Digital Audio’s Moment
Why start a digital audio service now? Particularly one around news, sports, commentary and analysis?
Digitizing audio and making it available over the internet has been around for over 20 years now. Digital audio was widespread years before YouTube, Hulu and Netflix brought streaming video into the mainstream.
Despite the head start, consumer adoption of digital audio has fallen behind video.
Over 90% of Americans over the age of 12 still listen to the radio every week. The ubiquity, convenience, live and local content of terrestrial radio has proven to be very durable.
Building a “better radio”, particularly one seeking to address the unique challenges of high quality, spoken word audio including live and local will be incredibly hard. And hard consumer problems are fun to work on.
Delivering audio content over the internet isn’t enough. Services need to deliver on the promise of technology — personalization, consumer control, greater content diversity; whenever and wherever the consumer wants it.
At Netflix, I saw this transition happen for video. We were relentlessly focused on giving the consumer an experience as easy as turning on the TV plus the benefits of digital distribution. On-demand access to commercial free TV shows & movies, a personalized user experience with fast, easy, access on the devices they were already using— all for a fraction of the cost of linear cable.
Streaming movies and TV shows exploded when the internet made the jump to the television, where most viewing happened. Meanwhile, the primary places where consumers listened to the radio — the car and the kitchen — were internet dead-spots. Smartphones helped, but consumers were still left to figure out how to get audio from the phone to their car or home stereo — mostly a mix of AUX cables or Bluetooth.
In the first couple of years after we first launched streaming on Netflix, we made the service available on more than a thousand different device types. We were obsessed with delivering Netflix everywhere the consumer was — so much so that at internal Hack Day, a few of our engineers even got Netflix working on an old Nintendo system. Today, for many consumers watching Netflix is as easy as pressing a button on their TV remote.
That moment is finally happening for audio.
Just as the connected TV was a growth catalyst for Netflix, the connected car and in-home streaming devices will be that for streaming audio. No longer will listeners tune into broadcast or satellite radio by default; instead, they will stream audio directly from their favorite services. At home, those same services will connect with smart devices like Amazon’s Echo, Sonos or Google Home.
The hardware is here. What’s missing now is an independent service focused on the unique problem of serving spoken-word audio. That’s what we’re working on here at 60dB.
Music has gotten all of the attention (and investment)
Digital music has seen tremendous innovation and growing consumer adoption. Companies like Apple, Pandora and Spotify have spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating compelling consumer experiences around music. Subscription streaming services have doubled the number of US subscribers in the past year.
Meanwhile non-music audio — news, sports, analysis, talk, conversation & interviews — has generally suffered from a comparable lack of attention and innovation. Apple’s Podcasts app is still the primary way listeners get podcasts. Audible (Amazon) for audiobook listeners. Neither are meaningfully different than they were a decade ago. We can do better.
Podcasts are not the solution
Podcast fans are passionate about the medium, but listener data indicates that podcasts probably are not the answer. In spite of being around for more than a decade, the majority of people in the U.S. have still never listened to a podcast, and of those who have listened, fewer than half have made it a weekly habit — much less a daily one.
Podcasts require work to set up and maintain their various RSS subscriptions. On top of that, many podcasts are an hour or longer demanding a major time and attention commitment on the part of the listener. This doesn’t fit how most consumers listen.
Even the term “podcast” is loaded as it refers to an old Apple product most people don’t have anymore. We call them what they are — audio shows and stories.
Audio today — mostly radio — fills the gaps in the day when our eyes and hands are busy: the 15-minute drive to school or work, the 30 minutes spent prepping dinner, the dog walk or run. For many listeners, long show formats simply don’t fit into their daily lives. While some of the shows people want are available as podcasts, a much wider universe of audio available on the radio or online is not.
We’re focused on building a great audio product, one built for how we actually consume audio. It should be easy to use, intuitive, and personalized with the full range of listeners’ potential interests. This is a tough, worthwhile problem to solve.
Whether it is listening during a quick 10-minute trip to the store or for hours at a time, listeners don’t want to have to work to figure out what to listen to. They want a radio that knows them and their interests. They want a solution that’s as easy as turning on the radio is today.
We chose the name 60dB because it represents the perfect volume of human conversation. Our product is about bringing compelling conversations, interviews and analysis — on any topic under the sun — to our listeners. This will be inclusive of what we think of as radio or podcasts, but it will also be much more.
Are you a show producer? Email us at content@60dB.co for information about distributing your shows on our platform.
Interested in trying our product? Sign up at www.60dB.co to be notified when it is available. We’d love to hear from you as we work to make 60dB a product as ubiquitous and durable as radio.