We aim to be the YouTube of podcasters and scale up 20X in the next 12 months: Sandeep Lodha, Gaana
Sandeep Lodha, CEO, GaanaGaana
Sandeep Lodha, CEO, Gaana on all the innovations that is helping the platform stay ahead of the curve
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We aim to be the YouTube of podcasters and scale up 20X in the next 12 months: Sandeep Lodha, Gaana

Sandeep Lodha, CEO, Gaana on all the innovations that is helping the platform stay ahead of the curve
  • Gaana recently reshuffled its management, bringing Sandeep Lodha on board as its CEO.
  • We recently caught up with him and he spoke to us about the potential of the audio streaming space, where India is headed and the platform’s growth trajectory and all that the platform is doing to make sure it holds on to its leadership position.
In the last 1.5 years, as most of us had to lock ourselves in our houses, music gave us that much-needed respite. While a lot of music and podcast consumption used to happen during commute time in the pre-pandemic era, the lockdown led to people using music as a stress buster. Haven’t most of us streamed music in the background to make everyday chores less monotonous?

There has been an increase in both the number of subscribers and the time they spend on audio streaming platforms in 2020. People have been experimenting with the kind of content they listen to, and podcast uptake has seen a significant jump. In fact, a report from KPMG revealed that India is the third-largest podcast-listening market globally and is expected to be valued at Rs 17.62 crore by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 34.5%.

Currently, Times Internet-owned streaming platform Gaana is at the top of India’s audio streaming chart with a 30% market share, according to a study by Kantar and audience measurement and analytics company VTION earlier this year. The platform also recently reshuffled its management, bringing in Sandeep Lodha as its CEO.

We recently got an opportunity to catch up with Lodha who spoke to us about the potential of the audio streaming space, where India is headed and the platform’s growth trajectory.

Excerpts:

Q) Audio streaming has witnessed a boom in India in the past few years, and Gaana has been one of the key players in the segment. In fact, reports reveal you have the market leadership position currently. What are a few things that have helped you get that edge?

Over the years, we have invested heavily in understanding the musical content consumption tastes of the Indian audience. Gaana has set up an internal team on content & product innovation called Gaana Innovation Labs, which will launch a suite of cutting-edge products and content formats at the concurrence of Music and technology. The team consists of people from content programming, event production, music engineering and few external consulting advisers tasked to deliver India Specific innovations.

In addition to enhancing the platform experience by lieu of technology, we constantly conduct market research to drive user insights and based on the findings, we curate our offerings to meet the demands of users across India. So, be it tailoring playlists to launching properties such as Gaana Lives that assists singers / artists connect directly with the audience in the absence of Concerts, we aim to ensure that every user is catered to. The coming months you will see more of the insights being put to action as we work towards our goal of being the go-to music destination of India.

On the advertiser front, we realized advertisers increasingly demand clear attribution modelling, better ROI and actionable leads, so we launched voice activated ads and dynamic audio ads. Similarly, in order to serve SMEs and MSMEs who demand local advertisers, we will bring them onboard with self-serve ads. Each of these steps have kept us ahead of the competition in the music streaming space.

Q) A lot of players make the best use of algorithms, to play just the songs I want. How is Gaana strengthening its offering, to become more personalized, to give users a more holistic experience?
Each music listener has a specific taste in music, languages, genres, artist’s moods etc. like a Bollywood fanatic, party lover or EDM fan. Therefore, personalization and recommendation are of utmost importance for a platform like Gaana.

We pay close attention to user personalization across all our consumers and product journeys each aided with respective and suitable product interventions. Every user who enters the platform is automatically classified into various user persona buckets based on his /her journey, actions, kind of music consumed: language, era of music, genre of music, time of day, type of podcast consumed etc. etc. This allows us to be hyper-contextual to each and every user basis their personas. We are constantly working with the technology teams out here who are developing algorithms to better understand a user’s music consumption patterns across beats / mood / genre and based on that, the platform suggests music recommendations. Of course overlapping playouts on top of that. The coming months a lot of great stuff can be expected on this front.

Q) How has Gaana has been enabling brands to create engaging ad experiences? How are you also ensuring that ads don't become intrusive from the user perspective?
We believe ads need to have relevant and useful information, in order to not come off as intrusive. Our brand partners can target a specific audience based on their age, gender, location, weather, time and even music preferences. By matching the advertiser’s ideal target audience with our user personas, we are able to reach the right set of people at the right time.

