peace in a pod | Technology

Slipping between the global and the local

Regional language content is beginning to emerge in new podcasts.  

Last week, the podcast community — makers more than listeners — went a little bit crazy over the news that the music streaming company Spotify had acquired two promising entities in the audio business, Gimlet Media and Anchor.

Gimlet, whose fiction series Homecoming has been featured in this column, is a content creator, while Anchor offers tools for creating, publishing and monetising podcasts. With this move, Spotify has made it clear that it takes podcasting very seriously, with CEO Daniel Ek referring to the acquisitions as ‘best-in-class’ and announcing on the official blog that they are part of a much bigger investment that the company will be making in non-music audio. “Based on radio industry data, we believe it is a safe assumption that, over time, more than 20% of all Spotify listening will be non-music audio,” he wrote.

Future strategy

But why should Indian podcast enthusiasts even care, given that Spotify does not have a presence here?

For one, the company is slated to enter India by the end of March, coming into direct competition with other premium streaming services such as iTunes and JioSaavn and publishing platforms like Audioboom. For another, as Peter Kafka, writing in the online tech magazine Recode explained, podcasting will be a big part of Spotify’s future strategy.

The company has indicated that it is likely to spend another $500 million on multiple acquisitions in 2019, and this could possibly include buyouts in the Indian market, where interest in podcasting is growing significantly. As the creator of The Passion People Podcast (featuring interviews with people following their passion) tweeted, ‘this is reaffirmation that podcasting is on the cusp of something big!’

Certainly, podcasting in India is ‘on the cusp of something big’, with new shows popping up every week on my radar, many of which got their start just in the past year or so. While most of the new shows are in English, regional language content is slowly making an emergence, with — no surprise — Hindi dominating in both fiction and non-fiction genres.

One of these, a drama series that piqued my curiosity because of its name — Tiny Tales by Radiofly — has five episodes available at the time of writing, all short ‘audio-films’, in Hindi/ Hinglish. The episodes are not all that tiny, running to an average of 25 minutes each. (Maybe I was thinking of something on the lines of terribly tiny tales, or five-minute mini-skits?) Though each of the five stories has a very different plotline, they all reflect a distinct urban sensibility, the characters using the kind of idiom that comfortably slips between the global and the local. The protagonists are mostly youngish, peripatetic men and women who one might imagine running into on the Delhi Metro or in Bengaluru’s Electronic City, or the techie crowd you might encounter among the modern quick reads one sees lining the airport bookstore shelves.

In Reunion, we meet three friends at a college reunion, probably IIT Bombay or some such campus, nursing old grudges and nostalgia over their not-so-chhota pegs. In Inner Voice, a young man and woman trade unfriendly banter on a train journey but somewhere along the line end up trading telephone numbers. In Time Lag, an intruder surprises a young couple with what could be a tall tale — or a portent. Bombay Blue moves into crime and intrigue, while in Namesake a confused and conflicted yuppie tries desperately to do the right thing.

Brave new face

The stories are written and directed by Pratik Arora, who also edits the episodes, and performed by a cast of seemingly amateur actors. Arora notes on his blog that finding actors is a challenge and so on occasion is forced to step in with his own voice, though he would much rather spend his energies on production. The performances therefore are uneven, and delivery at times stilted, but the stories are charming enough to hold one’s interest on a slow day.

Efforts such as Tiny Tales represent the brave new face of Indian podcasting, trying something different, something local, with few resources and a lot of hard work. Often (like Musafir Stories, featured earlier in this column) they are weekend avocations, fuelled by time carved out of a busy weekday job that pays the bills — at this point, podcasts don’t quite do that for indie makers.

But if giants like Spotify see potential in this space, then more interest — and resources — could become available. That can only bode well for those who want to sharpen their content for a listener base that will doubtless grow more discerning by the day.

(A fortnightly series on podcasts.)

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2021 4:46:17 AM |

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