In the latest indication of what sort of money is pouring into podcasting, Himalaya Media has launched its new podcast platform and network – armed with $100 million worth of capital. The San Francisco-based startup, led by Yu Wang, is using a now familiar strategy of having its hands in both the technology and content-development sides of the business.
Yang is a former CTO and co-founder of Otto Radio, which developed software to help listeners sort through thousands of podcasts. He raised the money from General Atlantic, SIG and Ximalaya FM, which is China’s largest spoken word audio platform. Himalaya will use the capital on technology development, marketing, and content production and acquisition.
The company has already released apps for iOS and Android which are loaded with 270,000 podcasts and 20 million episodes so far, many of which have been aggregated via open feeds. The app aims to become the focal point of a user’s podcast experience, enabling them to import all of the podcasts they subscribe to on other apps into Himalaya. There are also features like the ability to build a podcast playlist that can be shared, gaming, and a sleep timer.
One unusual feature is Himalaya’s monetization model. Rather than relying exclusively on advertising, it uses a strategy that bonuses podcasters based on the number of followers they have. It also allows fans to use an in-app tipping feature to help support podcast producers.
Peter Vincer, VP of global partnerships and marketing, says what will set Himalaya apart from the pack is being a more “creator-friendly” platform. “This includes providing significant marketing and monetization support to all of our partners, big and small,” he says. It’s also working with Acast and Panoply Media for ad sales, ad insertion and audience analytics. Himalaya also has its own in-house ad sales team.
Paid Podcast Model
U.S. podcast revenue was estimated to be $314 million in 2017 by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC, which forecasts that figure will reach $659 million by 2020. Compare that to China, where estimates are the market was worth $7.3 billion in 2017, thanks to a subscription-based model. In that mountainous gap is where Himalaya sees an opportunity. As it climbs its way into the U.S. market, Himalaya will draw on the expertise from one of its investors, Ximalaya FM, which is the top spoken audio platform in Asia. In a signal that it’s likely to focus on educational content, Himalaya has recruited Ariel Liu as COO. She comes from the online music teaching company One Smart Piano.
Himalaya’s initial focus will be on ad-supported podcasts, but VP Peter Vincer confirms they’ll look to add paid content. “The U.S. market has shown that it can support paid content and other large international markets have developed models even stronger in premium,” he says. “We see potential in the future to add greater in-app premium capabilities, and we are strategically planning for this future.”
In the meantime its content play looks like what many other companies are using. The Himalaya Podcast Network will feature a mix of original programming and existing shows from other producers. Himalaya’s team will focus on promotion, marketing and ad sales for both originals and partner shows.
Shows in the network will often be available exclusively with 24-hour “early access” on the Himalaya app before becoming widely available across all podcast platforms. Some shows will also be available in video format on YouTube. Himalaya has struck content partnerships so far with the Dallas Mavericks, distributing its existing podcasts and creating new shows for the NBA franchise. It’s also working with Starburns Audio, the audio division of the TV production house Starburns Industries, and Studio71, the digital video network. Vincer, who joined from the podcast platform Castbox, expects they’ll have 100 shows in-network by midyear. And he predicts they’ll reach at least 15 million monthly impressions by year-end.