Chinese podcast giant Lizhi brings Clubhouse-like interactive audio to Tesla rival Xpeng

Josh Ye
·4-min read

Lizhi, which runs China’s second-largest podcast app, is bringing Clubhouse-like interactive audio to electric vehicles (EVs) manufactured by Xpeng, as the industry continues to explore new entertainment systems to lure buyers in the world’s largest car market.

The Guangzhou-based audio tech firm, which listed on the Nasdaq last year, announced on Tuesday that it is launching a feature called “live-stream podcast” on its signature app, and it will also be implemented on Xpeng’s intelligent in-car operating system.

“This fresh new mode of interactive audio entertainment will allow participants to have organic conversations across a wide range of audiences and networks on both the mobile application and in the in-car scenario,” Lizhi said in a statement.

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The feature will also leverage its access to top content creators, who will be able to interact with podcast listeners in real time, Lizhi added.

Marco Lai Jinnan started Lizhi in 2013, growing it into one of China’s largest companies focused on user-generated audio content. Photo: Handout
Marco Lai Jinnan started Lizhi in 2013, growing it into one of China’s largest companies focused on user-generated audio content. Photo: Handout

The partnership with Xpeng, another Guangzhou-based company that went public last year, reflects a broader trend in the EV market, where carmakers are racing to enrich the entertainment options available in their vehicles. Tesla has been especially aggressive in this area, rolling out both Tesla Theatre and Tesla Arcade, features that allow owners to stream films and play video games with the steering wheel and digital display, respectively.

Xpeng, one of China’s major Tesla competitors, said it sold 13,340 vehicles in the first quarter of the year, up 487 per cent from a year earlier. China has been an important growth market for Tesla, which did not disclose its sales numbers for the country, but it said it delivered 184,800 cars globally in the same quarter.

Xpeng has already been exploring other options for in-car entertainment. In another partnership with Chinese internet giant NetEase, Xpeng vehicles have access to the entertainment company’s music streaming service and popular mobile game Onmyoji.

Chinese podcast app founder says Clubhouse model works better overseas

Lizhi is also looking for new areas of growth. Founded in 2013, Lizhi had grown to 58.4 million monthly active users (MAUs) in the fourth quarter last year, trailing only Ximalaya in China’s podcast market. The company pulled in 1.5 billion yuan (US$229 million) in net revenue in 2020, a 27 per cent increase over the previous year.

Lizhi’s profile started rising faster this year following the explosion in popularity of US-based start-up Clubhouse, a live-audio social app where users can interact in different topic-based rooms, as investors hope for a corresponding boom in audio apps in China. Lizhi has an international Clubhouse-like app called Tiya, which launched in 2019 and has seen some success.

At the height of Clubhouse’s popularity in February, Lizhi’s shares rose by as much as fourfold.

The trouble for audio apps in China, as with so many online services, is China’s strict content regulations, which have resulted in clean-up campaigns targeting podcast apps in the past.

Podcast and audio apps suddenly disappear in China

Lizhi has not been spared. The company was hit in a clean-up campaign in June 2019, when it was forced to remove its social audio dating app Zhiya, which had just launched the previous year. After this experience, company founder Marco Lai Jinnan said that Lizhi’s next audio app would focus on markets outside China, and Tiya remains unavailable in China.

With the launch of the live-stream podcast feature, though, Lizhi is showing a renewed interest in cracking social audio in China.

“We expect this new feature may also increase user engagement and deepen the relationship between podcast hosts/creators and their audience,” Lai said in a statement.

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