For so many at home during the shutdown, podcasts have proven to be a source of entertainment and comfort and according to local podcasters, the entry of celebrities like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle into the industry has further cemented the art form. However, for local podcasters, audience sizes and financial backing remains hurdles in going pro.
Several local podcasters state that the shutdown has facilitated the growth of audiences both in the city and internationally. Rather than the typical draws of entertainment or education, most listeners wanted comfort, say podcasters, and this has reflected in a massive increase in listeners.
“Before the shutdown, I was getting around 1,000-1,500 daily listeners, and during the shutdown, it peaked at 2,000-2,500 listeners daily. I think the reason for this is that podcasts feel like a source of comfort because it feels like someone is in the room talking to them. I had a doctor comment on one of my podcasts saying that it gave her company during her commute back to her house when the streets were deserted,” said Deepika Arun, Founder and Narrator at Kadhai Osai, a Chennai-based podcast that narrates a variety of Tamil stories and books.
However, this occupation remains a pursuit of passion. While many local podcasts have seen this increase in audience sizes, receiving sponsorships remain an issue. According to Pratip Vijayakumar, host and founder of the Chennaikaaran Tamil Podcast, Tamil language podcasts have smaller audiences owing to a smaller diaspora abroad and smaller audience sizes in the city, even after the pandemic.
“Because of this, it is very difficult to get sponsors. Companies don’t want to work with smaller podcasts because their listener base is very small. I’m still doing the podcast part-time, and don’t think I can yet take it full-time until I can cultivate a larger audience that will lead to more financial stability,” said Vijayakumar, who started the film commentary podcast in 2018.
Other podcasters, like Deepika, have taken a voluntary crowd-funding approach to sustain their podcast. However, this does not mean that she can go pro yet, she says. “Well-meaning listeners asked where they can donate, and so I included donation links to support the podcast. I’m so grateful that they donate even during such a difficult financial time. But, with the current amount that I’m getting through my audience, it is not possible to become a full-time podcaster quite yet, ” she says.
However, the shutdown has boosted the interest in and the number of podcasts in the state and nation, say podcasters. This proves hopeful for the future, and podcasters predict that the industry will only grow more in the years to come.