Audio content creators in India could be next in line for big deals from streaming services, radio stations and more. Although the industry is at a nascent stage, authors, podcasters and others who create content suited for audio only platforms, may see more brands approaching them with deals, as more companies look to capitalize on a growing demand for audio only content.FM radio channel Radio Mirchi, startups like Pocket FM, and Swedish streaming platform Spotify, are among services pushing to grow their portfolio of audio content in India. For instance, Indian audio-based over-the-top (OTT) content startup Pocket FM, announced a partnership with local publishing house Manjul for exclusive streaming rights for vernacular audiobooks on June 7. One of the first deals it signed was for author and ex-chief executive of Indian ecommerce platform Nearbuy, Ankur Warikoo's bestselling book, 'Do Epic Shit', on July 5. The deal is among a slew of new interest in audio streaming content from platforms, which state that the market is ripe for a boom in audio-based over-the-top (OTT) content. Ashu Behl, senior vice-president of content at Pocket FM, said that the platform has over 200,000 content creators publishing audio content on its platform – although most of these creators are self-published. “There is a clear demand among listeners for both published authors and independent creators, and for audio content in the short or long form. We offer a chapter-wise payment medium to users to better tap into the demand,” Behl said. Brands, too, are looking at the uptick for audio content demand and acting on it. Mirchi, the Indian entertainment company known primarily for its FM radio channel, Radio Mirchi, unveiled its own app, Mirchi Plus, to market such content on its own. The announcement came on the same day as the PocketFM-Manjul partnership. Prashant Panday, chief executive of Entertainment Network India Limited (ENIL) – the holding company of Mirchi, said the decision was the result of a “clear uptick” in demand for audio-first content. He said that of the 104 million monthly viewers on Mirchi's YouTube channel in June, a majority of the demand was for the company's own audio content, and the figure has grown by “nearly 2x” in the past year. Mirchi publishes audio series on YouTube in Indian languages. It is now looking to onboard new creators and publishers in the next six months. While Panday said that the app presently has an ad-supported ‘freemium’ service the company is open to considering a subscription model in the coming months as demand grows. Behl and Panday’s assessment of onboarding more creators for audio content is in line with how the market has been projected to grow. A report by market research firm Redseer Consulting from December 2021 said that while audio content listeners in India accounted for only 2.3% of the country’s entire OTT audience — close to 95 million at the end of last year. To be sure, interest in audio only content has been growing globally, not just from listeners but also from brands. Swedish streaming giant Spotify, for instance, reported in February this year that it spent over $1 billion to sign exclusive podcast and audio content creator deals between 2017 and 2021. Apple, too, has been cashing in on this demand – in April last year, it introduced Podcast Subscriptions to monetize audio content through its services. In the US, the race to get big time audio creators has led to millions of dollars being spent. For instance, in February the New York Times reported that Spotify spent $200 million to sign American podcaster Joe Rogan in an exclusive deal. Dhruvank Vaidya, head of podcasts for India at Swedish music streaming platform Spotify, said that while India had negligible podcast listeners in 2019, close to 25% of all Spotify India listeners stream podcasts at least once every month today. Anchor, the company’s podcast self-publishing platform, saw 130x growth in Indian language podcasts between January 2020 and December 2021. While million dollar deals may not happen in India anytime soon, numbers should swell. A similar trend was seen during the growth of short-video platforms after the 2020 ban of TikTok in the country. As reported by Mint in August 2020, platforms were spending between Rs. 6 lakh to Rs. 75 lakh for six-month exclusive contracts with short-video creators at the time. That said, the growth in audio content doesn’t quite have the same intensity as short video did at the time. In December last year, RedSeer forecasted that India has approximately 95 million monthly active listeners for podcasts, one of the popular forms of audio content. In October, Bain and Company reported that India had over 350 million short video creators already.
Shudeep Majumdar, chief executive of influencer marketing firm Zefmo, said that the demand for audio content is still not widespread. “A lot of podcasts and audio content find demand when posted in the video format via channels such as YouTube, where creators in India have seen interest," he said. "In the video format, you get other means to understand the content – such as subtitles – even if you do not understand the language. But, for a purely audio-only platform, this is one major challenge," he added. Globally too, high spends haven’t always translated to substantial expansion. Bloomberg reported last month that only 14% of all podcasts published on Spotify earn the platform any money.