Telum Talks To... Yang Yi, Co-Founder, JustPod / Co-Host, Left-Right

Telum Talks To... Yang Yi, Co-Founder, JustPod / Co-Host, Left-Right

Industry insider Yang Yi introduces to us the nitty-gritty of podcasting in China, and talks about the podcast startup he co-founded named JustPod, which runs the popular show Left-Right.

What is the current stage of development of the Chinese podcast industry?
Chinese podcasts are still in a relatively early stage of development. Although Chinese podcasts first appeared as early as 14 or 15 years ago, for a long time in the past, podcasts were only popular in China among a relatively concentrated and small audience, not as a particularly popular media channel. Since last year, podcasts have begun to gain much more traction. It is clear that more people are beginning to pay attention to and listen to podcasts, and the number of new podcasts has also increased significantly. It's hard to say if it has the potential to explode to the size of WeChat official accounts or Douyin, but at least you can see that it is growing rapidly.

What kind of profit model is commonly used by Chinese podcasts?
At present, there are mainly two kinds of profit models for podcasting in China. First is the more commonly used membership system, in which members pay an annual membership fee to get value-added services, such as newsletters, in addition to free audio programmes. This model provides Chinese podcasters, predominantly amateurs, a relatively easy way for monetisation in a market that is still small, helping them to maintain operation without having to deal with advertisers and the complicated business environment. The second profit model is commercialisation of programmes, used by some of the most popular shows like “Ri Tan Park” and “Story FM”. There are two main directions for the business. One is to work with advertisers to create customised programmes. This is similar to implanted ads, like customised articles on WeChat official accounts. The other direction is to expand into other businesses such as e-commerce and tour groups when the brand of the show is well-developed and possess commercial influence.

We have previously planned to insert standardised spoken ads into the show. But we did some market research and found out that it was not suitable for the Chinese market. Given its relatively small market size, podcasts can only generate a limited amount of traffic, which will not make advertisers very happy.

We are currently working on a new model, creating corporate-customised podcasts. At present, this method works well for us - the business model is relatively mature, and it provides a stable source of income. But this model requires the production team to have enough production capacity and output to meet customer needs, while still making entertaining shows.

Can you introduce JustPod, the company you recently founded?
JustPod likely is the first podcast start-up in China. How do we define it as the first? I think we are a company that specialises in digital audio or podcasting. Some leading podcasts in China, such as “Danei Mitan” and “Ri Tan Park” have set up their own companies long ago. But they are more like self-media companies, which adheres to the traditional business model of developing programme brands for monetisation. In addition to podcasts, they develop their brands horizontally, doing video content and e-commerce. We are totally different. JustPod sticks with the audio format, and is built on the business model of providing audio-based services to businesses, such as the production of branded podcasts. We would compare ourselves to Wondery and Gimlet in the US, adopting a model that is relatively new in China.

In addition to the podcasting business, does the positioning of JustPod as a “Digital Audio Company” indicates the possibility of other multimedia formats?
This positioning is based on our perception of podcast as a channel, or a medium. Different people look at podcasts from different angles. But our understanding of podcasts is more about its channelling attributes. For this reason, we will use podcast as the main channel to distribute our own shows. However, when it comes to providing professional enterprise services, we will not necessarily limit ourselves to podcast. We would instead focus more on the concept of digital audio. What we offer is a set of audio-based solutions that features various types of content to meet different needs, as a part of the different services we can offer. Podcast is just one of the options.

You once suggested that a clear distinction between podcasts as a separate medium is a prerequisite for the market to recognise its commercial value. Can you explain a bit more about this?
From an advertising and business perspective, clarifying podcasts as an independent medium can better realise its business value. I very much hope that podcasts can be separated from other audio-based products, because now when advertisers refer to the podcast channel, they will think of paid knowledge, or celebrity-hosted audio programs, rather than podcasts in the true sense. So if we can distinguish podcasts from other audio content formats, it will be more beneficial to podcasts, letting the market know that it is a separate category, not tied to paid knowledge or other forms of audio content.

Nowadays, platforms and advertisers don't care much about the business potential of podcasts. It isn’t that they don't have value, just that the paid knowledge business has attracted all of the advertisers’ attention and money. So I think the first step would be to distinguish the concept. Only in this way will we be able to see the commercial value of the podcast more objectively and clearly, and make further business decisions.

We noticed that JustPod's show Left-Right can now be listened to via a stand-alone WeChat mini program. Is this an attempt of the show to reach more listeners?
Yes, it is. Because WeChat itself is a relatively mature ecosystem and an entry point different from the major audio platforms on the market. If we can make the show available on WeChat, with the help of a tool native to its ecosystem, it may reach people who do not listen to podcasts and make it easier for them to hear the show.

Can you please recommend three of your favourite podcasts?
This American Life, Pick Me Up and BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show.

The full Chinese interview with Yang Yi can be found here.

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