Any time is podcast time

If you’ve never been a podcast person, there’s no time like the present to begin. Two developments from earlier this month are enough to tell you why. First, Google rolled out its Podcast Manager tool, giving podcasters data on engagement metrics like play count, geographical location of listeners and so on. Second, and more importantly, Acast, a Swedish platform for the distribution, management and monetisation of podcasts, announced a partnership with JioSaavn, the second-largest audio streaming service in India (at 104 million monthly users, it is exceeded only by Gaana with its eye-popping 150 million). This means that JioSaavn creators will now be able to use Acast’s proprietary technology, and listeners will have an all-new range of content (Acast hosts several branded podcasts with The Guardian, Vice, CBS, etc).

Amarjit Singh Batra, Managing Director, Spotify India

Amarjit Singh Batra, Managing Director, Spotify India  

Clearly, this is a movement whose time has come, and according to Amarjit Singh Batra, Managing Director at Spotify India, this is just the beginning. “We see a lot of potential in India as a market,” he says. “As a culture, we love storytelling. Moreover, people are already used to consuming stories in an audio format, via the radio. There’s a dearth of good local content in this space here and that’s what we are trying to build.”

Going local

Much like Netflix India, Spotify India is also investing in building an exclusive library in the country, one dominated by in-house local content. Creators working in Hindi, Tamil, Bangla and so on, hold the key to capturing the biggest unclaimed market — listeners in tier-two and tier-three cities, who’re currently starved of locally-relevant content in a language and format they’re comfortable with.

The democratic medium
  • Thanks to the different skill-sets that go into making a podcast, companies looking to enter the space in India are often overwhelmed and hire consultants. Chhavi Sachdev is much sought after, and a pioneer in this regard (she was making branded podcasts in India as early as 2008, when she founded her company Sonologue). “Podcasting is very democratic, anybody can do it. And in India, there has been exponential growth over the last five years, with a number of new players making original products in an organised manner,” she says. “Companies, including news organisations, are realising that this cannot be a fly-by-night thing, that they need to have a dedicated team in place if they want to produce regular, well-made podcasts.”

Ameya Nagarajan (one half of the Fat. So? podcast, alongside Pallavi Nath), who was in charge of The Indian Express’ podcast division until early 2018, says, “Talk radio in India exists in non-English languages. That’s the place where podcasting can go. The problem, however, is that for people who break through into a new space, it is like the non-English part of the country doesn’t exist.” But Batra reckons breaching this frontier is not far: “We have a lot of wonderful ideas coming in, and in various Indian languages. We just need people who’ll execute these ideas well.”

A host of new audio content is in the offing. Over at Audible, spokesperson Shailesh Sawlani says, “We launched an India-first free app called Audible Suno in December, which is home to hundreds of hours of content across various genres and formats. Narrated by India’s most famous voices — such as Amitabh Bachchan (Kaali Awaazein), Katrina Kaif, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar (Picture Ke Peechhe) — these offer everything from horror and thriller to comedy and motivational content. Each show is comprised of short, easy-to-digest episodes.” Audible India’s plans are quite extensive. Among its noteworthy international collaborations is its “partnership with DC Comics to release the first audiobook adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. It has voices such as James McAvoy, Andy Serkis and Riz Ahmed”.

Mae Mariyam Thomas with Jordan Johnson

Mae Mariyam Thomas with Jordan Johnson  

Find your voice

Six to catch
  • Victoriocity: Chhavi Sachdev enjoys the scripted murder mystery podcast, which follows the adventures of Inspector Fleet and crime writer Clara Entwhistle. It is set in 1887, but with an alternative history — a steampunk version of the time. Another favourite is Room 20, a true crime podcast about an intrepid reporter and her quest to identify a ‘John Doe’ (an unidentified man) who has been in a hospital bed for 15 years. On Apple Podcasts.
  • Son of a Hitman: Narayanan Nambudripad, Podcasts (Spotify), picks the 11-day-old podcast, which tells the incredible true story of Charles Harrelson, father of Hollywood star Woody Harrelson (Catch Me If You Can, True Detective). In the early 80s, Charles was given a life sentence for murdering a US District Judge in San Antonio in 1979, just six years before his son made his television debut with the sitcom Cheers. Nambudripad also catches WorkLife with Adam Grant, where the organisational psychologist introduces listeners to unconventional professionals from around the world. On Apple Podcasts.
  • You Must Remember This: Supriya Nair recommends this podcast, narrated by journalist-film critic Karina Longworth, that brings you the forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. Guest stars have included comedians Dana Carvey, Patton Oswalt and John Mulaney. On Apple Podcasts.
  • Special Mission: Amarjit Singh Batra tunes into this podcast hosted by Gul Panag (whose father, Retd Lt. General HS Panag, served in the army). It brings to listeners stories of unsung heroes from the armed forces, and their equally heroic families. On Spotify.

