Home >News >India >In lockdown, audio streaming platforms pivot to podcasts to draw listeners

NEW DELHI: With people home all day due to the covid-19 pandemic, audio streaming platforms are seeing an opportunity for podcasts to draw more listeners.

Since the lockdown began, commutes have come to a standstill and as a result audio streaming platforms have seen a 32% drop in consumption, according to a report by television viewership agency BARC and data measurement firm Nielsen. These platforms are now banking on podcasts, which offer a range of content, from entertainment and motivational messaging to meditation and politics, as a means to drive engagement.

“Podcast listening creates a little bubble of privacy as it is a very personal experience," said Kavita Rajwade, co-founder, IVM Podcasts. The platform has seen a 125% increase in consumption of some of its content. “The initial excitement of being able to consume large amounts of video has led to some medium fatigue considering we weren’t preparing for this long a time in isolation," she said. That’s where podcast platforms see an opportunity.

The gap between weekday and weekend listening has halved now, said co-founder Amit Doshi. IVM would earlier observe a drop in traffic on weekends as people were not commuting. They’re trying to keep content light believing that feel-good shows are what fresh listeners want at this time.

"Podcasts are non-intrusive in the sense that they give people good company while they do other things," said Ramesh Menon, chief business officer, HT Media Ltd, adding that religious, mythological and entertainment stories do best on its HT Smartcast platform, which was launched four months ago.

HT Smartcast's curation of podcast offerings hit 5 million listeners as of April, and is aiming for 1.5 million more in May. Shows such as Sonal Kalra’s Tension Not on how to stay calm and Crazy for Kishore, hosted by singer Kishore Kumar’s son Amit, are hits. Other shows that do well include Mint’s Rediscovering Gandhi and Prashant Jha’s political podcasts, besides morning and evening news-based shows. Its content is also available on more than 30 other podcast platforms. HT Media Ltd is the publisher of Mint and Hindustan Times.

JioSaavn, the app integration of JioMusic and Saavn, has announced a new podcast line-up covering diverse millennial-centric topics and social issues. “Podcasting might have been novel for India in 2016, when JioSaavn first forayed into the category but today it is a household staple for entertainment and information," said Kirthi Shetty, associate vice-president, creative production, JioSaavn. Their shows are under 20 minutes long and most are in both Hindi and English. “We are confident that these shows will resonate with our growing audience of urban Indian millennials," Shetty said.

This April, Swedish streaming service Spotify introduced new podcast playlists, including Crime Scene and Brain Snacks, localized for each market. The platform has reported an increased interest in news podcasts, and put together a covid-19 hub or a collection of podcasts from platforms such as CNN, BBC World, ABC News and others. Earlier this week, Spotify announced 12 new non-fiction podcasts, and content from radio channels Radio City and Big FM, and podcast network Aawaz.com.

Gaana, the audio streaming service owned by Times Internet Ltd, has also reported a 24% surge in motivational or self-help podcasts as people look for inspiration in these challenging times.

As of December 2019, only 40 million of India’s nearly 500 million internet users listen to podcasts. The number, though, is growing rapidly. “Habit formation around listening to pod hosts brings about a feeling of hanging out with your friends and hence one will look forward to tuning in every week. Podcasts can entertain, counsel, inform, teach without too much screen engagement and hence facilitate multi-tasking, which at a time like this important," Rajwade of IVM Podcasts said.

Commenting on the future of podcasts, HT Media’s Menon said consumer awareness has improved dramatically and habit formation has started. “Now it’s quality content and virality that will drive exponential growth, just the way it happened for television, video and OTT, but much faster," he said.

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