Is podcast the latest trend amongst millennials in India?

The year 2015 was also when the Indian market came to the notice of Audioboom, a UK-headquartered company that hosts, distributes and helps monetise podcasts.

Is podcast the latest trend amongst millennials in India?
When an email from Apple landed in Mae Mariyam Thomas’s inbox last month, it felt like an affirmation of two leaps of faith she had taken. The first leap was in 2015 when she launched the country’s first indie music podcast, Maed in India, at a time when the concept of listening to a recorded audio series on the internet had not caught popular imagination. The second was her decision to start a podcasting company last year though the medium is yet to mature in India.

Thomas’s podcast, the Apple email said, was one of the top Indian podcasts of 2018. Also, the only other podcast her new company had produced — No Sugarcoat by Pooja Dhingra — had also made it to the Apple list. “I was like, ‘Whaaat’! I felt so honoured,” says Thomas, a former radio jockey who relocated to Mumbai after studying and working in the UK. More podcasts are now in the works, she told ET Magazine.

The year 2015 was also when the Indian market came to the notice of Audioboom, a UK-headquartered company that hosts, distributes and helps monetise podcasts.


While doing the podcast for the ICC during the Cricket World Cup, the company noticed a jump in listenership from India though it wasn’t even present there. “We realised there was a lot of potential,” says Audioboom’s India head Aman Goklani.

Since opening its India office in 2016, the company has worked with more than 70 Indian podcasters and its average monthly listens (the metric used in podcasting, like views in videos) have jumped to 15 lakh from under two lakh in 2016.

In the last six months, Audioboom has also helped several news organisations launch their podcasts. And advertisements, too, have begun trickling in.
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“In a country like India, the potential for spoken audio content is huge. Things are not going to change overnight but it is headed in the right direction,” says Goklani, who believes there are strong undercurrents that will make the medium mainstream in five to 10 years.

Taking It Slow
Talking about the growth of podcasting in India is tricky. For some, the pace has been as frustrating as watching paint dry.

“The adoption rate of podcasts in India is much lower than it should be. The people with the muscle to educate users are not doing it,” says Chhavi Sachdev, an independent producer who has been making podcasts since 2008 and now conducts podcasting workshops.

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The slow growth in India is in stark contrast to the US, where podcasting was a $314 million industry in 2017, or China, where the market size is an estimated $7 billion, thanks to subscription-driven revenue and preference for premium educational content.

In India, the advertising industry is yet to take much notice. “Podcasts will take off when brands see their business increase because of investing in the media. Some will experiment with it, just like a few brands did with social media in the initial days,” says Prashanth Challapalli, COO of Leo Burnett Orchard.

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In India, the content in general also feels uneven, says Sachdev. “Producers and creators lose momentum and direction because the industry is growing so slowly,” she says, leading to a vicious cycle and a phenomenon called ‘podfade’ when, as the name suggests, a podcast fades out.

At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests a growing interest in the medium among the urban Indian millennial familiar with US pop culture. And people are not just talking about what their favourite podcasts are but also about launching their own. As a Twitter user remarked that people are talking about launching podcasts in the same vein they once used to talk about blogging.

Global Boom
US podcast market size in 2017- $314mn
Podcast market size in China in 2018- $7.3bn
Number of podcasts globally- More than 600,000
graph



“The medium is such that you feel as if you are part of the conversation. You also get to hear sides of people you otherwise wouldn’t,” says Dhingra, who owns patisserie Le15 in Mumbai and hosts the podcast No Sugarcoat.

Amit Doshi, co-founder of podcasting network Indus Vox Media (IVM), affirms that the number of individual podcast creators is expanding dramatically. “I get three requests a day now, saying: I’d like to work on a podcast; how can I do so?”

Long Haul
In 2015, when Doshi started IVM, which produces and hosts podcasts, he knew he would have to first build the supply of podcast content before there would be demand.

“That was always going to be a part of our challenge here. There would be no natural progression from broadcast to ondemand.” This was mainly because India never really had a culture of listening to talk radio, unlike many other countries. India has always restricted news and news-related content on private radio networks. This meant talk radio never took off either, and film music dominated radio waves.

Podcasting in India
81,789 Number of National Public Radio (NPR) podcasts downloaded in India in 2015

335,828 Number of NPR podcasts downloaded in India in 2018

Even in the US, which had a rich tradition of radio talk shows, the podcast revolution took its time since it began in 2004. The breakthrough moment came with Apple pre-installing its Podcast app on iPhones and the unprecedented success of the true crime podcast Serial, both in 2014.

