Yash Bhatia

Luminary is looking to create stories from India: Akhila Shankar, director - international

US-headquartered podcasting platform Luminary has arrived in India with two shows. It plans to develop listenership for its subscription-only content in the country.

A recent RedSeer report reveals that podcasts constituted 1% of the total time spent on online entertainment in October 2021.

Seeing this opportunity, Luminary, a global podcast and audio entertainment network, has decided to enter the Indian market by launching two original South Asian podcasts, featuring fashion designer Masaba Gupta and actor Konkona Sen Sharma.

The platform runs on a subscription model and charges Rs 99 per month, and intro offer(till January) that charges 699/year and Rs999/year after it. It will include both forms of podcasts: narrative and interviews.

Talking about the company’s strategy to enter the Indian market, Akhila Shankar, director - international, Luminary, says, “We have a legacy of creating elevated audio from talents who are thoughtful voices of the world. The artistes we pick, have a unique point of view of the world. They have engaged fan communities because of their unique voices. In India, we’re working with some local talents who can tell stories that are important to India.”

"We have a legacy of creating elevated audio from talents who are thoughtful voices of the world."

Tier-II, III cities: the untapped market 

With podcasts becoming popular in the country, Tier-II and III cities are turning out to be the game changers in the industry. In these cities, the listeners are tuning into podcasts in their own regional languages. 

“We are looking to create more stories from India. Stories that resonate with the Indian audience."

“We are looking to go deep into every region of India. We are looking to create more stories from India. Stories that resonate with the Indian audience. And, the plan to target Tier-II and III cities, is definitely on the pipeline,” says Shankar.

“In terms of content, we’re currently working on four verticals, i.e., culture, sports, comedy and music. We will evolve and understand what subscribers are looking for and develop as we go.” 

Subscription or ad base: which model to look at? 

Luminary has no plans to tweak its strategy for the India market. Shankar says, “We are purely a subscription-based service and it will be a primary revenue stream. The research that we have gone through to create ‘Barefoot Boys’ (it showcases the rich history of football in India) took us an entire year. To create content of this kind, the subscription model is the best option. We’re not looking to be an ad-funded platform."

Distribution channels 

The podcast industry in India is still at a nascent stage. According to reports, major companies like Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk have forayed into the sector. These three together have 100 million users. International brands, like Spotify, have also been successful here. Apple Music is relatively less popular in India, as the country is mostly an Android phone market. 

Is Luminary looking for a distribution partnership in India, or will it stick to the Apple Music partnership? 

Shankar says, “We have been working with Apple for many years. It has its own podcast application, which is available in over 160 countries. With respect to India, we are looking for distribution partnerships and brands that have the right alignment and values.”

She takes an example, “We launched the Indian-origin show ‘Barefoot Boys’, as right now the FIFA World Cup is going on. It is the biggest event in the world. India has a pretty rich football history, which most people are not aware of. The story originated in 1911, when the Indian team was going toe to toe with the British team.”

“We are looking to elevate these kinds of stories and also the conversations from Indian pop culture icons.”

According to the RedSeer report, the listener base in India has grown from just about four million in 2016 to an estimated 90 million in 2022, due to Internet penetration in the country. But the report also suggests that only 12% of the Indian population has ever listened to a podcast, which indicates immense room for growth.

“India is uniquely positioned to be successful, as far as podcasts go. It is actually the third-largest market for podcasting, and an exceptional growth has been seen, post-COVID. We’re looking at this as a growing category. The Indian market can become a huge opportunity for us”, Shankar adds.

Luminary hosted ‘The Midnight Miracle’, a show by Dave Chapelle, Yaslin Bey and Talib Kweli. It has featured in Apple podcasts' best shows of 2021, and was one of The New York Times' 10 best podcasts in the same year. But the Indian market is totally different, as compared to the global one, as it has more deep-rooted, cultural values. 

Talking about the USPs of the brand, Shankar mention, “Podcast listeners are not a mass, homogenous audience. They are the people with specific interests. Like the show ‘Barefoot Boys’ appealed to the fans of history and football. The show by Gupta, where she’s talking to self-made women from different genres, will only appeal to a different audience segment.”

“Our USP is content, which is well researched, exclusive shows, and good quality of production. We believe that a podcast is a personal relationship between the host and the listener. That’s the reason we have picked the voices of Gupta and Sharma, who also have a loyal fan base,” Shankar adds.

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