Aishwarya Ramesh

Explaining the rapid rise of podcasts in India

On Day 3 of Audionxt Week, our panel attempted to decode what led to the rapid rise in creation and consumption of podcasts.

On Day 1 of Audionxt Week, we discussed the factors driving the audio boom in India. Day 2 saw a discussion on the digitisation of radio. On Day 3, a panel got together to attempt to decode the reason for the rapid rise of the popularity of podcasts in India.

audionxt week began on monday (july 26) and ends today (july 30, between 4 and 4.45 p.m). it is part of afaqs!'s flagship 'all week' initiative, which also includes econferences like television week, digipub week, languages week, vdonxt week, cmo week and gaming week.

The conversation began with the fundamental question – what causes an increase in the popularity of radio? Did this format of storytelling exist in India previously?

HT Smartcast’s Menon started off by saying that the format has existed in India, but has only gained popularity – quite surprisingly – over the last 3-4 years.

“We decided to join the bandwagon a year-and-a-half ago and were pleasantly surprised by the response we got. We went from nothing to six million active listeners. It was unexpected for us. In our own minds, we thought it would take much longer to achieve these numbers.”

Menon added that his listeners are fairly young and there’s a clear difference between what younger audiences are consuming, as opposed to other audiences.

“We started with repurposing content. Then, we went on to making original audio shows and things we thought would never work have worked - this includes topics like current affairs and sports.”

Khabri’s Singh agreed that India is a young country and the youth wants content on demand.

“It’s always been a battle between broadcast and narrowcast, and audio has always been a narrowcast situation. This is an exciting time because a few years ago, audio had very few takers. But we, as a country, have essentially always been one of storytellers and story listeners. The late surge of satellite television also gave us the scope to grow. Audio is in our genetics, in that sense. There’s life beyond music in the audio world.”

He recalled his days with Saavn in 2015 and said that he wanted to join just to get a sense of what podcasts were, and eventually, IVM podcasts happened. Singh added that as far as metrics are concerned, radio has a number of concurrent listeners, whereas podcast creators can access real time information about their listeners.

According to him, the audio game is both cost effective and the least effort-oriented, and this encourages creators to come on board. Khabri currently has over 100,000 creators working in the education and self-help space with it.

Rajwade of IVM Podcasts started off by pointing out that time is not an infinite resource, and people want to make the best use of their time. The shift to podcast listening is, in essence, a shift from music listening.

“There’s a huge difference in how you engage with video and how you engage with audio, since the latter is a single sense experience. You can listen to stuff on the go and, at a time like this, podcasts have seen a massive rise in the last year-and-a-half of (COVID-induced) lockdown.”

She added that there has been a shift in the consumption of infotainment and reiterates that, as a country, we’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to podcast consumption – since the most basic barrier they had to break was on what a podcast is in the first place.

Rajwade explained that the rise in listenership is not necessarily only from Tier-II and III cities, but also because podcast content is now available in many more Indian languages. She revealed that ‘Ponniyan Selvan’ – a Tamil podcast, is one of the most popular podcasts on the platform right now.

Menon drew attention to the fact that during lockdown, people were engaging in more activities than ever before. The shift was from going to office and returning home to working on various household chores.

“It’s always easier to do those chores with something on your ears, rather than attempting to do it while immersed in a video. Radio listening, surprisingly, didn’t come down in the lockdown. But whether it is radio or plain simple podcast audio – it went through the roof, in terms of listenership.”

Menon also mentioned that during the first lockdown, the interest in religious content shot through the roof. This included the likes of ‘Ramayan’, ‘Mahabharat’, and the listenership came from Tier-I and II cities, as the content was mostly in Hindi.

Khabri’s Singh added, “The comfort of listening in my language helps. Audio is the theatre of the mind.”

You can watch the full discussion below. Also, to register to attend the final session of the Audionxt conference today, visit this link below.