The podcasting hype house from hell

The Crypto Daily - Movers and Shakers - May 5, 2021

You’re the star at the podcasting hype house Peter Vincer, the man behind the hype house and the CEO of HiStudios, gave me a lofty spiel ahead of the company’s launch in August 2019. He envisioned a global podcast network with influencers and athletes and shows that would become international hits. He name-dropped Mike Tyson, Penny Hardaway, and Zane and Heath, and he said the company had a deal with Studio71, which works with top YouTubers like Marques Brownlee. Vincer and his team would help launch their shows not just in the US, but in China, too, thanks to HiStudios’ ties to Himalaya, a US podcasting startup funded by the massive Chinese audio company Ximalaya. (Yes, it’s just a one letter difference and very confusing.)

When Steele walked into the HiStudios hype house for the first time, he found an oasis, one you wouldn’t expect to come with the territory of being a podcaster. Even the biggest podcaster in the world, Joe Rogan, records in a studio resembling an underground bunker. But here, alongside two studios equipped with hardware and support staff, was a vast view of Los Angeles and the cachet that comes with it. “It was the professional element,” Steele says when asked why he chose to work with HiStudios, a company spun out of the buzzy podcasting startup Himalaya. “Basically, me having shows that are on the verge of being something great, they had a purpose there. It was a nice place.” It was a bold ambition, but everyone in the podcast space pitches something. So after writing about HiStudios that summer, I didn’t hear or think much about them again. That is, until things started falling apart.

“I don’t want to have nothing to do with this dude no more,” Steele says about Vincer now. “It’s real easy to get caught up in the allure of that house. He may have it clean one day, and next thing you know, you sign the bullshit contract with some dude, and you get took.”

The story of the hype house starts, as many do, with the promise of money. Specifically, the chance to cash in on the burgeoning podcast industry. Podcasting has been thrust into the limelight over the past few years. Nearly every big tech company — from Apple and Google to Spotify and Facebook — is now involved in the space, and radio companies like iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Audacy, and SiriusXM have incorporated podcasting into their radio businesses. And these would-be podcast hitmakers have signed huge names, like Kim Kardashian, the Clinton family, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to their networks. Collectively, these companies have spent billions of dollars on acquisitions in an attempt to become the dominant names in audio. The industry is expected to exceed $1 billion in revenue this year, according to a recent study. But these companies are playing the long game, believing they can bring billions more dollars into the space through their own investments. Audio content is already huge in some countries, and in China, Ximalaya dominates. The company says 250 million people use its app every month; users spent more than 1.5 billion minutes listening in 2020. It filed to go public in the US in April this year and was reportedly valued at over $3 billion in 2018. So, of course, the company decided to try to replicate its success stateside through an offshoot called Himalaya.

Himalaya announced its arrival in February 2019 with a podcast player and list of exclusive shows, including a partnership with the Dallas Mavericks. In a debut Variety piece, the company boasted about a $100 million investment led by Ximalaya, as well as from General Atlantic and SIG. It really seemed like the company could find a place in the industry, if for no other reason than having cash in the bank. (Disclosure: General Atlantic is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.) But with Vincer and the hype house, Himalaya got more than it bargained for. In less than a year, what was intended to be a schmoozy haven for creators turned into a perplexing world of cocaine, dog poo, and unpaid bills, according to more than a dozen people who spoke with The Verge. All the stories centered on one man: Vincer.

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