#5 - How Clubhouse Can Thrive

Lessons from Live Video

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Dear subscribers,

Can Clubhouse survive as a standalone platform, or is live audio destined to become a feature in other social apps?

Since Shaan's viral tweet thread, Discord, Slack, Spotify, and LinkedIn have all announced live audio products. Meanwhile, FOMO on Clubhouse seems to be waning:

Peter and I have 10+ years of experience working on live video at Twitch, YouTube, and Periscope / Twitter. In this post, we'll share how Clubhouse might survive by taking cues from what worked and didn’t work in live video.


For live video apps, long-term retention was the silent killer

In 2015, two live video apps took the market by storm. Meerkat was the talk of SXSW and Periscope reached 2M daily active users six months after launch.

A year later, Meerkat had shut down, and Periscope's growth stagnated. What happened?

Sure, Facebook Live launched in 2016 with a massive marketing budget. But Meerkat and Periscope faced a much bigger problem - weak long-term retention:

  • Creators didn’t retain because it’s hard to entertain an audience for hours. Live streaming is like doing a standup show for 4 hours each day, 6 or 7 days a week.

  • Fans didn’t retain because it’s hard to find interesting live content. The signal-to-noise ratio for live content is very low - a few minutes of interesting content for every hour of broadcast.

So how can Clubhouse avoid the same fate as live video apps?

We have three suggestions:

  • Help creators build community

  • Help fans discover great content

  • Introduce adjacent content formats


1. Help creators build community

The magic of live comes more from the community interactions than the content.

On Periscope, breaking news and celebrity streams attracted new users. But only those who found community (e.g., Sunday sermon and pottery streams) retained long term.

On Twitch and YouTube, fans also stay for community interactions such as:

  • Sending a $100+ tip or Super Chat to get a reaction from a creator.

  • Flooding chat with another creator's emojis after a raid.

  • Voting on what game a creator should stream next.

On Clubhouse, communities exist as clubs. But clubs lack features to help creators:

  • Keep fans engaged through text Q&As, polls, and more.

  • Reward loyal fans through club-branded emojis and preferred in-room seating for regular listeners.

  • Record and share past stream highlights (more on this later).

If this effort is successful, fans will come back regularly because they've built a relationship with a creator or a club.


2. Help fans discover great content

To overcome live video’s signal to noise problem, Twitch focused on:

  • A specific vertical: It's much easier for creators to entertain fans while playing a game than while doing something else.

  • Manual programming: Twitch helps the best creators get discovered by featuring them on its homepage.

  • Personalized recommendations: Twitch recommends categories and streams to each user based on signals such as past viewing behavior and average watch time for each stream.

Similarly, Clubhouse could focus on:

  • A specific vertical or use case: For example, Clubhouse could become the go-to platform for Q&As with public figures by building features to make top content such as the Goodtime Show more entertaining. The team can also suppress content that turns people off the platform (e.g., self-promotional).

  • Manual programming: Clubhouse could work with its top creators and clubs to ensure that several can't miss rooms are live in every hour and day of the week.

  • Personalized recommendations: Clubhouse could introduce an algorithmic feed. Taking cues from Tik Tok, this feed could surface fresh content from quality creators who don’t have a large following to give them a chance to grow.

If this effort is successful, fans will find great content to listen to shortly after opening the app (listen time per session will increase) and quality creators will find success on Clubhouse.


3. Introduce adjacent content formats

Clubhouse started the live audio wave, but it doesn't have to stick to this single content format. In particular, short audio clips can help fans find interesting content right after opening the app.

For years, Twitch worked on both clips and VODs to expand beyond live video: 

  • Clips were very popular because they let fans capture and share a live stream's best moments. One of the most viewed clips came from a creator with only two viewers.

  • VODs, in contrast, were less successful. Live archives were too long and required fans to do too much work to find a few entertaining moments.

On Clubhouse, clips can improve the entire lifecycle of a live room:

  • Pre-show clips from the host can tease an upcoming live room to build buzz.

  • During-show clips can let listeners capture and share the best moments.

  • Post-show clips can include compilations that capture the most viewed clips from listeners during the show.

If this effort is successful, clips can feed back into Clubhouse's live growth loop and drive both growth and retention.


Closing thoughts

Live audio is playing out in a similar way to live video a few years ago.

To improve long term retention, we recommend that Clubhouse:

  1. Help creators build community

  2. Help fans discover great content

  3. Introduce adjacent content formats

Of course, it's easy to be an armchair critic. Peter and I recognize that as a startup, Clubhouse's resources are limited, and spread across numerous crucial dimensions such as creator monetization. We hope this post complements Shaan's thread and helps the Clubhouse team to think about and overcome the growth and retention challenges they’re facing.

P.S. Android might help too 😛

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