Driven by growing consumer demand for podcasts, a startup called Castbox this morning announced it was closing a $ 13.5 million Series B funding for its tech-powered podcast app. The round was led by SIG China and includes the participation of existing investors IDG Capital, Qiming Venture Partners and GSR Ventures.
To date, Castbox has raised $ 29.5 million.
While there are a number of podcast apps on the market today, what makes Castbox interesting is the proprietary technology it has under the hood. The platform uses natural language processing and machine learning techniques to power some of its unique features, such as personalized recommendations and audio search.
The app is able to make suggestions on what to listen to next based on users’ past listening behavior, which can help improve discovery of podcasts that people may like. Meanwhile, the audio search feature takes advantage of recent advancements the industry has seen in speech recognition technology and transcribes audio content into podcasts, indexes and makes it available for search in the Castbox app. .
This means that users no longer have to rely on things like episode titles, descriptions, and show ratings to find a podcast related to a topic they want to listen to – they can simply search through. the Castbox app all podcasts where a term has been mentioned.
These differentiating characteristics seem to attract users so far. The Castbox app has been installed 15 million times and now has 1.8 million daily users, with a retention rate of 50%. While the company doesn’t have a way to directly correlate the use of its features with these numbers, its ratings and user reviews include a number of comments referencing them, as well as compliments on the user interface and the app’s own overall experience, notes the founder of Castbox. Renée Wang.
Wang, who previously worked at Google in Japan and Dublin, originally created Castbox due to his own difficulties finding a player that supported different languages or gave personalized recommendations. Castbox was then developed in response to user feedback and with a focus on improving podcast discovery.
Today, Castbox has a global user base, with just 45% from the United States. But these users are the most engaged. Americans spend the most time in the app, listening to an average of 113 minutes per day, says Wang. Chinese users, meanwhile, are the most subscribed, with an average of 12 subscriptions per user.
With the additional funding, Castbox adds another big differentiator to its app: original programming.
The company kicked off its efforts with “Castbox Originals” as its original shows are called, with its first series, “Off Track with Hinch and Rossi”. The show stars Indy car drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi, and was produced in partnership with INDYCAR. This was followed by “Heard Well Now,” an influencer-focused musical podcast series in partnership with influential music label Heard Well.
Both were designed to be niche series that would lead new audiences – especially race car fans and teens – to podcasts.
However, the titles are not exclusive to Castbox – they are also distributed on major platforms like Apple and Spotify. The shows, however, will include advertising, which is how Castbox now aims to make money.
The upcoming show list will also include a scripted series titled “Be.Scared”, where listeners can hear horror stories from contemporary writers, as well as a complete mock crime documentary for fans of “Serial” , a wrestling podcast and a series of podcasts hosted by women.
“We are investing some of the new capital in original programming and strategic partnerships with creators,” Wang said. “Over the next two months, we’ve committed to launching over a dozen Castbox Originals in addition to those we’ve already released in the past 30 days. On this front, we will continue to identify the right partners to work with as we expand our content strategy, which will allow us to strengthen our brand in podcasting, ”she adds.
Although the cost of launching a new show will vary depending on a number of factors – like voice talent, writing, editing, music, marketing, promotion, etc. – the entire process can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
The new funding will also be used to improve Castbox’s technology platform, including improvements to usability, content discovery and personalization.
SIG China’s involvement is testament to Castbox’s roots – the startup that initially launched into the Chinese market, but has since moved its headquarters to San Francisco, while retaining an engineering office in Beijing. The team has 52 full-time employees and will continue to grow throughout the year.
“Castbox has shown consistent growth across all metrics, but more importantly, Renee and her team share a great vision for the business, ”SIG China’s Andy Gao said in a statement. “They are extremely passionate about the podcasting space, and their decision to share their content openly shows how invested they are. As this new medium takes off and becomes a mass market, we can’t wait to see what lies ahead. Castbox. “
Castbox, of course, faces stiff competition in the United States, where there are dozens of alternative podcast players available on all platforms, in addition to those from major players like Apple and streaming services like Spotify or TuneIn. . But users are always on the hunt for the “best” app to meet their needs, and Castbox’s focus on discovery, and now Originals, could give it an added edge as it grows.