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We are all ears

Updated on: 12 December,2023 06:32 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Letty Mariam Abraham |

From romance to mythology and crime thrillers, audio shows have become wildly popular. We dive deep to understand what’s making India listen in

We are all ears


For decades, radio dominated the mass media until television made its way into every household. Today, in the digital age where visual stimuli dominate our senses, many of us seem to be returning to the audio medium. The emergence of audio platforms—offering podcasts, audiobooks, audio fiction series, and cooking shows—has made it a force to reckon with. Only this time, we don’t huddle together for a shared experience, instead making it a part of our me-time. Audible, Spotify, Pocket FM, KukuFM, Gaana, and Wynk are among the popular platforms riding the success wave. So, what exactly is making the young and old of India listen in?

Posters of Devil Se Shadi; (right) Insta Millionaire
Posters of Devil Se Shadi; (right) Insta Millionaire

Creating an audience base

It turns out that audiences enjoy audio content that are centred on involvement, entertainment and self-development. The lack of visual medium doesn’t act against it, but in its favour as listeners tune in while engaged in household tasks, commuting, taking brief mental health breaks at work, exercising, or winding down before bedtime.

The platform has an extensive catalogue, exceeding 4,00,000 titles. Focusing largely on fiction, Audible lures listeners with its collaborations with industry giants like Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, and on home turf, with Balaji [Telefilms], Vice Media, The Viral Fever, Dice Media. Shailesh Sawlani, Country Manager at Audible India, reports, “In 2022, we saw 39 per cent increase in paid member listening hours for our service in India. Success stories like Marvel’s Wastelanders: Star-Lord underscore the platform’s expanding influence, bridging the gap between imagination and entertainment. Our effort to localise the global IP has received remarkable reception from the audience, with the series becoming one of our strongest paid releases to date. We have also received an overwhelming response to our other titles, including Little Things, Baby Doll and The Sandman: Act 1 [Hindi].”

Kareena Kapoor Khan  at the recording  studio with Mantra Mugdh
Kareena Kapoor Khan at the recording studio with Mantra Mugdh

Unlike Audible that collaborates with known names, Pocket FM has found a way to cultivate artistes and creators. It boasts over 1,000 audio series with hundreds of episodes each. Nishanth KS, COO & Co-founder, Pocket FM, says, “Our audio series universe thrives on a 1,00,000-strong community of creators, including writers and voice actors. We nurture new talent and elevate them to become audio celebrities in the media industry. We have designed a unique model to incentivise the creators for their contribution.” The platform’s artistes include Swapnil Jain, Moni Singh, Pankaj Jeena, and Kavya Sharma.

Success formula behind the stories

Each platform has its unique way to quantify the growing market. Pocket FM gauges its success against two factors—the revenue generated by each series, and the number of plays each garners. “Our operational model operates under a freemium structure, offering a predetermined number of complimentary episodes for each audio series during a 24-hour window,” explains Nishanth. For avid listeners, Pocket FM gives the audiences opportunity to purchase either single episodes or entire series. This is facilitated through a coin-based system. Audible has a one-stop subscription format. “We consider how a single title improves acquisition and engagement on the service, from its ability to draw new customers to [its ability to] engage and retain current customers,” informs Sawlani.

Saif Ali Khan recording for Wastelanders
Saif Ali Khan recording for Wastelanders

Genre palette

With wide audiences, come diverse tastes. Ridhima Thakral, director of content, Audible India, says romance is its most widely listened-to genre, with horror coming a close second. The platform has found success across other genres like crime thriller and slice-of-life dramas. “Escapist fiction has been a notable trend, transporting listeners to worlds beyond our own,” notes Thakral. It has also tied up with renowned Indian authors. While Amish Tripathi and Devdutt Pattanaik add to its sections of Indian mythology and mytho-fiction—two genres that are hugely popular—Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Datta, Ankur Warikoo and Anand Neelakantan also enrich its fiction offerings.

Pocket FM, boasting 25 genres and sub-genres, has garnered prominence in romance, drama, thrillers, and horror, while also witnessing the emergence of fantasy and sci-fi offerings. From a creator’s point of view, Mantra Mugdh—actor, director, voice-over artiste and who has helmed over 35 audio shows with over 800 episodes—says psychological thrillers are often tough to crack. He recalls, “I did a show called Darr Ka Raaz with Dr Phobia for Spotify. The psychological thriller was about a doctor who travels inside the mind of his patients to cure their phobias. For that show, I had to dig into my imagination to be able to write because [I was] not experienced in it.” Mugdh also says that while most stories can be adapted as audio shows, silent films are a genre he is yet to crack.

Future of sound

What makes the medium lucrative for content creators is its lack of production value and budgetary constraints. Mugdh says the audio medium needs more brand awareness. “It might not pay you as much as television or films do, but it is still a medium for actors to express themselves. Brands need to start advertising more through this particular medium. Soon enough, we will have personalised podcasts. If they don’t join the bandwagon right now, they might just get late.”

The head honchos of Pocket FM intend to go bigger, launching 50 more titles in the coming month. “Our primary objective is establishing a strong repository of audio series. At present, we are adding 50 new audio series on a monthly basis, and our library is poised to get better by 50 per cent increase in the next few months,” adds Nishanth. Sawlani says his platform will focus on building a library that includes different languages. “We continue to see a significant increase in listening for non-English content. Regional languages are a key focus area for us going forward, including new Marathi, Tamil and Telugu titles.”

Channels I listen To

Neerja Israni, 33
Profession: Senior Associate
Channels: Spotify, Pocket FM, and Audible
Currently listening to: Lessons in Chemistry 
I deviated to audio shows because the genres of content—mythology, folktales, true crime, and historical— were not available to watch. I am a person who likes visual imagery and makes up worlds in my head. Audio shows give me the same experience. I am not limited by someone else’s visualisation of the story. I generally listen to English content, I’ve not listened to Hindi content yet.

Saksham Dangi, 25  
Profession: Entrepreneur
Channels: Gaana, Spotify, Amazon Music, Wynk
Currently listening to: Chanakya Neeti 
I mostly like listening to podcasts on current affairs and history. The way they explain is something that appeals to me a lot. I mostly prefer English shows.

Janhavi Guru, 35 
Profession: IT professional
Channels: Spotify, Audibles, Pocket FM, KukuFM
Currently listening to: Solved Murders: True Crime Mysteries 
I like listening to true crime mysteries, including Bhaskar Bose. I read a lot of fiction novels, hence I prefer audio shows over video content as it leaves a lot to my imagination. I prefer interesting content over a specific language. I listen to content in both English and Hindi. 

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