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

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - Sindhu.Har­i­ha­[email protected]

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

CloserDan­galStar WarsIn­di­ana Jones movies

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

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