Will audio livestreaming take off in America?

For many podcast listeners, following their favorite shows is a solitary experience.

A recent survey of 2,000 users by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications found they listened to podcasts most often at home, during commutes or while exercising. Over the past couple of years, however, a new trend, audio livestreaming, has taken off in China. The medium is basically a combination of podcasting and talk radio, with mobile apps enabling interactive features like live chats with other listeners, call-in requests and emoji reactions.

If it follows other formats that gained traction in China before becoming popular elsewhere, like short-form video apps (including TikTok) and video livestreams, it may give podcasts in other markets a new way to reach more listeners and monetize.

Castbox, a podcast app headquartered in San Francisco with an engineering office in Beijing, launched Livecasts in July. Available in its mobile and desktop apps, which have 20 million users around the world, the feature allows hosts to launch audio livestreams in private or public channels.

While communities of fans have grown around many popular podcasts, interacting with hosts and other listeners is still a fragmented experience that takes place through Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, online forums like Reddit or, more occasionally, podcast players like Castbox that have comments sections. Sometimes podcasts are recorded live, either in front of an audience or while it streams online, but even then the user experience is still relatively passive, focused on listening instead of interacting.

Audio livestreams give hosts a more immediate way to engage with listeners. In China, all three of the most popular audio content apps — Ximalaya, Lychee and Dragonfly — include audio livestreams, covering topics ranging from politics and current events to relationships and parenting.

About almost half of the users of Castbox’s app, a podcast player that also has original programming, are from the United States, but the company’s engineering base in China means it is well-positioned to introduce Chinese internet trends to new markets.

Yicheng Ruan, Castbox product manager, tells Extra Crunch that audio livestreams are like much more interactive versions of talk radio shows. Castbox’s Livecast includes many of the same features that have become popular in China, including the ability to stream a live audio chat with multiple hosts, in-channel messaging rooms, call-in requests and virtual gifts paid for with in-app currency that can be exchanged for real money.

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