• Podcasting has struggled to keep up in China, and there are certain reasons why.

Podcasting has struggled to keep up in China, and there are certain reasons why. (Photo : Getty Images)

Podcasting has long stood out as a popular means of entertainment in the West. But its failure to penetrate China’s more than 500-million-strong smartphone users presents a peculiar set of reasons--all of which point to fundamental differences between the two markets.

Listening to the radio is considered staple fare for daily commuting in the West. The U.S., for instance, has a high concentration of car users, with drivers tuned in to their choice radio stations as they deal with the hurly-burly of rush hours to and from the suburbs to downtown areas.

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However, the introduction of Apple iTunes and the eventual shift of entertainment from analog to digital opened westerners to podcasting. Users have come to favor podcasts over AM and FM radio, as they can simply set up downloads and updates on their preferred episodes.

But as podcasting spread throughout the world, it found itself struggling in one particularly lucrative market--China. With more than 500 million smartphone users, only around 70 million people (around 5 percent of the entire population) tune in to podcasts in the country, said Chinese social media website Sootoo.

That, of course, presents a worrying trend for podcasters based in China, where digitization is otherwise growing at a breakneck pace. Sixth Tone thus provided a set of reasons why podcasting's appeal in the country remains limited, despite the growing popularity of other kinds of digital content.

Lifestyle distinctions characterize podcasting's limited appeal among Chinese users. Since public transportation is more prevalent in China, commuters can enjoy other kinds of digital content on-the-go, particularly videos, whereas the West's car-based commuters are limited to voiced-based entertainment.

Access is another issue for podcasting in China. Since the Chinese were only able to get iTunes in 2009, four years since its release in 2005, western users have gotten ahead in accepting podcasting as a new form of entertainment.

Finally, censorship stands as a stumbling block for podcasting's growth in China. With several podcasts in the West focused on sensitive social issues, with episodes focused on investigative matters, the same fails to take off under the Chinese government's general aversion to public criticism.