How podcasting is becoming increasingly mainstream during pandemic times

Podcast listening has increased markedly in India in the past few years. According to a PwC report, monthly listeners (defined as people who listened to at least one podcast in the last month) totalled 4 crore at the end of 2018, up a sharp 57.6% from 2.54 crore in the previous year. This made India the world’s third-largest podcast-listening market (after China and the US), although it ranks much lower on a per capita basis. Growth is set to continue over the forecast period with listener numbers set to increase at a 34.5% CAGR to 17.61 crore by 2023. 

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The pandemic period and the lockdowns have further exacerbated the growth of podcast listenership in the country. In the last one and half years, several major media and social media players have upped their podcasting game. Earlier this month, Sony Pictures Networks India became the first major Indian broadcast company to venture into audio streaming with the ‘Go-Beyond Podcast’. The specially curated podcast celebrates individuals who have been exemplary in dealing with the cards that life dealt them. 

Extending its commitment towards providing top-notch content to its viewers on its digital arm, ABP Live, ABP Network has introduced a suite of new programming within its audio content catalogue. ABP Live has recently partnered with HappyPlus Consulting to launch the ‘Happiness Express’ Podcast series. The series of podcasts is hosted by radio jockey Dilip and HappyPlus Consulting Founder and CEO Dr Ashish Ambasta, where the latter will share his views and tips to manage workplace stress and to strike a balance between work and personal life. 

Facebook has announced its new integration with Spotify, which enables users to listen and to share music tracks and podcast episodes directly on Facebook without opening any other app. 

In April 2021, Amazon Prime Music announced the launch of podcasts in India, which is available to all Prime members at no additional cost. Customers can now have access to locally popular shows by creators, including Jay Shetty, Cyrus Broacha, Neil Bhatt, Robin Sharma, Sadhguru, Anupam Gupta, among others, as well as international Amazon Originals produced exclusively for Amazon Prime Music customers in multiple languages across motivation, business, technology, comedy, music, fitness and more. 

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The growth story 

"If you started listening to a podcast in the lockdown, chances are you will likely continue to listen to them once the lockdown lifts, Amit Doshi, Founder, IVM"

Commenting on consumers’ content consumption during the pandemic times, Amit Doshi, Founder, IVM, said, “When calibrating content across shows, the most important thing is to try and deliver what consumers want, and we have always tried to get as much feedback from our listeners as we can. While times are challenging, we live in a world of constant communication and with a little attention, we can figure out how to effectively deliver as per listener preferences.” 

"With potential consumers tuning out of most other forms of advertising, it has become crucial for advertisers to find a way to break through this clutter of branded messaging to successfully find a way to reach audiences, Ishani Dasgupta- Lead of Podcast Partnerships, JioSaavn"

Speaking about the growth of the podcast industry in India, Ishani Dasgupta, Lead of Podcast Partnerships, JioSaavn, observed, “Podcasting on the whole has grown in India over the course of the pandemic. On the consumer end, screen fatigue, compounded with the need to stay informed, increase one’s knowledge or simply stay entertained, has motivated many to explore alternate mediums. Enter Podcasts. On the creator end, we have seen exponential growth not only in the number of independent first-time creators and podcasters that are successfully creating content, but also among established media networks that are also now adding podcasts as a part of their content offerings. Even on the technology front, we have a lot more homegrown solutions for hosting and distribution of podcast content.” 

"The market for podcast consumption is growing day on day in India and with it brings myriad opportunities for Indian creators, Kirthi Shetty - AVP of Creative Production, JioSaavn"

Kirthi Shetty, AVP of Creative Production, JioSaavn, added here, “Given the times that we live in, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to have their voice heard. Over the course of a year, we have found that people are longing for a depth of understanding and connection. Creators who are able to generate content of relevance be it on culture, comedy or storytelling are doing a wonderful job of keeping their audiences engaged. Having said that, there is no one formula to keep up with consumer demands. Our data has shown that spiritual and wellness content is drawing considerable attention. People are engaging with content that is relevant and real, helping them connect and even relieve the considerable stress that’s been brought on by the pandemic.” 

"Audio streaming emerged as a popular behaviour, given that it can be consumed anytime, anywhere, and on almost any device. Unni Nambudripad, Executive Producer – Podcasts, Spotify India"

At the same time, Unni Nambudripad, Executive Producer – Podcasts, Spotify India, noted that the biggest challenge for creators today is understanding and accounting for the times we live in, ensuring that they are able to provide content that gives listeners the comfort they seek and support their daily routines, while conditions continue to evolve. 

