TikTok might be the world’s most famous short video platform, but the Chinese version of the app is now flirting with live audio shows. 

Douyin recently started testing a new feature that lets content creators live-stream audio. This means users in China could start seeing audio for live podcasts, talk shows and concerts show up alongside other TikTok fare like humorous videos or dangerous stunts.

The feature is currently reserved for people using the beta version of the app and can be found under a third option on the app’s live-streaming page next to “game live streaming” and “video live streaming” options. Douyin’s live audio shows allow up to eight people to chat with the host at once, but an unlimited number of users are allowed to tune in.

Douyin’s live audio shows page is very clean. There are eight seats listeners can try to snag to be allowed to chat with the host of the show. (Picture: Weibo)

The move is seen by some industry watchers and content creators as ByteDance trying to leverage its massive user base to expand into the live audio. As in other countries, podcasts have become popular in China, but live audio shows have also been taking off recently.

Industry heavyweights include Ximalaya, Lizhi and Dragonfly FM. China could have as many as 542 million people consuming online audio content this year, according to a projection by iiMedia Research. Live audio appeals to younger users in particular, with 57% of listeners being under the age of 35, according to Analysys.

What could be so fascinating that people want to hear it live? The top three genres are music, entertainment and shows about relationships.

Even though the industry has entrenched incumbents, some industry watchers say Douyin’s foray into live audio can open up new opportunities for both users and content creators.

“Today, Ximalaya’s most popular live audio shows only have 300 live audience [members] during the day. It’s a lot smaller than Douyin’s live-streaming views, which can easily reach above 10,000 live audience [members],” said Jenny Chen, COO of social media agency WalktheChat.

Douyin’s audience of 400 million daily active users many times larger than that of Ximalaya, Chen added, so the company could help grow the industry.

Online sales guru Zhang Youwei is excited to see how live audio shows fare on Douyin. Zhang already uses live audio shows on his own website to teach sales classes to business professionals. He said he’s been thinking about creating content for audio platforms like Ximalaya or Lizhi, although most of his premium classes are reserved for his site. But as they exist today, these platforms don’t give new users like him the exposure and traffic that he wants, Zhang said.

“It’s hard to get to the top with the existing platforms now,” Zhang said. “I’m considering starting a live audio show on Douyin for sure… After all, Douyin has 400 million users.”

But it’s not a foregone conclusion that Douyin can get content creators on board. Douyin has already been moving into super app territory by adding a host of unrelated features. The platform now includes various mini programs and games. And as more features are added, some are skeptical about the app’s direction.

“The majority of Douyin users only want to watch videos on the app,” tech columnist Mo Qian wrote. “But Douyin has made its app more and more complicated and unwieldy.”