Our ‘Unwind with Taj’ campaign is a great example of what audio advertising can do for brands, where we brought alive the magic of Indian classical music for millennials. The specially curated ‘Unwind with Taj’ playlist on Gaana was aimed to serve as a destination for millennials and a set of premium audiences with refined taste to explore the splendor of a genre that showcases the music heritage across generations.

Q) How have you enabled brands to create budget-friendly ads?
We have recently launched a self-serve ads platform, where advertisers can plan, create and monitor their campaigns on their own. SMEs and small advertisers who are interested in hyperlocal targeting of audiences, have found huge value in both these initiatives. We believe this kind of innovation will further strengthen audio ad’s share in advertiser plans.

Q) How do brands stand to benefit by partnering with you over other players from the segment?
The audio streaming industry is evolving, and we believe competition in the space is healthy enough to keep the brands at a task of bringing new offerings to the table for its users and maintaining the market share.

When partnering with Gaana, advertisers have access to the widest distribution of any music streaming service in the country, while having access to a rich set of audio advertising formats and an end-to-end creative studio to tailor campaigns to their individual needs.

Q) How have you been using AI to bolster your ad offering?
We use AI and ML capabilities extensively in our voice-enabled ads, helping our clients struggling with the “click challenge” inherent to the medium: because audio can’t be clicked – unlike the visual-based digital ads published on web and mobile interfaces. With voice activated ads, users can engage with audio ads via voice commands to take a specific action. This kind of ads empowers the listener of the audio ad on Gaana to talk back to the ad and tell it if they are interested in the offer or not. Cutting edge innovation that makes advertising more democratic than ever before. Leading the right set of users to the client.

Q) What is your target in terms of the number of users you want on the platform for this financial year?
We hope to continue our leadership in the music streaming sector. Our target is to increase our user base to 500 million over the next 3 years, and turn profitable in two years.

During the course of the last 12 months, there has been a significant shift in audience behaviour as well as content consumption patterns. On Gaana we witnessed a substantial increase in music consumption across India. To cater to the needs of the users, we will constantly expand our library to have music right from Bollywood to regional languages such as Bhojpuri, Haryanvi, Tamil and more. Not just that, we will also focus on genre-expansion in a bid to meet the needs of our users. We aim to be the go-to platform for everything in music.

Q) Where will the next phase of growth for Gaana come from? Going ahead, what will your key focus areas be?
As we constantly look to expand our library and focus on diversification of music content, we strongly believe the next phase of growth would come from Indie music. As we foray into newer markets and focus on regional content, the growth is slated to stem from tier II and tier III cities as well.

Our primary focus area of expansion will be diversifying our content library. We aim to have everything in music, not just in terms of languages but also genres meditation, devotion, workout and so on. We will also focus on bringing new avenues of entertainment, such as live streaming. The Dua Lipa Studio2054 concert hosted exclusively on Gaana witnessed a tremendous response with over 150,000 users attending the stream. This huge in comparison with say a concert that hosts a few thousand attendees at best. In addition to that we hosted a number of live sessions with podcasters from various categories. We are also implementing a pay per view and subscription-only model with the premium live events starting with Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy who performed live on Gaana apart from other iconic singers in the upcoming events.

From a revenue aspect, there are quite a few avenues that we are looking at: Ad revenues, subscription driven revenues and promotional marketing.

Q) How have podcasts been performing for you? Are you already monetizing them?
There was a surge in podcast creation during the pandemic and that is primarily attributed to the low cost of investment. Podcasts have always enjoyed a loyal audience base and on Gaana too, we saw a healthy consumption on podcasts. Having said that, currently podcast consumption on Gaana comprises 1% of our minutes. We aim to be the YouTube of Podcasters and scale up 20X in the next 12 months.

From an Advertising viewpoint as well, podcast listening has great value in terms of user attention and hence an opportunity for users. It’s an anytime, anywhere audio medium which provides a great platform for content creators. So from all quarters creators, suppliers, consumers and platforms - the podcast ecosystem is poised to rapidly expand and bound for exponential growth in revenues.

Q) How has 2021 been in terms of growth so far? Do you anticipate consumer sentiments will pick up, thereby improving the growth for the overall audio streaming segment?
Over the last year, at the beginning of the pandemic there was a stabilization in the volume of engagement of consumers. However, with time consumers discovered new content formats, new content categories and hence the engagement rates kept on growing.

With the brutal second wave, clearly there was an impact on sentiments and engagement as well. With most of the major cities now unlocking the engagement numbers are back to earlier levels and we believe that with new content formats and categories being discovered, there will be a surge in engagement and consumption over the course of next few months.