He further said, “We believe that everyone should have the mic, and this is why Spotify is deeply invested in nurturing the creator community to increase the potential of localised and personalised storytelling, for creators to reach out to right the listeners and vice versa. We want to ease the process of making podcasts through simple and free tools such as Anchor, which allow creators access and control to industry-leading podcast creation, hosting, distribution, and analytics services.” 

What consumers want? 

"A podcast which is heard by a large audience will offer more breadth, whereas a podcast which is heard by a smaller but much more engaged audience will offer more depth, Vipul Bathwal, Strategy & Monetization Head, Gaana"

According to Vipul Bathwal, Strategy & Monetization Head, Gaana, “On the demand side, consumers are also seeking more value from audio platforms in the form of podcasts related to yoga meditation, self help, etc. Apart from this, traditional Indian storytelling – mythological, devotional, romantic and socio-cultural – is also finding many takers.” 

To cater to the growing demand of relevant content for the Indian audience, Gaana has commissioned a number of original podcasts in a variety of categories. Original podcasts like ‘Ummeed with Zakir Khan’, ‘Jamna Paar ka Jasoos’, ‘Ikk Kudi with Jasleen Royal’ and recently launched original audiobooks – ‘Mere Samne wali Khidki’ and ‘Malavgarj ki Malvika’ – provide a wide array of  content for the Indian podcast listener to sample from. 

Potential of podcast advertising 

With the growing consumption of podcast content, brands are warming up to the potential of podcast advertising. Advertising within podcasts provides a whole array of advantages – right from dynamic hyper targeted ad insertions to customisable host reads. 

"Audio streaming has high potential for growth, given the medium’s immersive nature and listeners' increasing need to break away from the visual medium, Arjun Kolady, Head of Sales, Spotify India"

Speaking about brands’ interest in the audio industry, Arjun Kolady, Head of Sales Spotify India, observed, “As listeners in India increasingly turn to music and podcasts, there’s a growing opportunity for brands to reach audiences in a more meaningful and targeted way, through audio. Take for instance, Bumble – the brand used Spotify ads to promote their podcast, ‘Is Romance Dead’, which fit in well with their brand strategy and the audience.” 

"Brands are beginning to realise that the average podcast listener is engaged and actively seeking out the content they consume, Sanjeev Mehta, Business Head, IVM"

Sanjeev Mehta, Business Head, IVM, added here, “Brands are beginning to realise that the average podcast listener is engaged and actively seeking out the content they consume. And there are a number of ways to leverage this attention from branded content, sponsorship and other ways that we may not even have thought of yet.” 

Monetisation of podcasts happens only if one increases its listenership base and identifies the correct target audience. It needs patience and a long term strategy planning, as well as close monitoring of the performance via analytics available to the podcasters/ creators, which will help them to make adjustments in their content based on consumption trends. 

Talking about the newer strategies that creators/ podcasters need to adopt for monetising podcasts, Arjun Kolady pointed out, “Globally, podcasting identifies as a great way to repurpose content, strengthen relationships with existing listeners and broaden appeal to newer audiences. In more mature markets such as the US, it also offers a lot of room for monetisation by channelling advertisement revenues. Creators can tap into these opportunities by assessing and availing options that fit best, including paid podcast platforms, paid promotions, sponsors, affiliate marketing and advertisements. In the near future, we will see creators in India monetising podcasts, but for that, it is important they begin today and build their listener base, so that brands are keen to associate with them when they are ready.” 

On the launch of new audio-socio platform Clubhouse, which has already started engaging the listeners with its new features and exciting invites, Vipul Bathwal of Gaana, remarked, “It is too early to say how Clubhouse will impact the podcasting ecosystem in India, especially because until very recently, it was an iOS only app. However, platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces are live social audio platforms, which have a very different set of attributes compared to podcasts. Adoption of social audio by these platforms will probably drive adoption of pure audio as a content creation and consumption medium. This might benefit the adoption of podcasts in the long term.” 

When asked how the podcast journey looks like in the next five years, Doshi replied that it seems quite promising at the moment and with an increased presence in mainstream media, unprecedented growth can be expected, especially if it is fuelled by a growth in language podcasts. 

According to Ishani Dasgupta, the podcast industry in India is growing and will continue to do so for years to come. Innovations and advancements in ad-tech within podcasts will most certainly be a contributing factor to podcast growth and adoption among factors such as creation of content in different regional languages as well. 

(Edited and additional inputs by Shanta Saikia.)


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