Lend Me Your Ears: Audio OTT In the New Normal
During the lockdown, players in the audio OTT space saw a massive spike in listenership
Music, podcasts, storytelling and other audio OTT content emerged as stress-busters for millions who were screen fatigued during the pandemic. Most platforms saw more than 20 per cent increase in listenership post March 2020.
Within months, listening to podcasts and tuning to music through apps became a habit for many. While earlier, people tuned to music while commuting, after lockdown they were listening to that and more while doing household chores or exercising at home or even while working. Podcasts in particular helped many acquire knowledge without having to sit through stressful news debates. Audio OTT platforms also helped listeners kill boredom without adding further strain to their eyes.
Recently, podcasters also celebrated International Podcast Day on 30 September to connect with fellow podcasters, podcast listeners, podcast enthusiasts and leaders in the industry. Today, podcasts and music apps are household names. Platforms such as Spotify, Audible Suno, JioSaavn and Gaana are also spending heavily on original content with celebrities, RJs and popular personalities.
As the world is inching back towards normalcy, will OTT platforms gain more or will they see a drop in the number of listeners?
Audio Consumption At Present
We did see a drop in listeners right at the start of the pandemic and then slowly it picked up quite well, said Amit Doshi, founder, IVM Podcasts. “With so many OTT apps that have created on-demand consumption habits, users want more content that they can binge listen to as and when they can. We now see an average of 2 million unique listens per month,” said Doshi.
Some claim that as people are getting back to normalcy, driving back to their offices or going out for walks, jogs, there has not been any significant change in the consumption numbers. “In fact, the lockdown has helped them build the habit of listening to the podcasts and a lot of people continue to listen to podcasts, especially to deal with stress. For instance, our podcast Practically Gita where we bring practical insights from Shrimad Bhagavad Gita for everyday problems was one of the most listened to shows we’ve ever produced,” said Bijay Goutaum, co-founder, WYN Studio, a startup that produces podcasts with brands.
During the lockdown period, for the on-demand audio or podcasting space, some new genres gained focus, such as thriller, true crime and horror. Gaathastory saw a massive spike in listenership for its bedtime stories and other kids' content since the schools were closed. We still get good listenership for our storytelling shows, especially in regional languages ranging from Telugu to Gujarati, besides Hindi, it claims. “Particularly for this festival season, we are excited to present new content and are confident that existing stories will find new listenership,” Amar Deshpande, co-founder, Gaathastory.
Despite the effects of the pandemic, the volume of new audio content (music and podcasts) has remained consistent, claims JioSaavn. Due to the extended nature of the first wave, it observed a change in the kind of content that they were consuming. There was a rise in podcast consumption and an increase in catalog content listenership. It also noticed a growth of non-film music over film music, and an overall increase in music curated under chill/calm moods. In the second wave, the startup noticed some of the macro trends that were formed in the first wave making a comeback. “With users steadily returning to pre-COVID behavior, 10 am-4 pm became the peak time for streams across the platform. There was also a second uptick in listeners between 5 pm to 10 pm. Genres that have gained maximum audiences have been devotional and desi indie,” said a spokesperson of JioSaavn.
The company claims that its audience continues to use podcasts as a preferred source of entertainment and information. In 2021, JioSaavn witnessed a 22 per cent increase in users within the age bracket of 40 and above. “A majority of these highly engaged listeners are further noted to be above the age of 55 years. This adoption indicates that podcasts are being consumed by a wider, more mature audience who use the medium, not only for entertainment but also to expand their knowledge base,” the spokesperson said. In the last two years, the company claims to have seen multifold growth, with a 4 times increase of its paid subscription as well.
Gaana too claims that podcast content consumption across all genres including stories, entertainment, motivational and comedy on its platform in recent times has also witnessed an uptake.
"Earlier, users were consuming music through radio while they were driving to work, but in the new normal audio OTT is the choice for users as they get on-demand, personalized music playlists to cater to every kind of mood & activity. We curated playlists for "Work from Home" to "House Party Essentials" as music is the background to every activity you do - only now, you do it more often at home," said Sandeep Lodha, CEO, Gaana.
Subscription, Regional Content And Other Trends
Experts believe that we will start seeing subscription-based audio shows, Spotify has already launched interactive podcasts wherein listeners can participate in polls within podcast app and a lot of other experimentation is being done with podcast formats. “Also, big-budget audio movies are coming up to play with audience’s imagination power. We already have several homegrown podcast listening and creating apps raising funds to continue to push this medium forward and enable more creators to create their own audio shows. All of this is very exciting as the podcast is going mainstream slowly but steadily,” said WYN Studio’s Goutaum.
In 2021-22, the industry believes, we are likely to see more people looking at audio beyond music. “Users moving towards paid subscriptions is another trend we feel might gain traction in India in the coming few years. We at JioSaavn have seen significant growth in our subscriber base. Our subscriber base continues to grow at a triple-digit growth rate year over year,” said JioSaavn’s spokesperson.
Creating quality content is, however, a challenging process for creators. “Content creators who followed a centralized model, that is, where all production takes place in a studio, faced challenges. It took some time for them to un-learn and get used to a different way of working. Many voiceover artists, writers, and producers struggled. This incidentally also led to the growth of home setups particularly for narrators and podcast editors,” said Gaathastory’s Deshpande.
Today, there is also a higher need for better-developed business intelligence like more accurate measurement of reach and impact on consumers and location-based delivery of advertising is a little tough to do at this point. “Another big gap in the podcast market is that predominantly podcasts are seen as being urban-centric or leaning towards English-speaking audiences. There needs to be more effort as well as awareness on the availability of regional content,” said IVM Podcasts’ Doshi.
Another upcoming trend would be more and more brands wanting to intensify the association with the podcast medium. “Some of the best ad recall rates and audience understanding of a complicated brand message have been demonstrated through several successful campaigns,” added Doshi.
Drivers For Further Growth
The next biggest growth in the podcasting space is expected to come from the regional content. We have seen a huge growth in the number of listeners from tier II and III cities for our shows in Hindi, claims WYN Studio’s Goutaum, adding that the team’s focus is to continue working on more localized content in different local languages.
“More regional creators are jumping into the bandwagon and the creators from other platforms (Youtube, Instagram) are also getting into podcasting to engage their audience for a longer period of time,” added Goutaum.
Overall, the size of the audience in India and the diversity of languages and regions continue to play a positive effect and are expected to fuel further growth. “Localization or regional versions of a show can mean reaching a wider audience. We see some influence of these trends in podcasting, Hindi version of a popular crime podcast from the US was recently released. The Indian version of a Spanish thriller podcast received some attention. They say, in any industry, there is something called an upward spiral effect. More consumers mean more demand for the product or service, which results in more growth, more variations, and innovation. This is very much applicable and true for streaming audio in our country,” said Gaathastory’s Deshpande.
Additionally, there is an uptick in brands opening up to medium and a steady increase in listeners which are good signs for the industry. “Added to that, a consistent expansion into new genres of content across geographies and languages should keep the sector growing nicely,” summed up Doshi of IVM Podcasts.