Spotify, which became synonymous with on-demand music streaming over the past decade, takes aim at India, one of its crucial markets outside the US. The streaming giant now wants to tell new, compelling audio stories through podcasts.
“Podcasts are more of an extension to what we do,” Amarjit Singh Batra, Managing Director, Spotify India, told indianexpress.com in an interview. “People don’t want to consume music and podcasts separately. We are trying to create a seamless experience of music and podcasts together at one destination where people don’t have to switch,” he said.
At an event in Mumbai this week, Batra and team laid out the company’s strategy and announced three original podcasts for India. The new podcasts, created by Indian creators such as Gaurav Kapur and Puranjit Dasgupta, popularly known as RJ Mantra, will go live on December 3.
Batra says podcasting has the potential to connect to the masses, if done in a right away. “We believe that on the music side of it, not everybody can sing, a lot of people can talk,” he said. From the business point of view, Batra thinks the podcasting market, which is still a niche segment in India, has bigger growth potential in the coming years.
Beyond this, Batra believes podcasts will increase app engagement and user retention and that is the prime goal. He cites internal data which shows that those listening to music and podcasts together are 2x times more engaged that somebody who only listens to music.
Podcasts are like radio on demand and work on any device over the internet. What makes podcasts different from other audio platforms including radio is that it connects with listeners at a personal level. A podcast focuses on the niches and establishes a personal connect that one won’t find when listening to a radio show or watching a video.
While India is still opening up to podcasting, the number of people listen to podcasts on streaming services in key international markets is steadily increasing. In the US, more than 50 per cent of Americans have listened to a podcast, up from 44 per cent a year ago, according to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial report.
In the UK, nearly six million people tune to a podcast each week, about double that of five years ago, according to the telecoms regulator Ofcom. In Australia, there are over 3.5 million podcast listeners, according to Nova Entertainment’s Podcasting Intelligence report. The study, which was conducted last year, found that one in four Australians between 16 and 64 were regular podcast users.
As podcasting continues to gain popularity, so is the growing number of podcast genres. Spotify’s own data shows that 60 per cent of top podcasts are based on lifestyle and self-motivation. In the top 20 podcasts are lifestyle, education and non-fiction genres. India is also the top three markets for On Purpose with Jay Shetty and Waveform: The MKBHD Podcast. There are over 700,000 podcasts to listen to, and Spotify’s catalogue alone includes over 500,000 titles and 140,000 registered creators around the world.
With the competition looming in the music streaming business, Spotify has turned to podcasts to drive growth. At the beginning of the year, the Sweden-based company acquired the podcasting network Gimlet Media as well as Anchor, which produces tools to let creators build, publish, and monetise podcasts. It also acquired Parcast, well-known podcast network. Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek predicts that 20 per cent of all listening on the platform will eventually come from podcasts.
The number of users listening to podcasts on Spotify jumped 40 per cent compared to the previous quarter, the company’s third-quarter earnings report suggested. The company recently announced a new podcast playlist called Your Daily Podcasts, that allows users to discover new shows on the app. Spotify is now the second-biggest podcast platform behind Apple. In June this year, Spotify announced a multiyear podcasting deal with Higher Ground Productions, Barack and Michelle Obama’s media company.
Batra agrees podcasting is a growing phenomenon, but it is undermonetised compared to other mediums. “It’s a question of chicken and egg. I think the scale at which podcasts should be happening today has not been touched yet. As soon as it becomes a mass, parallelly advertisers will also be interested,” he said.
“If you have engaged podcast listeners and you want to reach out to them, there are amazing advertising opportunities. A Nike or Adidas kind of a brand can go to fitness and create a very specific ad based on genre. I think the idea about targeting the users, brands have not discovered it completely and podcasters have not able to communicate that completely,” Batra adds.
Batra noted that it is just the beginning of Spotify’s journey in the podcast space in India. “We want to work across different genres and would like to collaborate with different creators,” he said. Spotify is in talks with top A-list Bollywood actors to host shows, though Batra refused to reveal who his team has approached. Spotify’s rival, JioSaavn, does offer shows hosted by celebrities and film critics.
In India, however, Spotify is taking a measured approach to growing its subscriber base. Spotify is free to use on Android, iOS or web, but the paid version is also available that delivers ad-free music. Batra is aware that Spotify is not the only music streaming app in the market and on top of that that is so much free content available.
The ultimate goal for Batra is to establish Spotify as a prime destination for the consumption of music across genres and languages. “There is no clear destination which is emerging. We are still new and if we emerge as one of the major destinations, we will eventually see a shift towards premium but that will take a few more years,” he said.
But Spotify faces stiff competition from both international and local players in India. There are JioSaavn and Gaana, and on the other hand, there are Apple Music, YouTube Music and Amazon Prime Music. Some reports even suggest that social media app Tik-Tok plans to launch a streaming app as soon as next month in India.
Competition is steep in this space, though Batra says Spotify’s free and paid model allows it to compete with every major music streaming service that exists today. Batra did not share how many of its users actually pay to use the Spotify Premium in India. Globally, Spotify boasts 248 million monthly active users and 113 million premium or paid subscribers at the end of September.
Batra does not think radio is challenging the music streaming app. “I don’t think radio shows cannibalise podcasts on Spotify. I think it builds on top of it. Let’s say a radio channel has a nice show and that show gets over. What happens after that? That show can be available as a podcast on Spotify and you can listen to the back catalogue. People can choose their own time to listen and might binge on weekends or they might consume the show while travelling,” he said.
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