Castbox introduces features from Chinese audio apps to the US

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TechCrunch Head of Audience Development Anna Escher talks to Castbox CEO Renee Wang (Image Credit: TechNode/Coco Gao)

Podcast app Castbox is bringing features from Chinese audio apps to the US. At TechCrunch Shenzhen, the company’s founder and CEO Renee Wang set out its strategy to compete with podcasting giants like Apple and Google with a mix of China-inspired social features and new technology.

Launched in 2016, Castbox has racked up 20 million users, of which half are from the US. The platform is available in 175 countries but is yet to expand to China.

In a follow-up interview with TechNode, Wang described China’s Lychee and Netease Music apps as social audio models. Netease’s streaming service not only hosts an extensive audio library but has an active community that discusses the content on offer. Lychee has pivoted away from the more commonly seen model of curated online audio to focus on user-generated ‘live podcasting’ content.

China’s online content sector is years ahead of the US, Wang said, adding that this gives her an advantage in the market. Developments in China are noted only when they are later replicated in the US, Wang said. Several American firms have visited Castbox to learn about features that are already years-old in China, she added.

In addition to social features such as comment threads and virtual gifts, familiar to Chinese internet users, Castbox’s community also includes moderation and timestamping of podcasts so that listeners can skip to the topics of interest. The platforms ‘Livecast’ function has proved particularly popular in Brazil, winning hosts over from other platforms.

Wang said the company had abandoned a content-based strategy once more prominent players such as Apple, Google, and Spotify began investing heavily in the field. Rather than compete directly, Wang decided to focus on technology and create a “unique user experience.”

The company has also developed some novel features, like automatic “in-audio search.” Using voice recognition, Castbox can transcribe audio so that users can search for terms within recordings.

Castbox has no plans to enter the China market, Wang confirmed. “Competition is really fierce,” she said.