HiStudios, a new podcasting content venture spun out of the Chinese-backed podcast platform Himalaya, is getting ready to open a physical production studio in Los Angeles next month. The company is looking to make a mark with sports and influencer podcasts, and is favoring an open distribution strategy over paywalled exclusives.
HiStudios started as the content division of Himalaya, a new podcast app that came out of stealth with $100 million of funding in February. HiStudios CEO Peter Vincer, who until recently was VP of partnerships at Himalaya, told Variety this week that the company kept getting requests not only to distribute podcasts, but also help produce them.
That’s why it decided to put all of its content production, marketing, distribution and monetization efforts under a separate banner. HiStudios, which began in earnest in March, has since hired around a dozen staffers, including former Rooster Teeth senior sales director Nathan Jordan as its chief revenue officer, and former Veritone One media buyer Lexy Passer as its vice president of marketing.
HiStudios has also been busy inking content deals, with sports being a key area of focus. Sports podcasts have been overlooked by some of the other big platforms, said HiStudios head of content and former Variety contributor Mike Botticello. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.” Some of the basketball players HiStudios is working with include Gilbert Arenas, Penny Hardaway and Caron Butler. Other talent includes Mike Tyson and Warren Sapp.
The company is also working with some influencers, including Zane and Heath, and the Corey and Aaron show, and will soon be distributing “Ellie and the Wave,” a new podcast starring Natalie Morales, Paul Scheer and others.
All of these shows will be made available on the Himalaya app, but listeners will also find them on iTunes, Spotify and elsewhere. “All of our shows will be distributed openly,” Vincer said. That decision was in part based on a realistic look at the market. “Himalaya is a rapidly growing platform,” said Vincer, while admitting that it wasn’t nearly as big as Spotify and some of the other competitors.
But Vincer also argued that it was a bad idea for podcasters to exclusively tie themselves to any platform, even in the face of lucrative upfront deals. “On the backend, they are limiting their audience,” he said. The sheer amount of free content available to audiences was working against companies trying to put podcasts behind paywalls, Vincer said. “I think they will lose. I think it will flop.”
HiStudios and Himalaya are instead working on a freemium model, where shows get distributed freely, and paying subscribers get bonus content, or ad-free versions.
Vincer likened this model to Patreon, but said that the membership platform wasn’t well equipped to serve podcasters, who had to give their paying members private RSS feeds. “It’s clunky.” Himalaya instead integrates paid memberships directly into its apps, said Vincer. “The process has very little friction.”