Technology now allows companies to track the number of people who listen to a podcast; the device it is being consumed on; and the demographics. (iStock)
Technology now allows companies to track the number of people who listen to a podcast; the device it is being consumed on; and the demographics. (iStock)

Cheaper data, vernacular content help podcasts get a sound hearing in India

  • AI-enabled content aggregators are thriving in India due to increasing digital penetration
  • Vernacular internet users will drive the next phase of internet adoption in India and will be more than 2.5 times of the English internet user base by 2021

Gautam Raj Anand has just spent his hour-long commute listening to “Paranormal Reality"—a podcast about the journey of a man who is trying to uncover the reality of the paranormal. Anand also happens to be the founder and CEO of Hubhopper, an AI-enabled content aggregator that claims to be India’s largest podcast directory that connects content creators of varying genres with different types of content consumers.

Launched in 2015, Hubhopper is part of the growing podcasting industry in India, that has seen newer entrants such as Google Podcasts, JioSaavn, BookMyShow’s Jukebox, Indus Vox Media and Castbox, focusing on India-centric audio content.

All these companies are thriving in India due to increasing digital penetration, the cost-effectiveness of smart mobile devices, vernacular content diversity and long commute times in public transports.

According to a report by KPMG and Google, vernacular internet users will drive the next phase of internet adoption in India and will be more than 2.5 times of the English internet user base by 2021. Nine out of 10 new internet users between 2016 and 2021 will use local languages. “Podcasting as a medium has existed for more than a decade.

However, the reason it never meaningfully took off was because the ‘listens’ (number of people who listen) and other relevant metrics could not be effectively captured and thus, agencies and brands were wary of advertising on the medium. This led to many content creators, especially the bigger publishers staying away from creating podcasts as monetization remained a key challenge," says Aman Goklani, head of Indian operations, Audioboom—a leading audio platform for hosting, distributing and monetizing content. He points out that technology now allows companies to track the number of people who listen to a podcast; the device it is being consumed on; and the demographics. “Using technology, we can also stitch audio ads within podcasts," he adds.

Audioboom’s India data reveals there were 1.95 million listens in August 2018—up nine times in the last 20 months, with 700-plus active channels. According to National Public Radio (NPR), 335,828 NPR podcasts were downloaded in India in 2018. According to Google, India is among the top five countries using its podcast app since 2018. It claims that podcasts have become a hit among millennials as they resonate with their on-demand mentality and content and knowledge consumption patterns: on the go, easy to use, and based on real content.

According to Robin Bhaduri, product marketing manager at Google, the company is “working with the ecosystem to help bring more diverse content to podcast listeners via the Google Podcasts creator programme". Google, adds Bhaduri, also plans to introduce a range of features that “use AI to enhance the podcast listening experience".

Anand, who prefers the term audio to podcast, reasons, “Audio has been consumed for the last eight decades in India. It has just not been consumed on the smartphone earlier. But today, since both data and devices are now cheaper, Indians are gravitating towards audio."

Anand, on his part, believes the consumption trend of people involves listening to the scriptures like the Granth Sahib and the Bhagwat Gita, five-minute grammar podcasts, and six minutes of learning English. His company is “capitalizing on Indianized content" and has also tied up with companies like Ola and Uber to allow customers to listen to podcasts on the go.

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