Why podcasters are betting on desi content Entrepreneurs are seeing potential in the audio world as longer commutes and faster data make podcasts attractive to new listeners
In the past two years, Gautam Raj Anand says he’s read more books than he has in his 27 years — and that’s because he’s listening to them, not poring over every word. The founder and CEO of Hubhopper, a Delhi-based podcasts aggregator, says it’s his own experience of the ease of using audiobooks that convinced him of the medium’s potential.
Anand started Hubhopper as a social network in 2015, but pivoted to an AI-enabled repository of podcasts, and he’s now aiming to create a community of podcasters in regional languages. “One way to do that is to disassociate the medium from the word ‘podcast’. We need to escape the niche and elitist impression it creates,” he says. Audio content has been popular for decades in India, and it’s just a matter of reviving it, he believes. Hubhopper has raised four rounds of funding, including an undisclosed pre-series A investment from a VC firm. It receives close to 100 creator requests on its platform every week, but only 25% of the leads make the cut.
Early trends indicate that 2019 may be the year of audio, say experts. In 2018, Amazon launched its audiobooks platform Audible in India as did Google its Audiobooks. Last year, Sweden-based audiobooks firm Storytel started an Indian arm. Media reports suggest that streaming major Spotify is set to look beyond music and enter the podcasting world, with India on its priority list. AudioBoom, a global on-demand audio platform, estimates that India has over 10 lakh average listens per month for podcasts with 80% of listeners in the age group of 18-34.
Storytel India’s Yogesh Dashrath of says the group took “a courageous leap” betting on India’s audio space in 2017. “The effect of Jio on smartphones and Netflix on the subscription business model has helped increase the appeal of audio,” he says.
Convenience is at the heart of podcasts’ popularity. Increasing commute times, faster data, smartphone penetration, and the country’s preference for content that doesn’t need one’s full attention make the audio space ripe for entrepreneurs to venture into. IVM, Audiomatic and Indicast host narrative audio content in news, sports, pop culture and entrepreneurship. Media enterprises also are tapping podcasts.
Audiomatic, co-founded by Rajesh Tahil and Tariq Ansari in 2015, pegs itself as a spot for quality narrative content and hosts five shows across culture, current affairs and food. Tahil says Audiomatic is currently in a phase of “market discovery”, and is trying to spread podcasts beyond the niche audience it currently enjoys. While he refused to disclose listener metrics, he said the self-funded Audiomatic’s adoption has grown 300% in three years.
One of the most popular genres is startup-themed podcasts. From Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale to The Indian Startup Show by Neil Patel, entrepreneurs are lapping up insights on leadership, innovation and productivity via podcasts. “Given an entrepreneur’s hectic lifestyle, podcasts are a huge resource for growing your enterprise,” says Hubhopper’s Anand, adding that podcasts have been his single source of support in scaling up his business.
Content creators say the barriers to entry are low in this space, given the basic technical requirements. Bengaluru-based couple Saif Omar and Faiza Khan started their travel podcast The Musafir Stories as a side hustle last year as they felt the need for Indian podcasts in a sea of western content. Now in its 49th episode and with an average of 5,000 listeners per episode, the podcast features chats with travel bloggers. “Podcasts allow for multitasking and passive consumption, which is what suits people today,” says Omar.
That’s what got Neil Patel, UKbased creator and host of The Indian Startup Show, hooked to podcasts. “I started listening to podcasts to block out the monotonous music at the gym,” he says. With over 450,000 downloads, the show recently completed 100 episodes with 63% of listeners from India.
There is a hitch though: Since 2012, only three Indian startups in the podcasting space have received funding, but mostly undisclosed or negligible amounts, according to data from analytics startup Venture Intelligence. One reason for the slow offtake could be the fact that monetising a podcast is still difficult as it’s hard to pin down the number of listeners — which is the basic metric advertisers want before putting up money. Most analytics record download numbers, which is no guar- antee that the podcast was heard. Writing in the Nieman Lab Journal this week, Nicholas Quah observes, “Things can only really change if the industry is able to successfully shift its analytics paradigm towards a ‘true’ listening metric — that is, a universe in which publishers can sell advertising based on actual consumption, not episode delivery.”
“Only a handful of podcasts make money via advertising. Advertisers will offer around $20 per 1,000 listeners, so you need 100,000+ listeners to make a decent amount,” Patel wrote in his blog in 2016. There have been changes since. A PwC study estimated that globally podcast revenues will see a 110% growth between 2017 and 2020.
“In any other medium, advertising is about renting space, while here, brands essentially buy space,” says Anand, pointing to increased interest in Hubhopper with MakeMyTrip and HostGator advertising on its podcasts. Omar of Musafir Stories believes the medium needs a single large driving platform — a YouTube equivalent for the audio world to drive growth and revenues.
Content creators, large or small, are looking to the potential of regional language content. A KPMG report says nine out of 10 new internet users in India over the next five years are likely to be Indian language users. Entertainment and chat are the top categories for Indian language users, it observes.
Shailesh Sawlani of Audible says they have “a multi-year plan” to get into local language content and ensure that customers with low-storage phones will be able to use Audible. “With an existing pool of tens of thousands of Indian customers, we know there is an appetite for quality spoken-word content and that a dedicated offering would help us cater to their requirements,” he said.
Anand is certain that Audible’s entry will be an inflection point for the audio space. “Amazon does not play on a whim, and their decision (to enter a new market) generally flows from nuanced data,” he says. Go watch a movie. Don’t react instantly. I take a moment, take some time to separate myself from the problem, a movie usually works. It gives the mind time to recalibrate. Then, I identify the source of the issue and address it directly or talk to someone who is knowledgeable and would be able to give me an objective view. It’s widely believed that the most successful entrepreneurs are young — and the poster boys are Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who started companies in their early 20s. Venture capitalists and media reports seem
to reinforce this too, but research shows that these are outliers and it’s entrepreneurs with experience who
are more successful over time
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TALES OF THE ROAD: Bengaluru-based Faiza Khan and Saif Omar, who started Musafir Stories as they felt the need for Indian podcasts in a sea of western content, say podcasts need a YouTube-style platform to grow faster