India’s vernacular audio boom: 7 homegrown apps serving the 'next billion users'
In the last two years, India has witnessed a sustained boom in audio consumption across podcasts, audiobooks, original audio series, talk shows, and more. At present, the country is estimated to have more than 150 million daily listeners.
The rise of audio platforms has been brought about by increased smartphone penetration across rural and urban India, low-cost mobile data enabled by Jio, and the availability of a wide range of on-demand audio content across genres, languages, moods, special occasions, and so on.
PwC estimates that India is already the world’s third-largest podcast market, behind only the US and China. Monthly podcast listeners stood at 40 million, and are growing at 58 percent annually, according to a June 2019 report by PwC.
One of the defining trends in the audio-streaming sector is the growing demand for local, vernacular, Indianised content. The uptick has been particularly impressive since the start of the lockdown in March. Industry reports suggest that vernacular audio apps have grown their DAUs by 3X-4X in the last four months.
YourStory drew up a list of homegrown vernacular audio apps that are targeting the ‘Next Billion Users’. (This excludes the likes of Amazon’s Audible Suno and Storytel’s Audiobites that are also India-first audio apps serving local language content.)
Kuku FM is one of the hottest vernacular podcasting platforms in India today.
The Mumbai-based startup raised a Series A round of $5.5 million from Vertex Ventures in February. Last November, it had raised undisclosed capital in a Pre-Series A round from 3one4 Capital, Shunwei Capital, and India Quotient.
Kuku FM houses over 50,000 hours of vernacular audio content, including 14,000 audiobooks in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, and Gujarati; 2,000 audio courses, and over 3,500 shows. The app has more than one million installs on Google Play Store.
Bengaluru-based startup Pratilipi rode the vernacular wave much before it became the next big thing. Started as a self-publishing, storytelling, and language content platform, Pratilipi rolled out its audio product, Pratilipi FM, in December 2019.
Pratilipi FM has recorded over 100,000 downloads on Google Play Store. The app houses over 10,000 audiobooks, audio stories, shows, podcasts, and interviews in eight Indian languages. The content cuts across popular genres like classics, religion, mythology, romance, entertainment, lifestyle, and so on.
Pratilipi is one of the most well-funded vernacular startups in India. It has raised over $30 million in multiple rounds from Tencent, Qiming Venture Partners, Omidyar Network, Shunwei Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Times Internet, and others.
Pocket FM is a bootstrapped startup based out of Bengaluru, founded by former employees of Flipkart, Paytm, and Hike. A Hindi audiobook and podcast app, it has garnered over one million downloads on Google Play Store.
Pocket FM houses more than 10,000 audiobooks, a million-plus audio shows, stories, podcasts, FM stations, and unlimited user-generated content — all in Hindi. It also lets listeners record their own audio content, add voice effects, sound filters, and background music from within the app, and share it with the Pocket FM community.
Content across genres such as history, biography, romance, self-help, motivation, business, investment, spirituality, health, and more can be discovered on the app.
Khabri is a digital audio platform for the ‘next billion users’.
The app is focussed on vernacular listeners, and aggregates Hindi audio content across categories like news, current affairs, knowledge, government jobs, and motivation.
Khabri also lets content creators launch original podcasts and shows, and users can listen to popular radio stations as well. At present, the platform has a network of over 35,000 creators. Haryana-based Khabri is funded by Soma Capital - Aneel Ranadive, Y combinator, GSF Accelerator- , Powerhouse Venture - Sri Peddu, (Snapdeal founder, - Ex- VP Twitter & ex-Google India MD. The Khabri app has recorded over 1 million-plus download on Google Play Store
Khabri also lets content creators launch original podcasts and shows, and let users listen to popular radio stations. At present, the Haryana-based startup has a network of over 35,000 creators, and more than one million downloads.
Khabri is backed by Silicon Valley seed accelerator Y Combinator, GSF Accelerator's Rajesh Sawhney, Titan Capital's Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal (Snapdeal co-founders), ex-Twitter VP Shailesh Rao, ex-Google India MD Rajan Anandan, and other angel investors.
Headfone is the handiwork of former Facebook employees of Indian origin. The Bengaluru-based startup focusses on India-specific, vernacular content, including podcasts, internet radio stations, talk shows, and other forms of audio storytelling.
Headfone, which has over a million downloads on Google Play Store, is backed by Axilor Ventures and Fosun RZ Capital. Its podcasts on religion, spirituality, kids, family, news, and politics (including PM’s Mann Ki Baat) are popular among listeners.
The app also doubles up as a social audio network, which lets users record their own podcasts and audio stories, publish them on a public page, share with friends, and even subscribe to favourite content creators.
If you’re scouting for Hindi podcasts and stories, Aawaz.com is a solid bet. Built by Mumbai-based startup Agrahyah Technologies, it is one of India’s first audio-on-demand platforms.
Aawaz.com houses more than 500 hours of original audio programming in regional languages, including devotional chants, bhajans, celebrity interviews, talk shows, stand-up comedy, historical and mythological stories, and so on. Earlier in 2020, it also launched original English content on the platform.
The app has notched up more than 100,000 downloads on Google Play Store, and is rated 4.9 out of 5. Aawaz.com is also available on Amazon FireTV Stick, Kai OS (which powers JioPhones), and Indus App Bazaar.
Delhi-based HubHopper offers free podcasts, audiobooks, radio shows, and stories in five regional languages (with plans to add more). The app houses more than 50 million hours of programming content across genres like kids, family, education, technology, comedy, horror, news, sports, etc.
HubHopper has clocked 100,000 downloads on Google Play Store. It also has one of the widest distributions across smartphones, AI-led voice-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and on-demand streaming services like Ola Play.
HubHopper is backed by Unit-E Ventures and a bunch of angel investors. It was also a part of YourStory’s Tech30 Startups list in 2019.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta