How the Podcast Industry Found a Voice During the COVID-19 Pandemic They cater to the diverse tastes of listeners, ranging from current affairs, history, business, and spirituality to comedy, science, technology and travel

By Pulkit Sharma

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When the pandemic hit us, nobody anticipated the extent to which it would alter our lives. Just over a year ago, the coronavirus was spreading only in the unfamiliar region of China's Hubei province. Today, every major country is reeling under its effects, with people trying to balance work, home and social wellbeing. While our routines remained restricted due to imposed limitations on movement, it has provided us additional time to spend at home.

Moreover, the work-from-home phenomenon has given employees the flexibility to accommodate the various facets of everyday life. People now have a myriad of options to pick and keep them entertained and connected to the world. Over the months since the initial lockdowns, there is a significant buzz, with reports suggesting a spike in mobile phone usage, online shopping, OTT video content and podcasting.

While the increase in most of these segments is understandable, it is fascinating to learn how podcasts have captured the imagination of people belonging to all age groups. Within the podcasting universe, hundreds of new Internet-based platforms came into being in the span of a few months. They cater to the diverse tastes of listeners, ranging from current affairs, history, business, and spirituality to comedy, science, technology, and travel, etc.

It begs the question: What is the reason behind the piquing of interest in spending hours listening to someone talk?

Podcasts as an alternative to other mediums of engagement

The appeal is being attributed, firstly, to the ample time at their disposal. It provides a reason to get into a habit of listening to experts in many fields. The ease with which people can tune in is synonymous with the experience of switching onto the radio. Secondly, a sense of fatigue has set in for smartphone users and video content watchers, owing to the increase in screen time for all efforts and purposes. It is amusing that the mobile phone has become an extension to our limbs, thanks to our dependence on it for work, relationships, social networking and Internet surfing.

In a way, podcasts offer respite from the omnipresent mobile devices, giving everyone time off to reflect on personal development and wellbeing. By linking phones to bluetooth speakers or smart speakers, people are performing household chores while playing music, podcasts and every kind of audio format file with ease. Passive listening has been a favorite practice for Indians over the decades. Those familiar with the older generations' love for news and conversations on the radio can vouch for it. Ironically, podcasts have reverted us to those times, albeit in a digital age where there are far more voices and opinions to listen to every day.

Moreover, the content is specific to each individual's requirement, which makes for the perfect break time from strenuous work schedules, providing a work-life balance everyone is seeking. High up on everyone's priority is using this precious time to focus on learning new hobbies, upskill, and stay informed about politics. Podcasts and audiobooks are driving this trend as passive listening has replaced static television and mobile viewing.

Aspects leading this change

When compared with the surge in OTT viewership and other online platforms, the potential for the growth of podcasts in the far corners of the country is much higher. The fact that it requires far lower bandwidths to stream audio content as compared to video platforms is a clear indicator of its accessibility. The penetration of podcasting platforms will cost much lesser, while a sizeable cache of audio content is currently available for free. There is no necessity of setting up new networks, as people can listen in by using existing network infrastructure.

The recent decision by the government to ban Chinese apps after a military skirmish on the border with China has allowed a lot of homegrown podcasting platforms to produce more content due to an increase in traffic during the pandemic. People from tier III and IV towns are taking to podcasts with higher enthusiasm as unique content is being produced via vernacular languages, catering specifically to regional sensibilities.

Current trends and the future course for podcasts

Local voices and influencers are coming onboard podcasting platforms, delivering content to their respective regions. As a consequence, the next phase of growth for podcasts can be experienced across Indian regional languages, as they are likely to impact millions of eager listeners, compared with the English language.

In addition to this, there is a clear trend of influencers moving from short-video format content to starting their podcasting channels to interact with their fan base. They have realized that informative videos can help build organic followership, owing to the baser human instinct to self-improve.

The current generation is the most conscious and well-informed lot, as they are showing keen interest in gaining knowledge about politics and emerging technologies. Podcasts are playing a significant role in delivering them the goods, as the platforms get driven from the bottom-up, where listeners often pick their podcasting hosts based on the quality. With no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, people will continue looking for inspiration, and podcasts will continue serving them with the choicest of content during these testing times.

Pulkit Sharma

Co-Founder & CEO, Khabri

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