It was meant to be the year podcast creators were waiting for. The year podcasts would take off in India – when video addicts, news junkies, returning commuters and obsessive multitaskers would discover the joy of listening to podcasts.
But it didn't happen.
The much-lauded Indian market remains mostly untapped. Podcasts are a-plenty, but the masses are yet to hear them in droves, much to the disappointment of the mushrooming club of content creators, including yours truly.
India is still a video-centric market. Yet, amusingly, many consume video the way most people consume a podcast: while doing something else, audio only, barely registering the pictures. In fact, YouTube videos, in which one expert is pontificating, is regularly, and erroneously, referred to as a "podcast."
Perceived inconvenience and poor connectivity are other reasons why podcasts haven't taken off yet. Because when connectivity seems to be an issue, people on-the-go will tune into the radio. Yes, even though Podcasts can be downloaded and listened to offline.
And those interested in divulging in the words of wisdom from their favourite thought leaders naturally gravitate towards YouTube. It's a tried and tested platform most are comfortable with (especially post-40-year-olds who are into such chats).
All of which is another way of saying podcast platforms and players need to be doing a better job at promoting the wares.
If only people knew how much riveting audio was on offer – without the pesky distraction of video, never mind the connectivity issues streaming it.
Where there is not yet mass consumption, there is exclusivity, arre, smug superiority.
Like an indie band or a new fashion label is a sign of street cred for one set, for another (perhaps the artisanal gin set) listening to podcasts is a statement of cool sophistication.
And while favorite pods from America might have been dropped into conversations a couple of years ago – "Did you hear what Dubner said on Freakonomics last week?" "Can you believe the Weinstein report on The Daily?" – now Indian offerings are finally entering the mix, being discussed among India's podcast snobs if not the masses.
Indian Podcasts Upped Their Game
Many of India's audible offerings used to be vexed by poor delivery and production. But most have raised their game, probably because of the homegrown podcast networks that have come up in the last couple of years, never mind the arrival of Spotify.
Listeners now have the full spectrum of Indian life on offer too, from serious subjects to frivolous chat, from fact-based shows to fictional storytelling. What? You didn’t know you could hear short stories written just for podcasts? Yep. And it’s not just bedtime stories for kids, either. Take Indian Noir – a crime thriller – for a start.
And for those who want their news on the move, there are now many daily and weekly news pods – with In Focus from The Hindu, 3 Things by The Indian Express and The Quint's very own The Big Story being three of the most popular.
Podcasts For All – From Wonks to Comedians
There are also loads of podcasts centred around sports, comedy, food and fitness. And this is just English I’m talking about. If you go into Hindi, never mind India’s many other languages, you could spend hours of your life just listening to the trailers.
For the wonks among us (you know who you are) there is a burgeoning playlist from academics to bureaucrats, from entrepreneurs to economists and, of course, thought-leaders and ideators. Some of the most talked about in wonk circles are On the Contrary by the Indian Development Review and Feeding 10 Billion by the Good Food Institute.
And it is no wonder – listening to deep discussions about the area you work in, or even just love, is a great way of consuming a lot of heavy information in a short period of time, most often while doing something else at the same time. Traffic jams aren’t so painful when your playlist if full of your favourite topics.
But it’s not all serious stuff.
Oh, no. Chit-chat, in classic "talk radio" style, is available too from The Ranveer Show by the popular YouTuber “BeerBiceps” to comedian Cyrus Broacha, who both chat with a variety of guests.
Then there is the easy conversation between two best friends, Rytasha Rathore and Ayushi Amin, discussing life, money and love, in Agla Station's Adulthood. Speaking of love, at the racier end there’s the saucy social media star, Simmy Goraya’s new offering, Simmy Said What? that promises to ruffle some conservative feathers.
And, India being India, more arrives on the spiritual spectrum all the time – from full-on teachings by gurus to loads about Hindu mythology and motivational, self-help episodes too.
Don't Forget the Children!
Many parents are pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a whole range of podcast content for children too, from bedtime stories for little ones to sci-fi or spy adventure series for older kids. There’s tons of factual content too, cleverly disguised as silly fun – proving a great, screen-free way for kids to learn, I mean, be entertained on the way to school or doing chores at home.
Kids are spoiled for choice with science and nature programming, with Wow in the World as the gold standard, but loads more to choose from in specific areas, like space or animals.
There are also news gently tailored for kids, like the one I produced with my daughter every week here in India - Newsy Pooloozi. There's even the jolliest debating show you'll ever hear, Smash Boom Best, which is super educational but so fun your children won't even know they're being stuffed full of facts.
My daughter is hooked on all of them. Especially since her mean old mama limits her screen time. If we didn't have podcasts during India's long and lonely lockdown, quite honestly, we might not be speaking to each other anymore.
The question is – will 2022 be the year everyone you know starts realising the intimate and entertaining delights of podcast listening? Or will it continue to be the preserve of a smart and trendy elite?
(Lyndee Prickitt is journalist and podcaster of Newsy Pooloozi, a weekly world news pod – listed by the New York Times as one of the 30 best podcasts for children – which she produces in New Delhi with her 9-year-old daughter, Leela.)