Inside audioBoom: the British internet radio company doing something different
This piece of technology is so crucial to audioBoom’s success that it hired a dedicated artificial intelligence company in Mountain View, California to develop the algorithm alongside del Strother and his team in the UK.
Another key addition to the app is the Daily Download, a two-hour slice of personalised audio that’s downloaded automatically to the user’s device every night, ensuring that they have something to listen to on the way to work in the morning without having to rely on a flaky data connection as they drive to the office or catch the train.
“The majority of all audio listening is done in some form of transport,” says Proctor. “The other thing that’s fundamental to it – one that maybe a lot of other listening experiences miss – is that audio is pretty much always a secondary activity. Anything that breaks your attention away from the primary activity and forces you to pick up the phone and search for content every five minutes is totally counter-intuitive.”
audioBoom’s back-end technology
It isn’t only the front-end technology that audioBoom has revamped, but also the back-end. The company has to make it effortless for content partners to upload their clips to audioBoom’s servers, and it offers them a variety of ways to do this. Some use a dedicated API; others with reporters in the field upload directly from the web interface or the smartphone app. “We can also import in bulk using RSS,” explains del Strother. “We have a cluster of workers polling the broadcasters’ feeds, scanning for audio content, which is automatically imported.”
And how, app listeners may wonder, does either party make money, given that there are currently no adverts in the app? Proctor says embedding ads into app listeners’ audio streams “is just not a good user experience”. Instead, the company sells advertising when audioBoom’s player is embedded into websites, splitting the revenue with the broadcaster that provides the content.
“If we get content in from Sky that’s about, say, Tottenham Hotspur, we have 200 or 300 websites within our network that would love to have it,” explains Proctor. “Our media player then appears in that website and we can run pre- and post-roll advertising in that.”
How audioBoom is breaking away from the past
Proctor now calls the company a “SaaS [software as a service] platform for tier-one broadcasters”, which is undoubtedly a long way from Rock’s original vision of a voice for the masses. The switch in emphasis has clearly antagonised many loyal Audioboo users. The once-prolific Robert Llewellyn hasn’t posted a “boo” in more than a year, and many others have blogged or broadcast their distaste for the new approach. “Is it only about the money?” blogged journalist and regular Audioboo user Christian Payne. “Do we invest our time, words, ideas and feelings wrapped in stories just to make the other investors rich?”
Proctor says he hopes the service can retain many of its early adopters, but he admits it will be difficult. Yet, while the new business direction may have stretched the patience of a once-loyal user community, it seems likely that the business itself would have been stretched had it continued to follow its original path.
The lesson for budding British developers is writ large: a brilliant app may get you plenty of media attention but, without a business model to back it up, it won’t pay the bills.