How Clubhouse Can Thrive: Lessons from Live Video

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Can Clubhouse thrive 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:

Derek and I spent 10+ years working on live video at Twitch, YouTube, and Periscope / Twitter. In this post, we'll share how Clubhouse can thrive by learning 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:

  1. Help creators build community

  2. Help fans discover great content

  3. 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 sermons 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 live 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 Q&As, polls, and more.

  • Reward loyal fans through club-branded emojis and more chances to be invited to speak. Loyal fans might include people who tune in regularly or use Clubhouse’s new tipping feature. Better tools to prevent bad actors from ruining a community will also help.

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

If Clubhouse succeeds in helping creators build community, fans will come back regularly because they've built relationships with their favorite creators and clubs.

2. Help fans discover great content

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

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

  • Manual programming: The best creators were featured on Twitch’s homepage.

  • Personalized recommendations: Each user gets personalized recommendations based on their past viewing behavior, average watch time, and other signals.

Similarly, Clubhouse could focus on:

  • A specific vertical: For example, Clubhouse could become the go-to platform for public figure Q&As by building features such as the ability to submit and upvote questions. On the flip side, Clubhouse could also suppress less appealing content such as self-promotional rooms.

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

  • Personalized recommendations: Clubhouse could introduce an algorithmic feed that surfaces fresh content from quality creators (e.g., taking a cue from TikTok).

If Clubhouse succeeds in helping fans discover great content, listen time per session and retention will both increase.

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 complement live audio well.

For years, Twitch tried to expand beyond live video with clips and VODs:

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

  • VODs (live archives), in contrast, were less successful. They were too long and required fans to do too much work to find quality content.

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

  • Pre-show clips from the host can tease an upcoming 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 listened clips.

If Clubhouse succeeds in introducing adjacent content formats such as audio clips, these formats could feed back into Clubhouse's core growth loop and drive better growth and retention.

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

Having worked in product for many years, Derek and I know that none of this stuff is easy. We hope this post complements Shaan's thread and helps the Clubhouse team overcome the challenges that they’re facing right now.

P.S. Android and web support can’t hurt either :)

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