Are Marketers Warming Up to Podcasts in India?

  • PWC’s recently released report states that Indian monthly podcast listeners reached 40 million at the end of 2018, which was a 57.6% increase over 2017’s 25.4 million
  • Marketers are slowly experimenting with the medium, with the aim of presenting consumers with targeted content
  • The coming in of Spotify has helped increase the buzz around podcasts in India
Over the past few years, the kind of content consumers are seeking out and accepting has seen a vast change. Today, it is all about engaging content that they can relate to. Content that can be consumed on-the-go has also seen a huge gain in popularity. It is perhaps this evolution that is making podcasts an increasingly favored content medium for consumers.

While podcasts enjoy a huge popularity in markets like the US, India is also slowly waking up to it. Now almost all news publications have their own podcasts. Moreover, music streaming platforms that are witnessing a good growth in the country are also increasing their podcast offerings.

Even the numbers are encouraging. Research by IAB and PwC stated that US advertisers spent an all-time high of $479 million on podcast ads in 2018, up 53% from $314 million the year prior. While the Indian market is still at a nascent stage in terms of its uptake of podcasts, PWC’s recently released report titled ‘Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023 India’, stated that Indian monthly listeners (defined as people who listened to at least one podcast in the last one month) reached a total of 40 million at the end of 2018, which was a 57.6% increase over 2017’s 25.4 million.

In terms of consumption of podcasts, India ranks number three, following the US and China. Owing to the growing increase in audio-streaming services in the country, podcasts offer a massive opportunity for brands to reach out to its consumers, where they can target listeners with personalized content.

The Story So Far

It was in 2016 that Audioboom, a leading audio platform for hosting, distributing and monetizing content was launched in India. That was also the time when Jio had launched in the country and everybody got access to cheap, affordable data. However, that was when video content was seeing an explosion. “There was a lot of focus on video at that point in time and when we went to talk to people about focusing on audio as an on-demand platform, we were scoffed upon. People couldn’t see the opportunity that we could see in the model back then. However, things have become better since the second half of last year. Today, there is a lot more acceptance, people know what we are talking about and they want to hear us out,” says Aman Goklani, Head of India operations, AudioBoom.

From 2016, when it received about 200,000 listens a month, the platform has seen a substantial increase in its monthly run rate. “From 200,000 listens in a month in 2016, we today stand at around 1.7 million listens each month. We ended June of this year with about 2.5 million listens. So, we have seen more than 10x growth since we launched,” adds Goklani.

While in the larger scheme of things, Goklani maintains that 2.5 million listens is not a very big number, he adds, “A video can get these numbers in probably a few days. However, in our scheme of things, we are the largest, in terms of numbers, in India.” To put things in perspective, globally the UK-based audioBoom gets around 70 million listens in a month, with the US accounting for 60% of its listens.

If one were to delve deeper into the reasons for this sudden increase in enthusiasm around podcasts, Sreeraman Thiagarajan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Agrahyah Technologies that owns and operates Hindi podcast platform, aawaz.com says that there are several. “India has been an audio-first country for a long time. The term podcast is new in India. However, all our radio stations have been coming up with audio content on their platforms for the longest time. Even in the past, shows like Purani Jeans have always been around. However, the sudden excitement around podcasts is because of multiple reasons. Firstly, global podcast companies are now looking at India. BBC, NPR, Audible, Google podcasts and Spotify have been operating in India for the past 6-7 months and have brought in some excitement,” he says.

He also points to the fact that non-music content is picking up pretty well in India. “Imagine you’re in the mood to listen to some devotional content, or want to listen to a horror or romantic story. People consume a lot of content on video but if they are busy and don’t have the time to watch something, they could still listen to content. So that is what is giving us a lot of traction,” he adds. The increasing demand for smart speakers in the recent past has also been an important reason for the growing enthusiasm around audio content.

The opportunities ahead

Globally, Spotify has been talking a lot about the opportunities around podcasts. It has also been investing a lot on acquiring podcast companies. Closer home, music streaming platforms like Gaana and Saavn are also trying to promote the podcasts that they have to offer.

