How podcasts are on the rise in India

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India has become the third largest podcast listening market in the world after China and the USA

Nirupama Venkat had trouble sleeping during lockdown last year. To keep herself busy, she watched YouTube videos or films and series on OTT platforms.

This only made the insomnia worse. To prevent her from entering the video rabbit hole, she decided to go with the podcast app she downloaded a few months ago.

“I’ve heard BodhiCommons (a series of lectures on sociopolitical issues). It felt like someone was talking to you, ”she says. It also helped her sleep better.

Nirupama is now a regular podcast listener. She produces a monthly podcast: What’s Next? In the social sciences with her friend.

There are many like Nirupama who listened to and created podcasts in India last year.

Spotify’s own Anchor, a podcast platform, added more than 25,000 podcasts from India in 2020. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Media and Entertainment Outlook 2020 report, India has become the third largest podcast listening market in the world after China and China, the US with 57.6 million monthly listeners.

But why are podcasts popular in India?

Intimate and not intrusive

“Podcast” could be a new term in India. “But it’s not too different from hearing our grandparents’ stories,” says Amarjit Singh Batra, Managing Director – India, Spotify. “Storytelling is something that is ingrained in our culture.”

Audiovisual content such as a web series or film also tells stories. But podcasts are more intimate, according to Amarjit. “It feels like you are literally sitting next to the podcaster. That experience of camaraderie is so powerful, ”he says.

The actor-podcaster Mantra Mugdh, whose audio production house MnM Talkies produces podcasts of various genres, explains: “[Audio-visual and audio-only] are two different worlds. There is no competition between them. It’s like we keep reading books even as the stories in them are turned into movies and shows. “

India’s familiarity with radio is another reason its people jump on the podcast bandwagon. Unlike television and other screens that require special attention, radio rarely stops household routines. “Similar to the radio, podcasts can also be in the background when you are doing your other work,” says Mantra, who was also RJ.

How podcasts are on the rise in India

Kavita Rajwade, co-founder of Indian Vox Media (IVM), a podcast network launched in 2015, agrees. “I think we are a country where there is not enough time. And video, as opposed to audio, requires a lot more engagement, which makes multitasking possible, ”she says.

This nondescript nature of podcasts is one reason for their boom during the pandemic. According to Kavita, IVM’s listeners grew by over 30% during the lockdown. “We were initially concerned when cars drove off the road because we usually see a huge jump in fuel consumption during driving time. And now people could be home watching shows. But that excitement soon subsided. They still had to wash dishes, take their dogs for walks, clean their rooms … So the chores replaced the driving time. And the consumption rate was high throughout the day. “

Abundance of genres

Platforms like Anchor and Spreaker have made it easy to record, edit, and share podcasts from the comfort of your own home. There aren’t a lot of topics that you can’t find podcasts related to.

Spotify lists Arts & Entertainment, Education, and Lifestyle & Health as the most popular genres in India. For JioSaavn these are comedy, film & television and storytelling. So no genre surpasses the rest. However, if we broaden the classification, nonfiction podcasts are more numerous than fiction. This is also the case globally. For example, these are the five most popular Podify podcasts of 2020: The Joe Rogan Experience, TED Talks Daily, The Daily, Michelle Obama Podcast, and Call Her Daddy. All five are non-fiction. The conversational non-fiction podcasts are in most cases easier to produce than fiction. You don’t need the speakers, audio effects, and studio setup that are essential to a good fiction podcast. Hence the spread of non-fiction books. But it’s difficult to stand out from a large crowd.

“Ultimately, the content should be good and unique,” ​​says IVM’s Kavita. “Although we only focus on non-fiction, we managed to get pretty popular by focusing on Indian stories. The challenge for us is to find the right people to talk about things. We also talk about topics that people rarely discuss. Public policy, for example, is our second most popular genre. “

How podcasts are on the rise in India

According to Mantra, fictional podcasts have great potential in India. “Audio fiction is a genre that has not yet been explored. But we’re always used to that. Decades ago, Hawa Mahal was one of the most sought-after radio programs in India. Families sat together in front of their radios and waited for the show. Plus, people have heard movies like Sholay. “Mantra’s detective series, Bhaskar Bose, is among the top 10 podcasts on Spotify in India. His audio production house also did a psychological thriller show for Audible, Kaali Awaazein, with Amitabh Bachchan.

Mythology is a genre that has always been popular in India, says Bijay Gautam, co-founder of WYN Studios. Heirs of The Pandavas, a spin-off series from The Mahabharata narrated by spokesperson Nikesh Murali, received over 100,000 streams for its first 10 episodes. Bijay and Murali expect an increase in audience this year. “The plan is to create something like The Lord of the Rings for an Indian audience,” says the latter.

Speak many languages

When IVM started in 2015, most of the Indian podcasts were in English. Listeners and producers came from big cities. However, this trend is changing rapidly. All major hosting platforms, including IVM, are focused on regional podcasters and listeners. Kadhai Podcasts Ponniyin Selvan, telling Kalki Krishnamurthy’s classic Tamil novel, is IVM’s most popular show. JioSaavn claims the number of regional language podcasts listed on its platform has increased 150 times since 2019. “Since October 2019 we have seen a great deal of interest and engagement in Tamil content as our MindVoice podcast with RJ Balaji was brought to a million streams in less than six months,” said a spokesman for JioSaavn.

Rakesh Tiwari’s Millennial Kavi was the most streamed (2.6 million streams) JioSaavn podcast of 2020. On the weekly show, Rakesh recites Hinglish poems on various topics in less than five minutes (example: real estate agent, user manuals, and ex-weddings) .

Rakesh, who is from Benaras, was a huge fan of the radio and grew up. “I always wanted to do something in the audio sector. [Radio journalist] Neelesh Mishra was an inspiration, ”he says. “During my studies in 2007/08, I even interned for radio stations. But it did not work. So I joined the BPO space for 12 years. But I used that time to practice my poetry, create a financial backup, and socialize. After the JioSaavn podcast was published, I quit my job to do it full time. “

Podcasting can also be a source of income thanks to platforms like Spotify and IVM. But do these platforms make money from podcasts? “Not yet,” says Kavita, “podcast advertising in India has yet to start.” Unlike on TV or radio, you don’t expect commercial breaks in podcasts. Therefore, as in the USA, the ads must be integrated into the podcasts. It will take a couple of years. “

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report estimates India will experience an average annual growth rate of 30.4% in its monthly podcast listener base over the next five years. This boom in podcasts may just be the beginning.