A look at audio podcasting in India
As we wait for the second instalment of ‘Serial’, a true-crime podcast, a look the audio podcasting scene in India
On 31 May, Serial became the first podcast to win the Peabody Award, which recognizes excellence in radio, TV and online media. Podcasts had been making free audio content available online on everything from sports and culture to political news and history for 10 years. But Serial made podcasting mainstream. Suddenly, media experts began talking about the possibility of monetizing podcasts.
To be sure, the medium had already had some success stories, like podcast celebrity John Lee Dumas who, by his own admission, makes $250,000 (around Rs.16 lakh) a month from Entrepreneurs On Fire. But Serial seemed to make it possible for others to make money from podcasting too.
As we wait for the second instalment of the audio-only show, due to start “this fall”, we look at the podcasting scene in India, share tips on how to start a podcast and talk to digital media experts on what it will take to produce the next Serial out of India.
Zafar Rais, chief executive officer (CEO) of digital marketing agency MindShift Interactive, says the current numbers—of producers and listeners—are so small that no studies have been done on the medium in India yet. He adds that it may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation at the moment: Few listeners come on board because there isn’t enough varied content coming out of India; few content creators are looking at this platform because of its limited potential for virality because there aren’t as many audiences as for, say, videos on YouTube; and few companies are interested to do brand-building exercises or advertise on a platform that has few listeners and significantly fewer content generators.
To be sure, a few podcasts like Indicast—a 10-year-old news, views and reviews podcast—have gained some traction, but most others to have come up in the last decade have sputtered, discontinued or simply remained undiscovered because they are, well, boring. One such show is the 11-month-old freewheeling interdisciplinary talk show SynTalk, produced from Mumbai.
The uptake of audio podcasts in India has been snail-paced, but this is just starting to change, according to Tripti Lochan, CEO of digital marketing agency VML Qais.
The next ‘Serial’
Audiomatic.in, which was launched on 8 April, has already started four podcasts—the Q&A format Ask Aakar Anything with Mint columnist Aakar Patel; The Intersection on science with journalists Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian; The Real Food Podcast with Vikram Doctor of The Economic Times; and the latest, its comedic venture Our Last Week by Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapoor.
Content-wise, “humour, mystery, emotion and anything Bollywood-centric will always work in India”, says Rais.
Lochan suggests something more out of the way if we are to make the next Serial in India. “(First) find a genre of content that is going to reel people in but is not easily available on mainstay channels. For example, hasya kavya samellans or storytelling in local languages (which may attract parents to keep children entertained with quality content).”
Audio podcasting is essentially a form of storytelling; even in a chat format, the narrative needs to be as plain as the emergency lights in the aisle of an aircraft. Part of the reason, of course, is that the audio podcaster, and listeners, don’t have any visuals to fall back on. The other part: “Let’s face it, audio podcasting is not a 100% attention medium,” says Rais. That means, people’s attention can waver, they can tune out. So when you make an important point, repeat it, point out its significance.
Once you’ve picked the area of interest and produced a podcast you love, the next big challenge is getting discovered. Lochan says the key to that is finding “a ready-made distribution channel to leverage. For example, partnerships with channels like Saavn/Gaana.com which have a huge captive audience to boast of. And when users on these platforms are in discovery mode, present podcasts as an alternative form of listening.”
Indicast’s co-host Abhishek Kumar says picking a subject you can come back to week after week, month after month, year after year, also helps with consistency—decide beforehand whether it’s going to be a weekly, fortnightly or a monthly podcast, and publish new content on time. This is important to keep listeners coming back.
The technology for sharing audio podcasts isn’t new, or even complicated. Audio podcasts use the same distribution technology as the news feeds on your mobile phone and personal computer: RSS, or really simple syndication. What this essentially means is that once a user subscribes to a podcast, his/her Internet-enabled device will automatically look for any updates and the downloads are usually small and fast. This is important in a country where consumers contend with poor Internet connectivity and high cost of data on mobile phones.
A still easier way to post a podcast now is to share it on SoundCloud, or Stitcher, or Podbean.
Rais says awareness—both in terms of the ease of producing a podcast and about the podcasts that are running out of India—is still low. While it may still be 10 years before podcasters can monetize audio content here, he says it could be gauged a viable medium for brand-building well before that. While print and TV ads and social media engagement have their own place, audio podcasting could help brands create a more constant engagement with consumers. After all, there are no fixed rules preventing you from podcasting for a few minutes every day. And it doesn’t even have to be direct brand promotion: Rais says formats like a CEO sharing tips on leadership work well. “It’s already started in the US and UK. It will trickle down here, too,” he says.
Lochan says she finds it surprising that podcasting hasn’t already caught on like a forest fire in India, because we love to “talk, chat, and have long commutes to work and back”. Audiomatic.in co-founder Rajesh Tahil says part of the reason, perhaps, is that we don’t have a long tradition of public radio in India.
Lochan agrees, but adds a whimsical suggestion: “The US and the UK have had a more evolved radio host superstars culture where people such as Howard Stern have become icons for generations and their voice is immediately recognizable. But, for India, if podcasts could be a way to bring back, say, Ameen Sayani’s voice to a new generation, it might be interesting.”
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