The Future of Live Audio Broadcast Apps, Zcast and Anchor

With the launch of Zcast and Anchor in the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun to ponder a few questions about these services…

Does the audience want to this kind of content?

The obvious comparison to these services is Twitter. “It’s Twitter for audio”, you can almost hear the execs saying.
But listening is not the same as reading. Skipping over audio is inherently difficult, skim-reading your Twitter timeline is not. And the consumption experience of this content is difficult. Anchor mentioned something about curation and discovery at launch, but the experience of listening to a stream of unconnected audio segments in the app is jarring and finding something you are interested in is hard.

Aside from finding and consuming the content, there is a question of quality. Audiences have come to expect a level of audio production that these live broadcast services don’t provide. There is the story-telling, the craft of creating content - its is difficult to do that in 2 minutes of audio. Listening to some of the content on Anchor, I can’t help but thinking of internet comments. You don’t want to read the comments on blogs or YouTube videos, why would you want to listen to them?

At the Anchor launch it announced it partnered with WNYC and Radiolab, but no content seems to be available from either in the app at the time of writing.

I’m not sure if this analogy stands, but I’m reminded of That service gained great popularity in the early days but failed to keep users listening. This was because they failed to cater to the majority of people who want a lean-back experience: just play me good music I don’t care about voting on tracks. Anchor suffers the same problem; it plays through the ‘Waves’ on screen but if you do find an interesting one you have to get your phone out and interact with the app to hear the replies.

Who wants to make this content?

The number of people who want to create content is a small fraction of the population. Out of those people the professional broadcaster or enthusiastic amateur podcaster will demand a certain quality of production and editing that these apps cannot provide. So who is left? I can’t imagine who this “casual audio content creator” is.

And if they do, when do they create this content?

The moments that fit our social media habit, don’t work for creating audio. Think of when you check social media: the subway, in the bathroom, in the elevator, watching TV, at the gym. None of those seem like good moments to start talking into your phone.

This there any hope?

These services seem like they could be a great addition to existing radio shows rather than broadcast platforms themselves. Similar to how a blogger can add Disqus comments to their site, a radio show can add Anchor for listener feedback that could be played later on air.

The assertion that no one talks on their phone anymore and that talking is the last resort is a very Western perspective. In Argentina, for example, sending voice memos is the way to communicate to your friends - texting is rare. Is this a cultural thing (they love the expressiveness of talking) or commercial (texting costs money, voice is bundled)? Perhaps these services will find success in other markets, because right now its hard to see how they are going to succeed.