Amazon just jumped into the live-audio industry

Amp is Amazon's answer to Clubhouse, Greenroom and Spaces, and it could shake up the industry.

Amazon's Amp app.

Amazon's long-term vision for Amp is roughly the size of the radio industry.

Image: Amazon

Amazon is entering the live-audio wars with a new app called Amp. The app, launching in beta on iOS on Tuesday, is fairly straightforward: It allows people to host their own radio-style show, with access to millions of songs free of charge. When you open the app, Amp will recommend a few live shows you might like. Hosts can take calls, switch between music and talking and generally feel like an old-school DJ.

Amazon is entering a suddenly crowded space. Spotify's Greenroom, Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces are all trying to build the future of audio chat; Apple is still investing heavily in Apple Music 1; and Spotify has also been rolling out features like The Get Up: a morning show that sounds an awful lot like drive-time radio. And, of course, there are the "radio on the internet" companies like TuneIn. But by combining features from all those apps, Amazon hopes it can build something even bigger.

All these companies see the same opportunity in audio: a medium that’s easier to create and consume than video, but feels uniquely intimate and human to the audience. As radio ad dollars move to the internet, there's also a huge advertising business to be won, and Amazon just happens to be a booming advertising business already.

Amazon's long-term vision for Amp is roughly the size of the radio industry. In the long run, Amp VP John Ciancutti imagines, Amp might be home to talk shows, call-in shows, “Wait Wait Don't Tell Me”-style game shows, and everything else you might find while flipping through radio stations. Just a modernized version of that. "If you created radio for the first time today," he said, "you wouldn't build radio towers and giant recording rooms that cost $50,000 to build, and go through this heavyweight process to pick the one creator who's going to get to run a show at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays. You'd build it so anybody with a phone in their hand could be a DJ."

For now, though, music is the thing. Amazon hopes to entice people with shows like Nicki Minaj's “Queen Radio” — which is rebooting on Amp after a run on Beats 1 — along with shows from Pusha T, Tinashe, Travis Barker, Lindsey Stirling and a host of other A-list artists. But Ciancutti said he hopes the real appeal isn't the star power but the accessibility: "It's really the everyday creators who will then create and teach us what's working well for them," he said. "That's really what we want." Making it easy for creators to start a show, and for listeners to find them, is the key to getting this right.

Focusing on music helps Amazon in another way, too: It makes it much easier to categorize and recommend shows. As creators build their playlists before going live, the service gets a strong signal of what kind of show it's going to be and can recommend it more accurately to listeners. Clubhouse and other services have struggled with discovery because shows are hard to categorize and host-provided metadata is often lacking. Amazon can at least confidently say you'll like the songs, even if you hate the DJ. (And it's really, really hoping you don't hate the DJ.)

Ciancutti cautioned several times that this is early days for Amp. The team is thinking about how creators might get paid on the platform, but hasn't settled on anything. You'll be able to use Amp everywhere, he said, but for now there's only an iPhone app. There's no recording or on-demand functionality, but Ciancutti said he could see that coming later. Even the interface is still hotly debated internally: Should audio start playing as soon as you open the app, a la TikTok, or should you tap into a show in order to hear it? The app currently makes you tap, but Ciancutti seemed torn.

One thing the team has been thinking about in the early days is content moderation. The service's guidelines are easily accessible from any show page, as are easy reporting mechanisms, and an Amp operations team is monitoring things around the clock. Amazon being Amazon, it's also building machine-learning tools that can start to understand shows and problems automatically. Still, audio moderation is hard, and it's even harder live. Ciancutti said he's hoping to get lots of feedback in the app's first few days, good and bad alike.

With the full resources of Amazon behind it, Amp appears to have a real chance to combine the high-end radio feel of Apple Music 1 with the creator-driven vibe of Spaces or Greenroom. But there's still a big question lingering: Can this industry worm its way into users' daily lives? Clubhouse spiked during a pandemic-driven lockdown and faded as people went back outside. Radio's power comes largely from its captive audience — people in their cars with nothing to do but twist the knob until something comes on — and even podcasts are often used as a background activity while doing something else. Can Amp turn its shows into appointment listening? Can anyone?

"Daily habits are super hard to change," Ciancutti said. He'd know: He was an early engineer at Netflix and watched firsthand as it tried to shake up the TV world. "We're on a journey that takes a long time." The radio industry is more than 120 years old, he said. He's hoping to disrupt it a little faster than that.


This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.


The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).


White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories