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Reddit Expands Live Audio ‘Talk’ Feature to All Users

The company expands the feature beyond top subreddits to all of its 52 million daily active users.

Reddit, the social news aggregation and discussion website, will expand its Reddit Talk live audio feature to all users in the coming weeks, the company tells Billboard.

A feature previously available only to the top subreddits, Reddit Talk was announced in April 2021 and allowed moderators to start audio rooms that mimic the function of other live audio platforms and will have an integrated chat module. The expansion will allow all users on the platform to join audio rooms based on any topic and will be available to Reddit’s over 52 million daily active users.

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Reddit does not have licensing deals in place with performance rights organizations that cover music use on the platform. Reddit and any company that wishes to host a live event on Reddit Talk would need to secure its own license covering that music. Reddit routinely responds to takedown requests from music rights holders relating to the unauthorized use of music on the platform by users, including when used in Reddit Talk.

Social audio apps saw a boom during COVID-19 lockdowns as Clubhouse took off as the buzzy new app, with Twitter (Spaces) and Facebook (Live Audio Rooms) soon following with their own live options. Spotify joined the fold when it acquired Locker Room in March 2021, rebranding it as Greenroom, and then rebranded it to Spotify Live in April. Facebook has since merged its Live Audio Rooms into its Facebook Live feature.

All is not, however, rosy in the world of social audio. In February 2021, Clubhouse’s co-founders announced that the app was seeing 10 million weekly active users and as of November 2021 — the last time the company shared usage stats with CNBC — the number of rooms created each day had increased from 300,000 to 700,000. Since then, though, things have taken a turn, and the company recently laid off staff as leaders seek to shift their strategy, restructure and find ways to make a profit.

According to Statista, Clubhouse app downloads have slowed from peaks in February and June 2021, suggesting social audio may be fading. Reddit, however, isn’t concerned with Clubhouse’s experience.

“We’ve been working on and in this format for quite some time,” said a company spokesperson via email. “On Reddit, we have communities that are built around topics rather than individuals promoting themselves. This sense of community and passion is what makes us different.”

In February 2022, Reddit began adding additional features to Talk including the option to record discussions, expanded engagement tools for users listening on the website and not via the app, comments and emojis, and an in-app “live bar” that tells users what Talks are currently taking place. According to Reddit, the site saw a 250% increase in active listeners after adding these features between December 2021 and February 2022.

Launched in 2005, Reddit has experienced its fair share of criticism when it comes to moderating content on the site. In 2015, the company updated its harassment policies in an effort to make a safer space for users and shut down a handful of hate-focused subreddits. The platform also played a key role in celebrity photo hacks, GamerGate, and amplifying alt-right content and conspiracies. Since the introduction of its anti-harassment policy, Reddit has continued to shut down subreddits that focus on hate and the exploitation of others but have often been slow to do so, sparking criticism that continues to this day.

Content moderation issues are likely to only worsen as Reddit expands into social audio. Clubhouse was also criticized for allowing anti-semitism and other hate speech on its platform, along with rooms focused on alt-right conspiracy theories. (The app has since introduced blocking features, but content moderation on the platform is still in its infancy, much like the company itself.) In a 2021 interview with Reuters, Discord’s chief legal officer said that content moderation on text-based social media platforms is much easier than for audio-centric platforms, regardless of whether the moderation is done by humans or artificial intelligence.

Reddit, which will be using both audio and a chat function, has few concerns with how they plan to address this issue. “[It would be] similar to how comments are moderated in posts on subreddits – on Reddit Talk, moderators can delete comments that are unsavory and mute people who are disrupting the conversation. Hosts can also remove people from a Reddit Talk if they violate the rules.”

Social audio platforms like Clubhouse have been a boon to music artists and the entertainment itself. In 2020, users on the platform organized a live production of The Lion King and rooms regularly host listening parties of individuals showcasing their talents. It was also not uncommon to have DJs and other artists (including The Game and D-Nice) host rooms or pop into discussions on the music industry or to have industry thought leaders lead panels about topics like the white appropriation of Black music.

The scale of the audience available on Reddit makes sense that industry conversations will continue on Reddit Talks. To date, Talks has seen participation from a range of artists, including deadmau5, Kaskade, Redman, Ben Harper, and Young the Giant, with Soundcloud even hosting some discussions.

Audiotorium, an L.A-based startup founded in July 2021, will support Reddit in the roll-out of the expanded live audio medium by providing the platform with original content, blueprints for new format ideas outside of the traditional AMA structure, and other strategic advisory services. The company was co-founded by Affan Imran, Meg Button, Minh Do and Daniella Norling who met on Clubhouse during the COVID-19 pandemic and became known for hosting highly produced audio productions of TV and movie scripts. The group even had Tori Spelling, who was in Scream 2, participate in a table read of the original Scream movie.

Reddit and Audiotorium first teamed in 2021 on a Halloween project for the r/halloween subreddit that walked listeners through a haunted house. The choose-your-own-adventure original horror story garnered an audience of 20,000 listeners, with a second Reddit-Audiotorium project — a live reading of The Hobbit — earning 22,000 listeners in May 2022.

For Audiotorium, they want to continue to encourage creativity in the space, which has seen poetry readings and Mac Miller’s management team playing his newest mixtape, inviting Redditors to share his influence on them, and they get the sense that the community wants that too. Imran says, “For our Halloween show, 99% of the comments were positive and it encouraged others to want to share their interests with others. Ultimately, it introduced a new content type within the platform that people didn’t know was possible on Reddit.”