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Will local podcast platforms be the winners in Asia Pacific?

Podcasting has become a giant industry, one that exceeded $10 billion in 2020 and is expected to double, at minimum, within the next 24-36 months. The Drum explores how Taiwan-based SoundOn is riding this wave.

More than 15 years after the term was coined, podcasts have experienced an explosion in growth. In the age where content creators are churning out high production value videos, there are various reasons as to why this format is increasingly favoured.

In Taiwan, the podcast ecosystem has grown exponentially over the past year. For example, SoundOn, a podcast platform that produces its own content shows featuring Taiwan's top influencers and connects podcasters to advertisers, claims to have accumulated 80 million downloads in just under two years since its existence and has grown 10x over the past six months.

In comparison to more mature podcast industries like the United States, Taiwan has essentially fast-forwarded growth of five years and condensed it into one year, says Likai Gu, the founder of SoundOn.

“Podcasts have a low barrier to entry which means that there is a podcast that could cater to every niche or special interest imaginable and serves passionate communities. SoundOn’s platform has also seen growth in the creators that have jumped into the podcasting space,” he explains.

“The podcast industry has grown since SoundOn entered the market in late 2019. The number of podcasts produced for the Taiwan audience has grown from less than 50 when SoundOn was founded to now over 10,000, and SoundOn’s own traffic has grown over 20x in the past year, reaching nearly 35m unique downloads a month.”

He continues: “It looks like there are similar trends across the rest of Asia as well - driven by the quality of creators and podcasters entering into the market. Audio is back in a big way, and creators are realizing that they have the ability to carve out a new following and create different kinds of content using audio.

Gu claims SoundOn possesses the most complete dataset on the podcast ecosystem in Taiwan, and thus leverages that data to connect advertisers to podcasters. He says SoundOn’s original content shows featuring some of Taiwan’s top influencers have been “wildly popular” with the Taiwan audience, with a few mainstays in the top podcast rankings within the market.

Advertisers prefer to work with SoundOn due to the ability for SoundOn to quickly scan and filter thousands of podcasts by volume, gender breakdown, and demographic, he adds.

“Instead of having to sift through hundreds of podcasts, advertisers can get pricing, statistics and recommendations all in one from SoundOn. We also expect SoundOn to experience exponential growth in its revenue and profitability in the next 24 months,” explains Gu.

“Soon, there will be additional business models that can be adopted, such as subscriptions, donations, merchandising, as SoundOn continues to build upon its app into other audio-related mediums, such as live content, audiobooks, and others.

For example, advertisers like Giveme5min, which specialises in single-serve specialty coffee bags to provide fresh ground coffee for its customers’ preferences, promoted its single-served coffee bags through “百靈果”, a news podcast on SoundOn to their audience and claimed to have received over 100% ROI within a month for this campaign.

“SoundOn helped us by assessing which podcaster we would best work with. As a result, the campaign performance outcome is beyond our expectations. We will definitely continue to advertise on podcast platforms,” says Benjamin Tseng, the chief executive officer of Giveme5min.

SoundOn, which manages its own podcast player app and website, presently has over 70% of the market share and is projected to grow to 500m downloads in a month. This pace of growth is in line with the growth of YouTube during its initial popularity in Taiwan.

Future plans for SoundOn does not only focus on podcasts but also other forms of audio-entertainment as it seeks to become a one-stop-shop. Its ambitions have been further boosted by being acquired by Kollective Ventures (KV), a capital advisory and investment firm based in Singapore, and Turn Capital, the family office of Joseph Phua, co-founder and non-executive chairman of 17LIVE Inc.

The acquisition means SoundOn has opportunities to collaborate with other social entertainment apps under the 17LIVE Inc umbrella. For example, there is an app called Goodnight which provides live entertainment and audio dating services, which Gu believes has similar synergies with SoundOn and is actively explore bringing them together.

The platform also recently launched SoundClub, which is its live content vertical as it has noticed users have a need to listen to the non-music audio content at different times of their day while exercising, commuting and before bedtime).

Gu believes podcast winners in Asia will undoubtedly be local because, unlike video, audio is less versatile due to the lack of subtitles. He says this means the dominance of a language in the region will influence its popularity and require SoundOn to work with various local partners with speed and execution within Asia, which is an advantage over the larger global players.

“Using the more mature industries of the US and France as an example, the podcast scene is dominated by local producers, albeit for very different reasons. In the US, only 13 of the top 200 shows (7%) are non-domestic, with half of those being British. Strong domestic competition makes it extremely hard to break into this American market,” he explains.

“In France, almost nine in ten (87%) of trending podcasts were locally produced, with language clearly a factor. In fact, it is predicted that the popularity of US podcasts will diminish over time as domestic podcasts scenes become stronger.”