Chinese podcast app Ximalaya to go public

Business & Technology

Podcasting caught on later in China than in the U.S., but it’s become an enormous business. The most popular audio app in the country just filed for a U.S. IPO.

Artwork for a subscription audio play from Ximalaya.

Ximalaya, the Shanghai-based online audio platform backed by Tencent Holdings, filed for an initial public offering in the United States on April 30, 2021.

Xǐmǎlāyǎ, or Xima FM (喜马拉雅 — literally, Himalaya), is the largest audio and podcasting app in China, boasting 250 million monthly users during the first quarter of 2021, with a 70% increase of mobile listeners from the previous year from the same time span.

  • In 2020, Xima hosted over 161,000 content creators in 2020 (according to its SEC filing).
  • The audio giant earned $4 billion in revenue last year, a 51.3% increase from 2019, but has not turned a profit since 2018 — a common issue facing podcast companies around the world.

Launched in 2012, Xima is a top runner in China’s burgeoning audio market, with listeners tuning into podcasts, audio books, and livestreams.

  • Other notable Chinese-grown podcast companies include LizhiFM and QingTingFM — these two companies along with Xima are regarded as the “Big Three” of China’s audio scene, according to a China Daily report released last April.
  • LizhiFM was the first Chinese podcasting platform to go public in January 2020.

Podcasting is a relatively new medium in China, but urban lifestyles among the middle class — long commutes, gym, etc. — have contributed to audio’s rise in recent years.

  • The market value of China’s audio industry in 2019 reached 17.58 billion yuan ($2.72 billion), according to a report by iResearch.
  • Based on research by Deloitte, China and the U.S. make up 75% of total global audiobook listeners.
  • According to a 2020 survey at Podfest, China’s first podcast-themed event founded in 2019, half of podcast respondents said they listen to audio content every day (notably, 88.5% of survey respondents were under the age of 35).
  • China’s tech giants are taking notice, too. Last year, the New York-listed Tencent Entertainment Music Group rolled out its own long-form podcasts and audiobook series, earning 100 million users by the end of 2020.

Differences from American podcasting