Clubhouse coming for all segments
Audio providers should be wary
Audio-based social networking app Clubhouse, which has gained popularity in Thailand over the past two weeks, could take a toll on seminar events and TV and radio audiences as well as other social media platforms, say industry pundits.
The platform is expected to serve as a new digital marketing channel for brands.
The app was launched in 2020 by Alpha Exploration, a California-based software developer. Celebrities and media personalities share stories and advice using its audio functions, including Elon Musk, Oprah and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
To join the platform, people must be invited by existing users. Each member has a limit of two invitations.
The platform has virtual rooms to join. When entering a room, audio switches on and users can hear people speaking. The room's host can decide who can speak. Each room can serve up to 6,000 participants.
In Thailand, a string of celebrities, politicians and public figures have participated in the app, including Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Kla Party leader Korn Chatikavanij and film director Yuthlert Sippapak.
Some 100,000 people in Thailand are estimated to have joined Clubhouse, according to industry observers.
The platform is also seen as a new venue for members to express their views on political and sensitive issues, which could pose challenges for the government. Clubhouse has been banned in China.
Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, founder of local e-commerce platform Tarad.com and a tech pioneer, said with the rise of Clubhouse, members are expected to spend more time on the platform listening to people in rooms that draw their interest.
This could reduce time spent on other social media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, he said.
In Thailand, early adopters of Clubhouse are those in technology, finance, investment and startups, said Mr Pawoot. Clubhouse has been mentioned a lot on Facebook and Twitter, drawing people's interest in joining the platform.
"Some events, such as panel discussions, could be affected as Clubhouse allows people with a wide variety of expertise in different fields to share ideas with an audience," he said.
"For offline seminars, the people who join are mostly in the same industries and they have limited time to talk."
Mr Pawoot said it is hard to speculate whether the platform will be widely used in the long run, but it will gain momentum over the next year as there is still a limited number of users. The app can only be downloaded via Apple's App Store now.
Sarinee Achavanuntakul, a writer and social critic, said Clubhouse has become popular in Thailand because it caters to gossip-style discussions among people.
The platform offers audio and exclusive interaction with public figures or experts with a scheduled timetable, something that is missing from other platforms, she said.
In this early stage, the app will aim to gain members, but in the future it may set up business models. For example, users may have to pay to enter the rooms to listen to exclusive talks, said Ms Sarinee.
The platform could pose challenges for the government because it provides a coffee table talk-style venue in the digital world, where hardcore political fans can reach politicians in person and talk about sensitive issues freely.
Pawat Ruangdejworachai, president of Media Intelligence, a media planning and creative agency, said Clubhouse could take a toll on the podcast and radio format because users can listen and speak in real time according to the time table announced by room hosts.
People may spend time on the platform after work, which is the prime time for TV news programmes, so news broadcasts will face further competition.
"When gaining mass membership from Android-based users in the future, this app will affect seminars -- both online and offline events -- since the platform is more interactive and gives access to experts and public figures," said Mr Pawat.
Clubhouse would be useful as a new marketing channel where products can be reviewed by celebrities and various topics, such as cars and gadgets, can be discussed by experts, he said.
Pacharee Permvongusawa, head of the digital business unit at Publicis Media, a media planning agency, said Clubhouse could be one of the hottest apps for digital marketers this year, like TikTok was the previous two years.
Brands can use it to reach out to customers, such as becoming a sponsor for topics or content, she said.
It is hard to say whether the app will go mainstream, but more users will join after Android access is added, said Ms Pacharee. Regardless, this app could still serve a niche market for some specific users.