeted that he would be hosting an event on Clubhouse — it seems everything he tweets turns to gold, even Dogecoin. It just so happened that he was joined by the embattled Robinhood CEO, Vlad Tenev, and Musk proceeded to grill Tenev about the GameStop saga for a full 15 minutes.

At its core, Clubhouse offers people a loose collection of drop-in clubs and events, where you can not only listen to people discuss topics ranging from startups and technology through to philosophy and porn, but also contribute your own questions and thoughts. It’s kind of like a local Meetup event, but with several hundred to several thousand attendees dropping in from all over the world.

Not only that, but the caliber of some of the participants might be far superior to what you’re used to at your local fireside chat.

And it got me thinking.

Is Clubhouse a threat to the flourishing podcast ecosystem, which at last count, numbers about one million podcasts globally?

The short answer is yes.

Jobs To Be Done

We tend to listen to podcasts when we’re working out, commuting, or going for a walk — all places you can listen to Clubhouse conversations. We only have so many hours in the day to consume content, and podcasts will no doubt find themselves in a battle with Clubhouse for audience ‘earshare’.

Some might say that Clubhouse serves a different purpose, offers you the ability to contribute (sometimes), and that it is a platform you might engage with at home.

All true, but it can still satisfy the underlying reasons why people turn to podcasts.

  • To learn
  • To be entertained
  • To be informed
  • To be distracted (consciously or otherwise)
  • To feel a connection with other human beings

These are effectively what the late Clayton Christensen would’ve called jobs-to-be-done, and you can satisfy the same job with a totally different product, let alone a product as similar to podcasting as Clubhouse.

For example, if I’ve had a terrible week in the office, I might satisfy my need to blow off steam — my job-to-be-done — by heading out for Friday night drinks. But I might just as well engage in retail therapy, book a holiday, or hit up my local yoga studio. These all satisfy the same need and compete with each other, but in very different ways.

Most participants simply listen to conversations on Clubhouse and don’t contribute.

So, from a listener-only perspective, should podcasters be concerned?

Yes, and no.

Podcasts typically fall into one of two categories:

  • Highly produced narrative form podcasts
  • Conversational podcasts

As far as the former is concerned, Clubhouse isn’t a direct threat but might still steal some ear-share away.

But it is in the conversational domain where Clubhouse poses a much larger threat.

A cursory look through my own Clubhouse feed at the time of writing showed me that:

  • Influential entrepreneurs, Jason Fried and Kevin Rose, were hosting a conversation on startups and product
  • Bestselling authors and internet personalities, Brendan Burchard, Lewis Howes, and Shane Parrish were moderating an event on high performance
  • And hugely influential polymath, Eric Weinstein, was participating in an event on porn.

These were high-quality conversations hosted by high caliber personalities.

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Limitations of Clubhouse

However, Clubhouse does have some limitations — at present — that give even conversational podcasts a massive edge.

  • Unlike podcasts, which can be listened to years after the fact, Clubhouse conversations are ephemeral — either you listen to a conversation in real-time or you don’t listen to it at all.
  • Clubhouse room sizes are capped to just 5,000 people, which not only presents access issues for popular events but also limits monetization opportunities for hosts.
  • The drop-in nature of Clubhouse is at odds with the way human beings like to consume content. We like to listen to stories with challenge and resolution at their core, with a logical start and an end — this is true of both conversational and narrative form podcasts. Clubhouse conversations can seem disjointed when we drop-in.
  • Currently, Clubhouse doesn’t offer in-app advertising functions, and this together with the room caps, doesn’t incentivize creators to invest energy in bringing their best content to the platform.
  • Clubhouse conversations are typically unresearched — which can be a strength and a weakness — and sits in stark contrast to well-researched conversational podcasts with a well-informed and experienced interviewer guiding the conversation to get the very best out of their guests, and get to the heart of the matter.
  • If I’m a prospective event guest looking to promote my work, I’d be better off targeting podcasts where I can get in front of tens or hundreds of thousands of engaged listeners over time, rather than capping my exposure to several hundred or several thousand modestly engaged Clubhouse participants, dropping in and out of rooms ad infinitum.
  • Something Clubhouse shares with podcasts is noise. For every quality podcast or Clubhouse event, there are many more lousy ones from both a production and content perspective, but I guess this is a natural law of nature that kicks in whenever you have a decentralized pool of thousands of people doing their own thing — some will be great, many will suck. Oh, and if you follow the Hustle topic, get prepared for loads of sales pitches.

Three of these factors — recording, advertising, room size — could be easily addressed, should Clubhouse choose to do so at some stage down the track.

And no doubt the likes of Spotify and others who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuing podcast domination will be looking on closely.

But perhaps the appeal of Clubhouse rests with intimate groups having unmonetized and unrecorded conversations, where people feel more comfortable just being themselves, and the call feels more like a giant group chat with your friends.

The Bottom Line

The bar for growing a podcast audience was already set very high, and if you host a conversational podcast —well, it just got higher.

Clubhouse is unlikely to replace podcasts, but despite its limitations, it does indeed pose a threat to many podcasts, but just to what extent it will steal ear share away remains to be seen.

Follow me on Clubhouse at @steveglaveski

February 5, 2021




Steve Glaveski


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