The renaissance of podcasts

In our last discussion, we touched on the resilience of radio and briefly mentioned the rise of podcasts. Today, we’d like to delve into an intriguing trend affecting this newer media format. Historically, Chinese users have favored quick and concise content, making them a primary audience for platforms that specialize in live streaming, a non-scripted version of a podcast.

However, a recent analysis by eMarketer highlights a significant shift among Chinese consumers, who are increasingly drawn to podcast, a medium traditionally more popular in Western cultures. This change suggests a move away from short-form video content and live streaming services like Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok), Bilibili, and Taobao Live, known for their fast-paced content delivery. The growing interest in podcasts, usually longer, more detailed content, reflects a change in Chinese media consumption preferences, offering in-depth discussions, storytelling, and exploration of niche topics.

What has prompted Chinese users to embrace this media format so quickly? One reason might be related to the lack of scandals or controversies usually related to podcasts. Chinese censorship policies have influenced online content consumption, steering audiences towards formats less focused on general news and politics. As a result, media formats with fewer controversies and scandals have gained popularity. This trend has resulted that one in five internet users in China choosing to listen to podcasts over the past year. Interestingly, there has also been a notable increase in the number of Chinese users willing to pay for premium podcast content. Quality seems to be prevailing over quantity in China’s internet content landscape.

Among the preferred genres, entertainment, technology news, and innovation are the most popular topics. However, fantasy and fiction stories also play a significant share of the premium content favored by listeners. Thus, while podcasts may seem saturated in the West, they are gaining momentum in Asia, particularly in China, where they are valued as a media format. Chinese consumers are not only seeking entertainment through podcasts but also informative content, including news, which contrasts with trends observed in other parts of the world, such as the USA.

Image by courtesy publishers, design by “Tana”.

What implications does this have for advertising and other participants in podcasts? According to statistics, there’s been a surge in local and international brands recognizing Chinese podcasts as an opportunity for market growth and revenue in the coming years. In fact, by 2024, revenue in the Chinese market is estimated to reach a substantial amount of US $449.50 million.

It seems that what is referred to as the “ear economy” is becoming increasingly competitive in Asia, with major tech companies starting to implement updates to keep up. One of the main players in the Chinese podcast market is Ximalaya FM, which last year introduced a feature using AI to help creators generate content faster and more efficiently. This innovation is crucial given that the monetization model for podcasts in China has been different compared to the US. Back in 2020, there were speculations that the Chinese market for podcasts was, in fact, 23 times more valuable than the American market, attributed to the paid subscription model they had developed.

In Chinese apps, creators rely on gifts, subscriptions, and the premium content previously mentioned. For that AI has been crucial to speed up processes. Furthermore, currently Chinese media consumers seem willing and happy to pay for their subscriptions and appreciate the added value that podcasts provide compared to other media formats. It raises the question of whether Western productions will be willing to explore the promising Chinese market, or if it remains too unfamiliar.

China has consistently been at the forefront of the dissemination of innovative media formats and trends. Live streaming has its roots in this country, leading the global trend well before the concept gained widespread recognition with YouTube in 2005. Research by Statista indicates that as early as 2003, live streaming had already taken off in China, with Western countries following suit later on.  Furthermore, the giant Alibaba also revolutionized the scene in 2016 by integrating live streaming with e-commerce. This led to the Alphabet group to take note and unveil seven years later YouTube Live Shopping in 2023.

This pattern may suggest that the monetization of podcasts is poised to catch on globally. With the offer of premium content, exclusive or earlier access, and additional perks for listeners, this could become the next frontier in the podcast industry. Reflect on this: would you consider paying extra to access your favorite podcast? Your decision might vary depending on the cost, but it’s an idea that may become commonplace before we know it.

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