“As a generation, most of us are glued to our mobile phones, taking in information with our heads bowed down. But there will soon come a time, when we will be able to keep our heads up, listening to all the information through a podcast,” says Naveen Haldorai, creator of Curry Podcasts, one of the very few Tamil podcasts in India. For him, podcasts are the bridge between active and passive content.
A podcast is the only online content that allows indirect consumption. “It lets you consume content in passive state. You can listen to a podcast when the phone is getting charged, when it’s locked or even while going through social media,” says Gautam Raj Anand, founder of Hubhopper, India’s largest podcast directory.
The intellect recommends podcast
“A few years ago, people were not even familiar with the word ‘podcast’, but now it is ‘intellectual’ to listen to a podcast,” Anand says. The word ‘podcast’, an amalgamation of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’, was coined in 2004 and has now become synonymous to the audio content available on the Internet. Although the industry is flourishing abroad, in India it is still at a very nascent stage.
As compared to video content, podcasts are very personal and intimate.
“It feels like your friend is talking to you, and because of this, you retain and believe what you hear. It also opens up your imaginations and takes you on a journey,” Haldorai says.
When Google launched the Google Podcasts app earlier this year, their aim was to make access to podcasts easier and faster. “We are working with the ecosystem to bring more diverse content to podcast listeners,” says Robin Bhaduri, Product Marketing Manager, Google.
Podcasts, Anand says, makes content consumption easy and life simpler.
“As people get lazy, they look for ways that can make consuming content easier, and podcast is that perfect option available to them,” he says.
Chhavi Sachdev, the second-most experienced podcaster in India, says radio here was so “insulting” and podcasting was the “only way to lift the audio industry”. Sachdev started her journey in 2008 with Sonologue, an audio production house specialising in podcasts and spoken word content and now takes workshops to educate people about the industry.
She also started a podcast called ‘LSD Cast’ that talks about love, life and lust. “Indian men are so backward when it comes to sex and dating, that I felt someone had to do this. Although people are really uncomfortable talking about these topics, LSD Cast received a good response and season two will soon be live.”
But it’s not that easy
With less than 100 producers two years ago, India now has more than 400 podcasters. An avid listener of podcasts, Saif Omar started a travel podcast, ‘The Musafir Stories’, along with his wife Faiza Khan. “I was working in the US where the podcast scene is very evolved. But in India, it was different. So when I moved back, I thought I should give it a try.”
Omar is passionate about his podcast, but it is nowhere close to a full-time profession. “I know it cannot fetch me money, but I still hope to do it full-time a few years down the line.” Unlike YouTube, the podcast does not have a unified platform and is very fragmented. Creating awareness and educating people on how they can listen to a podcast is also a hurdle Omar faces.
Haldorai, who is the pioneer of Tamil podcasts, started his journey with a four-episode history podcast on Vasco Da Gama in August 2018. He wishes to start a tech podcast and also narrate horror stories to children, but is concerned about the monetary aspect.
“There is no access to complete analytics and it is a struggle to keep things consistent. I do not just narrate, I create a scene with sound effects and music, and it is a tedious process. Although the podcast industry is growing, it will still take a lot of time to make money from what I love to do,” he says.
Bhandari expects to see more and more popular non-English podcasts emerging in the Indian market. “As the podcast industry grows, we’ll continue to see the technology supporting it become more sophisticated,” he says.
Karthik Vijayakumar’s ‘Design Your Thinking’ is one of the few Indian podcasts to have a second season. Vijayakumar started it in October 2016 along with his ongoing blog.
In season one, he interviewed people who are following their hearts and it was a huge success. For his second season, Vijayakumar is focussing on India and is experimenting with a video format.
I also upload the interviews on YouTube because people in India are not very comfortable with the audio medium yet and it has been successful so far.
Bhandari also reveals that India is in the top five countries for Google Podcasts adoption.
Are we there yet?
“We are sitting on an explosion, and the next breakthrough will happen very soon in India,” says Amit Doshi, founder of IVM Podcasts. “Podcast is not mainstream yet because it has not been exploited to its full potential. Radio is tightly controlled and podcast is the alternative that is available. People will realise it very soon,” he says.
Doshi also mentions how in the west, podcasts came as a substitute for the talk radio, but in India, we are trying to build a new industry altogether, and that will take some time.
Bhandari is of the opinion that podcasting has certainly reached the mainstream. “Many of the largest media and news outlets in India host podcasts. Podcasting continues to grow at a rapid clip, and we expect to see more and more popularity in the coming years,” he says.
On the other hand, Sachdev says, “I don’t know if it is booming or not, but the podcast industry has definitely progressed. I hope the next breakthrough happens soon, but people’s thinking needs to change for that.”
Getting money and advertisers remain the biggest problem. “We don’t have numbers to give to the advertisers. Although the retention of ads is much higher for a podcast, people do not realise that.” Educating people and creating awareness is what Sachdev says is needed. Karthik Vijayakumar chips in with an air of scepticism: “It will take a lot of effort and time, but we will get there very soon.”