Meanwhile, among recent English-language products, Fat. So? (on Suno India) is one of the notably well-executed and insightful podcasts around. Nagarajan and Nath wanted to create a space where the concerns of plus-sized Indian women — obscured ever so often in real life as well as popular culture — can be discussed. “We wanted to speak to young women, especially those between the ages of 10 and 25. It is like we wanted to go back in time and speak to our own younger selves and tell them, ‘Don’t listen to what society says, you’re allowed to be who you are, you’re allowed to have the body you have. You are not less than, you are not unworthy!’,” says Nagarajan.

Another recent podcast, Supriya Nair and Deepanjana Pal’s The Lit Pickers (produced by Maed in India), combines in-depth literary conversations with quicksilver wit and snappy presentation. It has gained a significant following since its first episode in January. “For us, this was an offshoot of the things we’re interested in and the way we talk to each other when we’re together,” says Nair, adding, “I think this style of conversational/interview podcast is the easiest to do, which is why there are so many of them. So the secret sauce, if any, was really that we were heard by producers who liked our work and who went on to give it shape and polish.”

Then there are the older podcasts still going strong — Amit Varma’s The Seen and the Unseen, Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh’s The Intersection, comedian Cyrus Broacha’s Cyrus Says, and Maed in India, the music podcast hosted and produced by Mae Mariyam Thomas, who is also the founder of the Maed in India production company/consultancy that is behind several Indian podcasts. Thomas knows the costs and challenges of setting up a podcast from scratch better than most. “I always get asked how much it costs. It depends on what kind of a show you’re making,” she says. “For The Lit Pickers, because it is only two hosts and no guests, the production cost was lower than say She Says She’s Fine, a women’s health podcast [hosted by Mumbai-based gynaecologist, Dr Munjaal Kapadia] where we were flying in guests from all over the country. For the production of any podcast you have to consider planning, research, recording, editing/sound design, administration, production, and distribution. And depending on your host, there is also a variable talent cost as well.”

Ameya Nagarajan, one half of the Fat. So? podcast

Ameya Nagarajan, one half of the Fat. So? podcast  

Trends to borrow
  • One successful idea that can be replicated here is the television-rewatch podcast. Talking Sopranos, a weekly podcast that launched this month, has audio commentary on the hit show’s key episodes. Cast members Steve Schirripa and Michael Imperioli provide an inside look and genuinely funny moments. With lockdown reviving interest in series like Mad Men, there is possibly more to come.
  • The Sandman Audible adaptation with Neil Gaiman could be one of the biggest announcements on the platform this year. While Netflix’s planned series, announced last year, may take a while, Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel as an audio drama will have James McAvoy voicing Morpheus (Dream), Riz Ahmed as the Corinthian, Taron Egerton as John Constantine and Andy Serkis as Matthew the Raven. On July 15.
  • Luxury might have a podcast moment, and horology leads the way. Try Hodinkee Radio, featuring Hollywood actors and influencers, or Two Broke Watch Snobs.

Money matters

This is a crucial distinction that Thomas makes — while producing different podcasts as an organisation may involve significant costs (such as studio), indie podcasting (a one-or-two-person operation) has no such constraints. You can record on your phone or on a field recorder, and edit using free software. The other basic equipment, such as microphones, aren’t very expensive — for ₹3,000-₹5,000 you can buy serviceable ones and anything above ₹10,000 will get you high-end products.

The low-cost nature of the enterprise helps independent podcasters, not least because there’s not much money in podcasting — for now. Podcasters who’ve been creating for some years, often crowdfund their expenses; they ask listeners to buy them a cup of coffee or a meal (this is what Amit Varma does, for instance), or donate whatever amount they are comfortable with. But much like Netflix and other streaming giants that are experimenting with various ad placement mechanisms, podcasting firms are also in wait-and-watch mode (with notable exceptions like Acast, whose ad placement technology — targeted based on location, time and personal data — has proven to be a success).

The podcasting boom is just around the corner, by all accounts — you’re either all in right now, or you’ll be late to the party.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 10:30:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/any-time-is-podcast-time/article31592963.ece

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