Newcomer Clubhouse Could Face Tough Competition from Chinese-backed Social Audio Apps

While new-kid-on-the-block Clubhouse is enjoying the limelight that has come with the platform’s invite-only exclusivity, rapid user growth and just yesterday, Elon Musk’s highlighted appearance, the idea of using audio as a medium for content creation is not new in China.

TT Voice, Tiya and Yalla, three audio-based social media app backed by Chinese developers and investors, may very well become Clubhouse’s main competitors, as live podcast-style platforms see a boom in popularity in the country.

TT Voice, a social media app for gamers in China, allows users to enter virtual audio chat rooms to interact with people and match up with other players. Developed by Guangzhou Quwan Network Technology Co., Ltd. the platform said it has more than 100 million registered users. 

On Monday, the company announced it had raised $100 million in a Series B financing round led by venture capital firm Matrix Partners China with the participation of investment fund Orchid Asia. 

Matrix Partners China and Orchid Asia are also shareholders of Chinese podcast platform Lizhi (荔枝), which boasts the largest user-generated audio community in China since its launch in 2013. In January 2020, Lizhi debuted on Nasdaq. 

In the third quarter of 2019, Lizhi said its app had 46.6 million average monthly active users and 5.7 million average monthly active content creators. The platform uses AI technology to distribute and monitor podcasts and other content, and allows users to perform and host live-streams.

The owner of Lizhi is also behind Tiya and its Chinese version Zhiya (吱呀), according to data analytics site Baijing Chuhai. Tiya (based in Singapore) and Zhiya are both audio-based social apps that allow users to click on popular tags on the homepage to enter chat rooms.

In December, Tiya reached No. 7 in the social networking category in the Apple App Store in the U.S., according to numbers shown on AppFollow.

Yalla, a voice-centric social networking and entertainment app that allows users to join voice rooms according to countries or topics, gained much popularity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market. Founded in 2016, the Chinese company behind the app was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2020.

The company said it had nearly 12.5 million monthly active users in the second quarter of 2020, with 309.5 million hours spent on the platform’s “live voice chat rooms.” Nearly half of Yalla’s MAUs are paying users.

Right now, Clubhouse requires new users to be invited, and is planning to expand to the general public. 

The company describes itself as a “new type of social project based on voice” where “people everywhere (can) talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships and meet interesting new people” and allows users to share audio clips in chat rooms. CNBC reported that the company was valued at around $100 million by May 2020.

SEE ALSO: Tencent Launches New Audio Social App ‘Echo’

However, it is important to notice that with high switching costs and a highly volatile market, many of these social media apps have enjoyed bursts of growth in the past, only to be later proven to be passing fads. Analysts also attribute Clubhouse’s success to the pandemic lockdown which forced a good part of the population to stay at home.

Whether they are on Clubhouse, Lizhi or Yalla, users of these voice-and-audio-based platforms have raved about how much they enjoy a more intimate and “live” feel on the platform, as opposed to text-based social media. If these apps manage to keep up the current level of usage and engagement, they may very well be poised to revolutionize the social media space.