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Podcasting a spell

| POOJA SALVI
Published : Oct 8, 2016, 10:22 pm IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2016, 10:22 pm IST

After creating a storm in the West, podcasts have made a big wave in India too and riding them are some of our favourite voices

CYRUS-SAYS.jpg
 CYRUS-SAYS.jpg

After creating a storm in the West, podcasts have made a big wave in India too and riding them are some of our favourite voices

Podcast’s big push came when Serial grabbed the attention of the international audience in 2014. Sarah Koenig and her team spent over a year studying, researching and fact-checking Hae Min Lee’s case. Hae had gone missing in 1999, and when her body was subsequently found, her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was charged with first-degree murder.

After Serial hit popular charts, with over 200 downloads, Adnan’s case was even reopened, and podcasts started their forward march.

Closer home, podcasts have been a niche audience’s medium. However, it’s now taking off in a big way, thanks to two major reasons — the entry of digital distributors and industry heavyweights such as Asha Bhosle, Ayaz Memon, Anupama Chopra. What started out as features on sites like Sound Cloud, today lay claim to their own channel thanks, to platforms such as Saavn and Gaana.

Former RJ and VJ José Covaco was one of the first to enter the ring. He started his podcast Kaan Masti with actor and comedian Suresh Menon in 2012. “There was a lot of free time in between shows and that got Suresh and me talking about — often explicit — things. A lot of people from office joined in, and that’s how it clicked.” “I really had no idea what podcasts were,” jokes Suresh. “José forced me to get on board; he came up with the idea of hosting a show where we could talk about anything.”

However, given India’s low broadband speeds and lack of Internet penetration across the country, what gets people to listen to podcasts

Rajesh Tahil, co-founder of podcast network, Audiomatic, says public radio is one of the biggest reasons behind the popularity of podcasts. “The traditional talk show concept from the radio is missing.” Rajesh co-founded the podcast with Tariq Ansari, and both radio veterans host four shows on current affairs, science, food and comedy, presented by journalists and writers.

José groans as he talks about the talk show format’s slow death on the radio. “The talk show format has gone missing from the radio. In an hour-long show, 50 minutes are reserved for songs and ads” he says, talking about how Kaan Masti came about.

Rajesh explains that the obsession with music has more to do with radio licenses. “Acquiring a license for radio broadcast is very difficult and expensive — often going to the highest bidder. The moment one gets a license; FM stations prefer to play popular Bollywood music to draw an audience and money,” he says. “Non-music programming is time-consuming and requires a lot of funding. Podcasts are the audio equivalent of YouTube and Netflix. What the analog (FM radio channels) isn’t doing, podcasts are pursuing with original, tailored concepts.”

Ayaz Memon, host of Cricket Wallah Chronicles for Saavn talks about why talk shows are a great idea. “Music has its own place here, but there’s a market for opinion-based shows too. Especially when it comes to cricket, everyone in India has an opinion,” he smiles, adding that he had doubts about the show when it was offered to him. “I imagined it would be interspersed with music. Earlier, I was part of a podcast by Radio City online, where I would provide minute-long links, and the show would have music.”

Any good podcast’s USP needs to be its content. If it isn’t covering an interesting, well-researched subject, the podcast won’t do well, says Rajesh. “During Audiomatic’s infant stages, we made sure to provide content that wasn’t easily available anywhere.”

Actress Neha Dhupia too jumped onto the podcast bandwagon early this week. Titled #NoFilterNeha, her show her show aims at bringing celebrities on board and having candid conversations with them about anything from controversies to banter. She isn’t the only big name snapped up by digital distributors like Saavn and Gaana.

The two platforms have ventured into the space of original content with Cyrus Broacha’s, Cyrus Says, Qisson ka Kona by Neelesh Mishra and The Asha Verdict by Asha Bhosle.

“With these digital giants getting on board, it gives a certain legitimacy to podcasts. However, this doesn’t mean the content is better — two friends recording on a mobile phone could have far fresher content,” Rajesh asserts.

José’s perspective doesn’t seem all that sceptical. “With Gaana and Saavn producing podcasts, the reach is double. There are going to be hoardings everywhere! I think, the more the merrier. I mean, Asha Bhosle hosting a podcast only makes it so much cooler,” he concludes.

— With inputs from Nishtha Kanal