Paul English, who revolutionised travel search with Kayak.com, has returned to solve another discovery problem. This time, it’s podcasts, and he wants to help people find better ones.
In June, Paul teamed up with Colorado-based entrepreneur Mike Chambers to launch Moonbeam, an ML-led podcast discovery app. They believe that finding new podcasts in a sea of audio content — there are over four million podcasts running today, as per Podcast Index — is the biggest problem facing the industry.
With Apple Podcasts and Spotify locking horns in big-budget audio production, independent podcast creators and hosts are finding it increasingly harder to build, grow, and monetise their audience.
Moonbeam wants to “level the playing field”. “As podcasting increases in popularity, traditional podcast platforms are failing to bridge the gap between hosts and listeners. From a listeners’ perspective, it’s harder than ever to find good content. From a hosts’ perspective, it’s harder than ever to build and monetise an audience. It doesn’t have to be this way,” CEO Mike wrote on LinkedIn recently.
The app blends machine learning with manual curation to offer a personalised podcast feed to every listener. It not only aids in the discovery of newer, niche, and lesser-known podcasts that are lost in larger audio ecosystems, but also enables creators to connect, engage, and expand their audiences better.
Moonbeam has crossed 12,000 downloads in three months
Essentially, Moonbeam wants to be the TikTok for podcasts.
It follows the design principles of the ByteDance-owned app. Similar to TikTok’s ‘For You’ page, Moonbeam presents 100-120 second podcast clips on a swipeable feed known as the ‘Beam’. If listeners don’t like the content, they can swipe up to the next clip (or swipe down to the previous one). This is similar to Instagram Reels too.
Moonbeam’s aim is to surprise listeners with stimulating discoveries instead of pushing repetitive algorithmic feeds that typically include only well-known shows or celebrity podcasts. Unlike other podcast discovery apps, listeners also have the option of tipping creators directly from the app. Moonbeam doesn’t take any cut.
However, it monetises through Moonbeam Console — a one-stop tool for hosts to “claim” their shows by creating standalone clips to tease the full episode and controlling the content that appears on the app. Console also lets creators claim tips from listeners, and access user analytics to better the audience experience.
Moonbeam has surpassed 12,000 downloads across Android and iOS. Until September, more than 400 podcast hosts had claimed their shows using Moonbeam Console. Users are currently averaging 23 minutes per session on the app.
Moonbeam is rated 4.5/5 on Google Play Store, and 5/5 on Apple App Store.
Over 400 podcast hosts have claimed their shows on Moonbeam Console
After you create an account, Moonbeam wants you to select topics for the content you’d like to discover. You can choose from 15-odd genres (arts, business, comedy, education, health & fitness, history, kids & family, leisure, music, news, religion, science, sports, TV & film) and 120 sub-genres. (Selected topics can also be edited later.)
You’re ready to ‘start beaming’ now. The homepage is an auto-arranged swipeable feed of standalone clips from podcasts based on the topics you’ve chosen.
Just like scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, you can swipe up or down, like, share or subscribe to clips, or hit ‘continue listening’ to go to the full podcast. The standalone clips are usually a few minutes long and aimed at teasing listeners with the best parts of the show.
Moonbeam feeds its ML algorithm based on how listeners react to the clips, and learns more about the kind of podcasts they might want to discover on their feed.
Moonbeam shows users a TikTok-style feed of short audio clips cut from podcasts
Sometimes users also enjoy listening to it as a standalone consumption experience. It improves app engagement and also reduces the discovery fatigue with podcasts.
When you move to the full podcast, Moonbeam lets you save episodes to the library, download episodes, set sleep timers and new episode reminders, read audience reviews, change play speed, filter explicit content, and tip creators.
You can also hit the ‘Discover’ button to browse through theme-based podcasts curated by Moonbeam’s editors. It even lets you import podcast subscriptions as OPML files from other podcast apps.
Finally, the Search tab (which looks like Spotify’s search function) lets you enter a keyword to find related podcasts.
Moonbeam also plans to roll out software updates every two weeks and launch tools that will allow listeners to interact with the teams behind their favourite podcasts.
Moonbeam blends ML with manual curation to personalise the podcast feed
Verdict: Can be a disruptive force
If experts are to be believed, then short-form audio is the future of podcast discovery. This is why Spotify acquired Podz (podcast discovery app that creates 60-second highlights of episodes) less than 10 days before Moonbeam launched.
Much like TikTok disrupted video with short-form content, becoming a sensational global success, the cluttered audio space is also waiting to be thrown off guard by some upstart. Moonbeam can be the one. In fact, it wants to be the one.
Founder Paul has gone on record to say that he’s inspired by TikTok’s advanced discovery algorithm, which he wants to bring to the world of audio, specifically to podcasts that are growing by the hour.
“Similar to TikTok, Moonbeam’s advanced technology allows the app to predict your interests better than your friends can, so your new favourite podcasts are within reach,” he said in the launch statement.
Moonbeam’s approach of equitable discovery puts large, studio-backed podcast hosts and small independent creators at par. While personalisation of content will make it sticky with listeners, the attention to hosts can make Moonbeam a creator favourite too.
Then there’s the industry-first tipping feature (Clubhouse has tipping, but it is not a podcast app) that is likely to be aped by other players in the days to come.
Possibly, the only catch with Moonbeam right now is its limited content library compared to established players like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc. That could be because the app is just three months old, and will only get better.
What Moonbeam doesn’t offer in terms of content expanse, it makes up with clips that are an absolute delight and will lock new users into the app instantly. A sophisticated UI on top of that goes on to enhance the listener experience.
In a world where audio is the new buzzword, Moonbeam is only getting started.