Pocket FM, an audio app that focuses on long-form content, recently raised $22.4 million from investors. The co-founder and CEO explains why consumption for audio content is surging.
Anand Usha Borkar is a Bhopal-based mechanical engineer, who always wanted to be a full-time writer. He was looking out for opportunities where he could get an existing fan base and reach out to a wide audience. That is when he found out about Pocket FM, an audio OTT platform.
In 2020, Borkar got a chance to write his first audio show, titled ‘Megh Ek Shraap’, for Pocket FM. The Asia Book of Records recognised it for setting a record for podcasting the maximum number (338) of horror story episodes. He then wrote another paranormal horror show, titled ‘Yakshini’ that managed to garner about 100 million plays.
Pocket FM was co-founded in 2018 and offers long-form audio content, including audio shows, stories, novels and podcasts. The idea was conceived by co-founders Rohan Nayak (CEO), Nishanth KS (COO) and Prateek Dixit (CTO).
Speaking to afaqs!, Nayak says, “There was a need for a platform for creators, who wanted to associate (themselves) with high quality audio shows or feature films, and reach out to a wider audience. As far as creating audio shows go, there weren’t any platforms. For the users too, audio content was scattered all around. There was also a need for an audio OTT platform, where users could access high quality entertainment shows.”
Audio streaming has evolved into a very personal experience category. According to EY India’s M&E Reboots report 2021, audio content from across India, for both music and podcasts, is set to explode.
Industry trends also show that the time spent by listeners on streaming audio will continue to increase, as will their willingness to pay for a valuable experience. Another recent industry report states that India is the third-largest consumer of podcasts (after the US and China), with 57.6 million monthly listeners.
RedSeer’s report on the Indian podcast market states that OTT players have successfully created low data usage apps to deliver podcast content, with diversification around vernacular and celebrity-driven content. The mix of free and premium subscription models allows new users to experiment and consume this new form of entertainment.
Pocket FM’s growth story has coincided with the COVID pandemic. However, Nayak says that it’s not just the pandemic-related factors that have led to the platform’s growth, but also its innovations.
While Pocket FM has a diverse set of genres, including entertainment, knowledge and conversational content. Entertainment content has worked well for it.
Nayak informs, “Genres like romance, fantasy, thriller and suspense have worked well for us. The romantic drama show ‘Ye Rishta Kaisa Hai’ has done really well, with about 300 million plays. Another recent paranormal horror show, titled ‘Yakshini’, has also witnessed about 100 million plays. The scale of audio OTT shows is reaching what we’re used to seeing for video OTT shows. This suggests that audio storytelling is now becoming mainstream.”
He adds that in the non-music audio category, entertainment and knowledge will become big categories. Podcasts and live audio will also pick up and, in the coming years, the cluster of non-music audio will become the next big thing.
Many people prefer to listen to audio content, while cooking or doing housework. Nayak informs that the platform has seen an interesting trend of peak consumption happening at 3 p.m., when most people tend to take a break and relax.
Another peak consumption happens at night, right before people go off to sleep. It is a time when people don’t want to look at the mobile, laptop or TV screens. They’d rather put on their earphones and just relax.
“So, these trends made us realise that audio isn’t just limited to when people are doing something else and their eyes are busy. It is also a form that is consumed when people want to relax,” mentions Nayak.
"Audio isn’t just limited to when people are doing something else and their eyes are busy. It is also a form that is consumed when people want to relax."
Pocket FM works on the ‘wait and listen’ subscription model. Nayak feels that multiple innovations are needed on the model. Pocket FM is currently focused on growth, rather than revenue, and is still trying to figure out what kind of subscription model works best for it.
According to Nayak, an interesting way to monetise long-format audio shows is to provide a few episodes for free every day. But in order to access the entire slate of episodes, the users will have to pay a fee. It is a freemium type of subscription model where, instead of putting the entire show behind the paywall, the platform offers a few episodes for free. This has worked well, as audiences, who want to consume content instantly, end up paying the subscription fee.
Most of Pocket FM’s marketing is currently focused on social media. Platforms like YouTube and Instagram have helped it drive awareness around its audio shows. These will be the predominant channels, going forward as well.
Pocket FM’s focus is also on its creator community. “For content business, the users decide which platform/s win in the long run. Our current focus is to build the finest creator community. We have done multiple innovations on the product that have had a compounding impact on our growth. But, at the same time, we need to keep our focus on the creator community,” states Nayak.
The platform isn’t just creating opportunities for writers, voice artistes and content creators to reach a wider audience base. In future, these creators can monetise their audiences and make a living out of it.
Pocket FM’s competition includes the likes of KuKu FM, Audible, Khabri, Headfone and Aawaz.com. Nayak says that a challenge that every audio OTT platform faces is, how to build its creator community, nurture the talent of its creators and further build the audio category as a whole.
"A challenge that every audio OTT platform faces is, how to build its creator community, nurture the talent of its creators and further build the audio category as a whole."
He believes that audio streaming is at an inflection point right now, and hasn’t seen growth because of the lack of platforms and high quality content. “With a bunch of audio-first platforms coming up, the industry has just started its journey. It is poised for exponential growth, not just in India, but globally too,” Nayak signs off.
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