This was a panel on the growing popularity of podcasts among Indian listeners as a source of information.
The panel consisted of Amit Varma, host of Seen and the Unseen, Neha Mathews from Indian Express Audio and Padma Priya, founder of Suno India. The session was moderated by Meghnad, a public policy professional and podcaster with Newslaundry.
The session kicked off with Amit Varma explaining his journey of taking public policy and looking at its intended consequences. Data reveals that people tend to listen to podcasts at a higher speed than the normal, like 1.5x, and usually during errands, a workout or on commute. Audio is a great medium in which one can get into long discursive conversations as it is not restricted by a word limit or sound-bytes.
The need for Suno India came out of panelists talking over each other on TV; the founder felt that mainstream Indian media had been reduced to people reacting before thinking or forming their arguments. Additionally, the audio format allows for anonymity, bringing out more voices who are reluctant to put up their faces. By 2020, India is expected to have 1 billion mobile users, out of which 96% will be smart phones, indicating that the market for podcasts is on the rise. Presently it appeals to a niche audience, which is why it is important to widen the field to include regional languages.
On the topic of discoverability, it is necessary to keep generating podcasts; experts and influencers can help promote a channel and being written about also adds to visibility. Responsible podcasts must tackle difficult themes and tell stories of resilience that resonate with the audience. Podcasts have less distraction and hence can get more committed listenership and higher engagement.
It was concluded that it may not be necessary to fix a duration on podcasts. Indian Express Audio started with 10-12-minute-long podcasts but have now developed to 20. It is more helpful to think in terms of a transition - many channels have started by releasing short, clickable podcasts and then, based on people’s response, expanded them to cover themes more comprehensively. The length of podcasts is best guided by the content and its relevance and not forced restriction.
According to Padma Priya, podcasts are an effective space for advertisements in terms of durability. Unlike a 10-second jingle on radio, podcast ads last as long as the user possesses the downloaded file on his device. Products can also be intertwined with the theme of the audio and create a brand story.
With the proliferation of smartphones and the internet in India, the country is rapidly becoming audio-first. Recent trends on WhatsApp, which now allow serial audio messages to be better controlled and received, predict that dissemination of information by audio is here to stay.