The coronavirus disruption has launched India’s media landscape into the third V front of voice, after video and vernacular. Only one third of Indians own a smartphone, and even fewer are conversationally fluent in English, given that the opening of the voice frontier promises a deepening of the digital media in the ocuntry.
And while video has crossed the inflection point several years ago, it’s the pandemic that has propelled the voice media to new heights.
“The pandemic has pushed audiences to explore newer content formats on our platform and that led to increased consumption on Gaana Podcasts that were launched last year,” said Prashan Agarwal, CEO, Gaana.
The Times Internet-owned music streaming platform boasts of a diverse library with over 20,000 podcasts across various genres including comedy, devotional and motivational. Gaana Podcasts have witnessed a surge of more than 100% in the last 6-months.
Earlier, in his Google for India keynote, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai had said that the pandemic has supercharged digital adoption. Podcasts and audio experiences are among the beneficiaries of such windfall user adoption observed since the start of pandemic.
One of the leading Indian podcast networks, Aawaz.com, which has a library of over 800 hours of original audio content, has seen a 22% jump in listenership in April-May.
“We call this as bartan (washing utensils) and blockchain. From CXOs to commoner, everyone was doing their own chores in absence of domestic helps, we saw people listening to something to upskill themselves while they were doing mundane tasks,” said Sreeraman Thiagarajan, CEO, Aawaz.
One major reason for the podcasts attracting more listenership was also the inavailability of fresh video content during the lockdown. While production of films, TV and web shows stopped, players like Storytel, Spotify, and Audible Suno upped their game in podcasts by launching audio originals, with some roping in film celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Prakash Raj.
Experts said audio content enjoys certain advantages over video. Firstly, it can be streamed even on low-end devices with 2G connection. More importantly, it is less intrusive than eye-straining video; apposite people trying to relax with therapeutic content such as motivation, mythology, mental wellness or even fictions and stories.
Realising the power of spoken word, international figures like George W Bush and Michelle and Barack Obama have started using podcasts to address the masses. Closer home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ is another classic example of using audio content to reach where TV or smartphones are yet to make in-roads.
Interestingly, FM Radio brands like Radio Mirchi and BIG FM have already started transitioning from just a linear service to an on-demand play that can offer diverse content, including podcasts.
The success of podcasts has already started attracting advertisers.
As per Thiagarajan, Aawaz has roped in sponsors like Google, Agora, Tata Mutual Fund, while another home grown player, IVM Podcasts, have seen sponsorships from the likes of Intel and Paytm.
Beyond the institutional brands, Indie players like Mae Thomas, Bijay Gautam and Preeti Prakash have consistently released their podcast for years, suggesting a possibility that this may have taken their passion to a career choice.
And it’s not just the politicians or the professionals, who are appreciating the power of podcasts, but also spiritual leaders like Jaggi Vasudev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who now have their own audio play.
As per a latest report from Xaxis India, GroupM’s advanced programmatic arm, the future of digital audio industry looks bright where the number of smartphone users in the country is estimated to reach 829 million of the total population of 1.4 billion by 2022, as a vast majority of advertisers believe that mobile devices (94%) are the most effective means to reach audiences.