Imagine having your own personal audio stream, one that only carries the specific news, sports, information and entertainment content that interests you. And no matter where you are — in the car, at work or at home — this personalized audio stream will always be available via your smartphone, tablet, internet radio or PC. With access to a feed like this, why would you ever listen to anything else?
The 60dB website and app promise to bring listeners “today’s best short audio stories in news, sports, business, politics, entertainment and more,” from a library of millions of stories. Offerings include curated collections, topic search and personalized content.
This is the logic and the strategy underlying 60dB (60dB.co), a new audio streaming service, which became publicly in late October 2016, via an app for iOS, and in December, 60dB became available via any browser at http://www.60dB.co. As of mid-January 2017, the service went live on Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon’s Echo, Dot and Tap. The plan is to bring the service to Android later in 2017, according to Matt Graves, Tiny Garage Labs’ media liaison.
Co-founded by NPR alumnus Steve Henn and former Netflix executives John Ciancutti and Steve McLendon, the free 60dB app employs its own content personalization software to let listeners specify the particular shows and content genres they want to listen to.
Like Netflix, this personalization approach includes enabling the 60dB software to “learn” each subscriber’s content preferences based on their selections, and using this knowledge to recommend similar content automatically. As for content: This service will offer a mix of stories that 60dB’s partners already produce — some for radio, some for online audiences — plus stories that the streaming service will collaborate on with those partners.
“In my case, I’m a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan,” said Ciancutti, “Using 60dB, I can program my audio profile to find and playout all kinds of content related to my favorite NFL team, no matter where I may be listening.”
When Henn quit NPR and the “Planet Money” podcast in January 2016 to set up an unspecified internet audio company, people in the broadcast industry thought he was crazy.
Steve Henn, John Ciancutti and Steve McLendon
Henn himself somewhat shared their opinion. “My work with NPR and ‘Planet Money’ covering technology stories let me interview some of the smartest, most creative people on the planet,” he said. “I told their stories and millions of people listened. For a radio broadcaster, it was a dream job. So quitting could seem a bit mad.”
However, Henn had noticed that listenership to NPR’s “Morning Edition” by people 55 and under had dropped 20 percent between spring 2010 and spring 2015. To him, the reason was clear: Younger listeners were (and are) leaving radio for online audio streams.
The problem is that these streams tend to be focused on music, rather than the insightful spoken-word stories on which Henn had built his career. This, plus the fact that NPR’s audience tends to be from a “white, upper middle class suburb” convinced Henn that he had to jump into online streaming to inject new life into spoken-word audio content and broaden its base to millennials and other younger listeners.
“I quit my job to build a new and better form of radio,” he said. Henn did so under the name of Tiny Garage Labs.
THE PLATFORM SO FAR
Currently, 60dB is a work in progress. The website at 60dB.co doesn’t say much, a few sentences that briefly describe the 60dB service and invite interested surfers to sign up the app, which initially launched on Apple’s iOS. Those interested can also follow 60dB on Twitter (@the60dB), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/the60dB/) and on Medium (http://medium.com/@60dB/) for updates.
The basic purpose of 60dB is already established.
“Our goal is for 60dB to bring you ‘the sound of the human voice’ through conversations, interesting interviews and compelling stories,” said Henn. “We have built 60dB to provide our listeners with voices and stories from around the world; to inform and entertain them with the things they care deeply about.”
In doing so, the startup is particularly interested in attracting new producers seeking a bold venue for their spoken word content.
“If you’re producing beautiful short-form audio stories, we’d love to hear from you and help you connect with an audience of listeners around the world,” the company stated in an online post. “Please reach out to us at [email protected].”
As for making 60dB pay for itself? On this point, Henn and Ciancutti are circumspect. “We are focused on developing the audio side and getting it online first,” said Henn. “Once this is done, we will release details of our business model,” added Ciancutti. Also yet to be announced is the date for 60dB’s public launch.
Will the model that helped build Netflix translate to the spoken word? Comment on this or any story to [email protected] with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject field.