Podcast
Podcast

Since then, the number of podcasts, listeners, downloads and advertisements have all been on the uptick — the market size of $314 million in 2017 was an 86% jump from the previous year. Venture capital, too, pumped in over $200 million in podcast platforms and related businesses in 2016, according to Pitchbook.

Those in the podcasting business in India feel things are looking up here, too. National Public Radio, one of the biggest podcast producers in the US, told ET Magazine the number of downloads of its podcasts in India has risen three-fold to 335,828 in 2018 from over 80,000 in 2015.

US Podcast Market
64% of Americans have heard of podcasts

44% have listened to a podcast

26% listen to podcasts monthly

49% listen to podcasts at home

23% listen to podcasts in the car

BBC, whose English podcasts reach a million users globally every week, had two India-focused podcasts in 2018: My Indian Life hosted by actor Kalki Koechlin and WorkLifeIndia, a business programme. “We gave ourselves a fairly low target of 20,000 per episode in India bearing in mind that the market is still quite new and exceeded our expectations, with each episode of My Indian Life getting 30,000 to 50,000 listens,” says Anna Doble, digital editor, BBC World Service.

India is also among the top five countries using the Google Podcasts app since its launch in 2018 though the company declined to share numbers. Intriguingly, despite iPhone’s market share being less than 3% in India, over 20% of IVM’s listens and over 40% of Audioboom’s Indian content consumption are through iPhones. This is one indication of how an app pre-installed on the phone can drive podcast consumption.

Kunal Shah & Mithila Mehta
Kunal Shah & Mithila Mehta
Kunal Shah & Mithila Mehta, creators, Inside Line F1

Music streaming platforms are also showing interest. Gaana, owned by the Times Group, which also publishes ET Magazine, has nearly 20 podcasts and is planning more. “We have seen a niche segment of our users who are very regular listeners of podcasts and this number although pretty small in percentage of our user base is seeing continued growth,” says Gaana CEO Prashan Agarwal.

Challenges to podcasting boom
Lack of awareness about the medium and low adoption Big players in radio industry continue to focus on film music Advertisers and brands yet to come on board in big way Growing popularity of video content.

He says there needs to be breakthrough content to push podcasts into the mainstream. Rival JioSaavn declined to comment for this article.

Betting on Indian Languages
The breakthrough Agarwal is referring to may well come through the regional language market.

Audioboom’s Goklani says though the bulk of their content is in English, most of the listens come from the Hindi content. "I believe Hindi will play a major role in podcasts over time," he says.

Google Podcasts too is focusing on Indian languages through its Creators Program, where it helps train content creators. "Via the program, we are committed to removing barriers to create content in Indian languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and more, as well as languages that are spoken but not necessarily written ¡V Marwari, for example," says Dipti Mehra, Google ' s global communications and public affairs manager.

Money
Money

Another game changer for the medium, says Goklani, would be if Google, like Apple, starts pre-installing its podcast app on Android phones.

Those who have stayed the course in podcasting in India, like Thomas or Formula 1 enthusiasts Kunal Shah and Mithila Mehta, hosts of Inside Line F1 since 2011, are driven by their passion. "We have sometimes recorded an episode at 3 am after returning from work! And there have been times when we have been on the road and had to pull out the phone and start recording," says Mehta.

Amit Doshi
Amit Doshi
“If you’re getting into podcasting thinking you’ll make money today, that’s not practical. But it would also be foolish to assume you’d be doing this for free forever” Amit Doshi, founder, Indus Vox Media

Consistency is as important as the content, they say. It took four years for the first advertising deal to come through. The couple still see the podcast, which ended 2018 with 350,000 listens, as a passion project though more advertisers have expressed interest.
Know your topic well
Know your topic well
Pooja Dhingra, creator, No Sugarcoat

"If you are getting into podcasts thinking you'll make money today, you are not being practical; but it would also be foolish to assume you would be doing this for free forever," says Doshi, whose IVM has been seeing growth double every four months albeit from a small base. "We're going to continue seeing this kind of quick growth," he says.

The biggest dampener in the podcast party remains a crippling lack of awareness. "People don't know what it is or where to consume it. Our real work is getting people to know about this medium," says Goklani. But even that, he believes, is only a matter of time.


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