So, what are the opportunities for brands here? Prashan Agarwal, CEO, Gaana says, “Podcasts are a great channel for brands to tap into a highly engaged niche audience. Most savvy marketers understand the difference between top-of-the-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns, and appreciate the role for the top-of-mind recall. This is where this genre can serve as a great platform for brand building, with streaming players and publishers helping marketers navigate ways to seamlessly integrate their brands into the narrative.” Gaana runs some popular podcasts on its platform including Mirchi Murga by Naved, Kahanibaaz by Ashish Vidyarthi, Ek Rang Ishq Ka and others. Apart from this, they also source aggregated content from podcast platforms like IVM and Audioboom.

Speaking about the opportunities he sees in the medium, Amarjit Batra, Managing Director India, Spotify says, “In India, podcasting is very young, but we see immense potential given the immersive and intimate nature of the medium. Factors such as increase in commute time, higher awareness around streaming, and India’s position as a knowledge economy establish that there is enough scope for podcasts to become mainstream in India. We believe that the future of audio is limitless and the potential growth of podcasts as a new form of audio storytelling is garnering steady popularity amongst the urban audio streamers in India. Our goal is to work with the ecosystem of creators, brands, and partners to address these challenges so that there is a wider understanding and acceptance of this new and relevant medium.”

He further adds that while the podcast segment is still at a nascent stage in India, marketers have shown interest in experimenting with the medium. “We've had brands and advertisers show interest because they believe in the audio format for user engagement, and have seen how well podcast advertising works in our other markets.”

Meanwhile, podcast network IVM, which is working on popularizing the medium among consumers and marketers, has already worked with brands like PayTM Money, Aditya Birla Mutual Fund, Motilal Oswal. Speaking about why brands are seeing value in podcasts, Amit Doshi, Founder & CEO, IVM Podcasts says, “There are two primary opportunities for brands to work with podcasts - promotions on content that is being created and distributed by us and creating their own branded content. We have seen forward thinking brands like PayTM Money, Aditya Birla Mutual Fund, Motilal Oswal, Accenture, Storytel, Savaari etc. are already working with us. Increasingly, we are seeing interest from other brands as well in using this space to achieve their objectives.”

Varun Duggirala, Content Chief and Co-founder, The Glitch hosts an IVM Show called ‘Advertising is Dead’ where he speaks to leaders, creators and experts from all ends of the media, entertainment and advertising space to understand the new media world order. On how brands can make the most out of the medium, he says, “Podcasts present a unique opportunity for brands to seamlessly integrate themselves into very focussed content pieces which can be developed and distributed at scale with a much lower cost barrier. Also, advertising within episodes themselves can very easily be blended into the storyline/narrative of the episodes themselves so the value chain of the content imbibes the value chain of the brand. Unlike video content, podcasts allow consumers to blend content into their daily schedule in a way that doesn’t demand 100% focus but still blends into your content consumption habit cycle especially during commutes, mornings/late nights as well as mid-day breaks.”

According to industry estimates, currently the cost of podcasts could lie between Rs 4,000-6,000 per minute. So for a lot of marketers looking at reaching out to an engaged audience, podcasts could be a comparatively cost effective option, too.

Storytel India has worked on multiple host read campaigns both on IVM and audioBoom. Speaking about the kind of value the brand saw from the partnership, Sukirti Sharma, Marketing Manager, Storytel India, says, “Podcasts hook the listening audience, people who are already in the habit of listening and are familiar with the format. Also, it is somewhat about personalised choices and therefore brings in different kinds of audience. With each genre or discussion type, you attract a different kind of audience ie those interested in history or those who want to listen to the topical issues of the changing culture among the urban Indian. With myriad topics, it attracts diverse listening communities. Podcasts have their own unique space. We are in the business of telling stories and we believe that audio is the future. Podcast is a part of that audio world and has its own unique space so we would certainly use podcasts again in the future.”

For the longest time, lack of awareness was a big challenge for the podcast industry. However, with more and more people talking about it, both globally and in India, brands finally seem to be warming up to the medium.
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