A new podcast network is launching today with a focus on influencer-hosted shows and sports content that it thinks will have international appeal. HiStudios, a company spun out of the startup Himalaya, has already inked deals with a variety of creators, including former NBA player Penny Hardaway and boxer Mike Tyson, setting it up to compete with all the other networks also hunting for new podcast talent. The difference in HiStudios’ case, and what might make it enticing to creators, is its close tie to one of China’s biggest audio platforms — Ximalaya.
The Los Angeles-based team’s already working with a variety of creators, including SLAM Magazine, Hardaway, the World Surf League, Tyson, and an influencer slate deal with major creator talent agency Studio71, among others.
“Ultimately, [influencers have] just really rabid fan bases,” Peter Vincer, HiStudios CEO, tells me. “It’s easy to grow an audience, and it’s easy to monetize those, as well, because they tend to be lightning rods when you’re talking with big ad agencies or otherwise because they’re looking for attention.”
HiStudios’ role varies depending on each deal. With some creators, it’s paying for outside production, like in the Studio71 arrangement, while others involve creators using HiStudios’ own producers, editors, and soon-to-be-opened studios. HiStudios sometimes just sells the ads, like it does for Tyson’s show.
Although HiStudios comes from Himalaya, which makes its own podcast app, Vincer says its shows will be distributed on all apps. Creators will be incentivized to push their listeners to the Himalaya app, though. HiStudios’ partners receive follower bonuses for every person who follows them on Himalaya, which means that if the hosts shout out the Himalaya app during their show, they’ll get paid for however many people end up following them there. That bonus can be up to 50 cents per person currently. So even if someone converts only 100 listeners to Himalaya, that’s an extra $50 they’ve earned. Vincer says the payout is just an “added bonus” for influencers who decide to partner with HiStudios.
Vincer says that while audio is the big focus, the team isn’t limiting itself to the medium. This is relevant if it continues to pursue partnerships with prominent YouTubers who publish their podcasts as both video and audio products.
“Basically what we are is a studio that helps optimize the opportunity, whatever that is, for people,” he says. “And in some cases, it will be standalone audio because that’s what makes the most sense.” But the team considers a “podcast” to also be media distributed on YouTube, Facebook, and all of the usual podcast listening platforms, and Vincer says the team is already working in all those mediums.
So why is Himalaya, an English-language podcast app, spinning off HiStudios, and how does that benefit its biggest investor, Ximalaya, the maker of a Chinese audio app that claims 400 million downloads? The answer, according to Vincer, has to do with creating a virtuous cycle. Himalaya benefits from creators wanting to earn extra cash and pushing listeners to the app. Other than the follower bonuses, Himalaya also includes multiple “premium” features, he says, like the ability to offer fans bonus content, early access to content, or ad-free content, which might make the app more appealing to creators who want ways to cater to their listenership.
For Ximalaya, on the other hand, it’s now working alongside a content creation company that understands English language content, some of which can cross over to the company’s massive Chinese audience. Vincer says over a million of Ximalaya’s users listen to English-language podcasts.
“There’s a huge benefit for us to developing content, and then working out partnerships with our Chinese counterparts and figuring out what the best global opportunity is of each of these shows,” he says.
This is why the team is particularly interested in basketball content, he says. The NBA has big appeal in China, so those basketball shows can be translated, published in English, or changed entirely to fit the Chinese audience’s taste.
“The plan is for us to distribute a lot of our basketball specific content on both, and in each one of those cases, there’ll be something, it’ll be unique case by case,” he says.
The complicated web of Ximalaya, Himalaya, and HiStudios speaks to the broader understanding of podcasts’ international appeal and opportunity. This week, iHeartMedia committed to translating some of its biggest podcasts into Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, French, and German, and Spotify has said it plans to introduce German, Spanish, and Portuguese versions of the Gimlet Media show Sandra. Podcast networks Stitcher and Wondery also launched the joint venture PodFront to help them monetize and sell ads for their UK audience. It’s safe to assume that other networks are thinking about how to bring their shows to an international audience as well. In HiStudios’ case, it’s already got the hook up to a major Chinese app, it only makes sense to try and bring English-speaking stars’ content to the masses.
Update 8/9, 11:17 AM ET: An initial version of this article listed NBA player James Harden as a HiStudios partner, but Vincer says that deal hasn’t been finalized yet. We’ve listed former NBA player Penny Hardaway instead.