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It was hard to turn around at Podfest in Orlando and not bump into something that screamed Himalaya. The podcast platform was everywhere, with a major sponsorship and the largest booth on the exhibit floor. We caught up with CEO Yu Wang and asked him about the goals of the company, the Himalaya business plan, and his general thoughts on where podcasting is today.
PBJ: What is Himalaya Media? Yu: It is a startup based in San Francisco with a mission to use audio to spread knowledge and wisdom. We are a podcast platform, network, and original production studio. Podcasts have the most mature audio creator community and we like to work with the creators/podcasters to help with their production, audience growth, and monetization to help them grow faster. As they grow, we as a platform grow.
PBJ: How long was the company in the making. Was is your idea? Yu: I was actually co founder and CEO of a startup called Otto Radio. We started the company back in 2014. We eventually started to focus on podcasting and, later on, was acquired by the Asian audio giant Ximalaya. They believed in the audiobook area of the company, but I wanted to continue to focus on podcasting, so I asked if they still wanted to invest in me and they said yes. Through their investment team and other venture capitalists, I founded Himalaya Media.
PBJ: And you raised 100 million dollars? Yu: Yes
PBJ: What is the marketing plan? You were a huge part of Podfest and you gave away a lot of registrations. Yu: We are trying to tap into the creator community. We are supporting people who are trying to become, or already are, creators in that space, to better participate in events like Podfest. For example, we are bringing dozens of podcasters to participate in the event, some that we work with and some that we don’t work with yet. We love to hear from the people directly, and how they want to approach making a podcast. In terms of marketing, supporting creators is our main goal but it is not the majority of our budget, which is also being spent in a big way on development of the app.
[caption id=“attachment_1752” align=“alignright” width=“225”] Himalay CEO Yu Wang on stage at Podfest[/caption]
PBJ: What is the goal with the app? Yu: Every podcast app has unique features, but we believe the barrier for the competition is not actual features, because those are so easy to copy. We believe as a platform we can make the market more efficient by directly connecting the creator or podcaster with their audiences. The creator needs feedback; they want the direct communication. Audiences want to talk with creators they like the most. We are working hard on that.
PBJ: Can you be more specific on how that will work? Yu: We offer a tipping feature available in the app. For any creator who claims their show in our system, even if they aren’t an official partner or part of our network, we enable listeners to directly send money to them as a show of support. That allows us to build a strong passion from audiences directly supporting their favorite creators. I see many creators gather hundreds of dollars in a month. They shout out to their audience, “Hey if you guys want to support me on Himalaya go for it.” That is one way we see that helps the audience and creators communicate and show love to each other. Also, listeners can leave comments on the episode level, so that makes communication between listeners and creators easier in the app.
PBJ: What is the demographic you find using apps? Yu: It depends. It is not teenagers, but we are looking at the age range of 25-35. Those young professionals are the main demographic, same as most other podcast apps, but the audience really depends on the creator and their content.
PBJ: You want all creators of podcasts to get their show on Himalaya? Yu: We support podcasting’s open distribution model. We are not asking for exclusive distribution rights. The user can listen to the show anywhere but we would love to help the creators with their audience growth and monetization, and in return, we want the creators to say, “Hey listen to the show on Himalaya,” because of those features.
[caption id=“attachment_1753” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Himalaya was everywhere at Podfest 2019, including big sponsorship banners and one of the largest booths on the exhibit floor.[/caption]
PBJ: Most people don’t make money even to cover the expenses of their show, how can they make more money? Yu: There are so many different models out there, not just ad supported. If you look at feature premiums, if you look at Patreon, there are so many different models in terms of premium content. We are working in that direction as well. There are details I cannot reveal at the moment but we are actively looking into it.
PBJ: Every business has to make money. What is the plan for Himalaya? Yu: Whenever we help the creator to grow and monetize better we get a share, for example, of ad dollars.
PBJ: What is your perspective on what’s going on in the podcasting space today? Yu: First, I think we are entering an era of consolidation. Two years ago there was a different landscape – creators were working on their own, and now with so many acquisitions, several major networks have been created. They fight as a team rather than individuals. We have seen those benefits, why Wondery has become an almost top tier network because they cross-promote their shows. Those things work. As the networks grow bigger there will be some inefficiency, but also if there is the right management it can grow stronger.
It is harder for the smaller podcasts to get to the top and that is why we work with those creators to form an army rather than fighting individually. We notice there will be a lot of competition from the big players, like Google, who has made their app (although terrible). Spotify has acquired both Anchor and Gimlet Media. There will be intense competition in that regard. We do see very few of these big players have a dedicated direction in the podcast space. For example, Google is really not about podcasts yet. They are making the audio searchable in their search engine. Spotify has the angle that meets the needs of their music listeners so that they do not have to pay a big tax to the label companies. Although it is all about podcasts, each of them has a slightly different angle to the problem. I think that is an advantage in the short term but maybe not so much in the long term. I think with the push of Himalaya and similar platforms there will be a shift from an ad-supported ecosystem to something else in terms of where the money comes from.
PBJ: If it is not ad supported, and they are not subscribers, what would it be? Yu: Patreon is one example that features premium instead of running ads in the show, because they are making great content. The same applies to Luminary. They are supporting the creators with the up-front guarantees. I do see that happening in the space. They do not have to always rely on the ad dollars. Whenever that happens, I think the monetization controls the direction of the industry.
[caption id=“attachment_1754” align=“alignright” width=“225”] Himalaya at Podfest 2019[/caption]
PBJ: What do you want podcasters to do – go to the website or download the app? How do you get your show onto Himalaya? Yu: Most likely your show is already on there because it is an open RSS feed, but to have control of your show and gather tips or support from your audiences you go to Himalaya.com and you will be able to find your show in a few clicks. We have a dedicated operations team which you can email and ask to claim your show, if you cannot do that automatically. Eighty percent of the creators do it automatically through the system because they already have their email registered in their RSS feed. We send an authentication email to their address. If they click that link they become owner of that show. After that they can say I want to save a few bucks on the hosting platform, and they can transfer their content from any hosting platform to us. We are offering free hosting services. They can enable the tip jar feature just by hitting a button. After our team reviews it to make sure the content is right, then the creator will be able to collect money because the listeners will see the big yellow button.
PBJ: At that point you want the host to promote the Himalaya app and that is how the revenue process works? Yu: Yes, but there are no strings attached. You do not have to do that in order to be on the platform. It is up to them.
PBJ: Anything else you want our audience to know? Yu: The best way to understand what Himalaya does for the industry and how we help the creators is to come to our booth or go to our panel at Podfest. You think there would be many ways to grow your audiences, but actually there are not and some of them are so ineffective and will cost you a lot. The others will do a much better job. Come to the conference and talk to us.