60dB brings personalized, short-form audio stories to iPhone and soon, Echo

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A new mobile application called 60dB, launching today, wants to offer a better, more personalized radio service focused on short-form audio content. The app includes news, sports, business, entertainment, comedy stories and more, from a variety of publishers, which are customized to your interests the more you use the service. A separate section for longer stories is also available, for when you have more time to devote to listening.

Overall, 60dB’s goal is to combine the best of what people like about listening to the radio, in terms of the content, along with the personalization capabilities of a digital product.

The startup was co-founded by former NPR reporter Steve Henn and two longtime Netflix executives, Steve McLendon, who also worked at Vessel, and John Ciancutti, an early Netflix engineer who was responsible for the company’s first personalization software and later went on to head product engineering.

As Henn said in a blog post earlier this year, he wanted to create a radio service that works better for listeners.

“My old radio — the one I grew up with — still doesn’t know anything about me. It doesn’t know what makes me turn it off, or flip the dial,” he explained.

“For a long time, I’ve had this nagging feeling that my old radio didn’t cover enough of the world. There are these big swaths of our culture —  big parts of the American experience, and of the global experience —  that my radio largely ignored,” Henn continued. “That’s not a knock on radio programming, or radio people; it’s a limitation of the medium itself.”

With 60dB, a product from his startup Tiny Garage Labs, the goal is to offer listeners the sorts of stories you care about, but with a bigger focus on short-form content. Podcasts, said Henn, can often be an hour or even more, which makes them difficult to fit into your daily life.

That being said, 60dB will include a section with longer-form content called “In Depth.” Here, you’ll find longer stories, shows and podcasts. But the real emphasis in the app is the “Quick Hits” section, which is a personalized feed of stories you can listen to when you don’t have as much spare time.

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The content comes from a range of publishers, including Marketplace, the BBC, ESPN, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Bloomberg and The Wall St. Journal. There are also exclusive short audio stories being contributed by The Atlantic, Fusion, Mic, Vox, Motherboard Recode and The New York Times. At launch, there are more than 2 million stories available.

As you listen, the app’s feed will refresh, so you don’t have to spend time hunting down new things to listen to when one program wraps. You can also skip the stories you don’t like, favorite those you do and share stories with friends. As you interact with the service, 60dB will learn your interests in order to better customize its feed for you going forward.

Personalization is something many of today’s music services use as a competitive advantage.

Pandora popularized the trend for its streaming radio app with its thumbs up and thumbs down interactions, and now newer on-demand streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify cater to their users’ interests through customized playlists and recommendations, like Spotify’s popular Discover Weekly playlist, for example.

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However, when it comes to finding spoken word or podcast content, the same sort of personalization efforts don’t really exist.

60dB also arrives at a time when consumers are growing more interested in listening to audio content, including podcasts as well as short-form audio programming like Apple’s Spoken Editions or the new Amazon Prime perk, Audible Channels.

To some extent, this ties into the rapid adoption of new voice computing platforms in the home, like Amazon Alexa via the Echo speaker, for example, or now, Google Home. Thanks to these connected speakers, people are actively in search of more audio content they can consume while doing other tasks, like cooking in the kitchen, household chores or just relaxing in their living room with family.

That’s why 60dB isn’t planning on limiting itself to mobile. Though it’s only live on iOS today, the plan is to bring the app not only to Android, but also Amazon Echo in the near future.

The startup is backed by a small round of seed funding from angels and institutional investors, including Khosla Ventures, Rivet Ventures and Bloomberg Beta.