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A New Podcast Company, Himalaya, Raises $100 Million

We're in the silly season now.

From Variety:

San Francisco-based podcasting startup Himalaya Media has raised $100 million in funding to establish itself as a new force in the podcast distribution space. The company has launched apps for Android and iOS, and is getting ready to roll out a series of exclusive shows.

Himalaya’s main investor is Ximalaya, China’s biggest spoken word audio platform. Other investors include General Atlantic and SIG. Himalaya has also struck content partnerships with the Dallas Mavericks, Starburns Industries and Studio71.

The company is apparently pushing itself forward on three hooks: (1) to be a distribution player, (2) to be a publisher of original content, and (3) to be some sort of monetization solution, currently pitched around a direct donation or “tipping” feature.

Also worth noting from the Variety write-up:

One service Himalaya may take inspiration from for such premium content plans is Ximalaya FM. Run by Himalaya’s biggest investor, Ximalaya FM has become the largest spoken word audio sharing service in China, with a self-reported 400 million app downloads.

The two companies appear closely linked, but [Peter] Vincer was quick to declare independence when asked about the relationship between the two companies this week. “We have access to the expertise and resources of Ximalaya, but are lucky and thankful to operate with an independent vision and unique goals,” he said.

A few immediate thoughts:

  • The China connection is the defining framework here, I think. “Podcasting” in China came into view a few months ago when Marketplace published a piece on the $7 billion “FOMO” market in the country, which appears to be primarily driven by paid on-demand audio programs in the self-help genre that’s popular in the country. I put quotation marks around the word podcasting here, largely because I’m not sure if it’s an appropriate connective marker between the two markets: my sense is that we’re talking about two very different media products, in much the same way that we don’t really talk about audiobooks in the same breath as podcasts. (Though, perhaps we should, and I’ve been insisting that we do so for a while now. Seriously: I keep hearing that there are no priors that people are willing to pay for podcasts, when we have things like Headspace and Audible floating around.) Anyway, I imagine the appetite on Himalaya’s part is driven by experiences over at its Chinese parent, Ximalaya.
  • On the previous point, I thought this analysis by a16z’s Connie Chan is an interesting read.
  • Something about this story reminds me of Castbox, which raised a bunch of money a while back, but I haven’t heard very much since. There’s a more explicit connection here: Peter Vincer, who is quoted in the Variety piece as Himalaya’s VP of Global Partnerships and Marketing, is a former executive at Castbox.

But here’s my immediate feeling on this: $100 million in funding for a largely un-established podcast company that doesn’t yet have a verifiable track record in obtaining users, creating shows, and driving revenues for creators? What the fuck is going on?

We’re in the silly season now. Hang on to your Inception totems.