Interviews

"Transforming Audio Entertainment With Innovative Strategies And Global Expansion"-Ashu Behl, SVP Of Pocket FM

By Ojasvi Kapoor
August 23, 2023
"Transforming Audio Entertainment With Innovative Strategies And Global Expansion"-Ashu Behl, SVP Of Pocket FM

Ashu Behl with 12+ years of experience in formulating & implementing growth & cost optimization strategies backed by sharp consumer insights. And Successfully driven projects across consumer acquisition and retention, portfolio expansion, market entry, marketing strategy.

In conversation with Loudest.in,He talks about Pocket FM's vision for building a new category in audio series.Here are edited excerpts:

Q1.Can you tell us about Pocket FM's vision for building a new category in audio series? How is Pocket FM differentiating itself from other platforms in the audio entertainment space?

We wanted to bring a new dimension to audio entertainment by delivering high-quality, engaging, and serialised fictional audio storytelling. Our unique approach pioneers a new category - audio series, with coherent storylines, character development, and immersive experiences akin to serialised TV shows. The goal is to provide pure entertainment and an immersive listening experience, constantly delivering fresh content to our listeners.

Our journey began in 2018, but we've since pioneered and nurtured the audio series category globally, adapting the content as per geography. With a focus on serialised content, Pocket FM is positioned uniquely in the audio entertainment space by presenting stories in a series format, enticing users to return for successive episodes.

We pride ourselves on investing heavily in original audio series, creating exclusive and captivating content that attracts listeners seeking fresh narratives. Offline accessibility is crucial, so we allow users to download episodes for listening without an internet connection. Embracing variety, we offer a diverse range of genres, catering to every taste – romance, thriller, suspense, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, drama, and more, making the experience highly personalised.

Our innovative micropayment approach allows listeners to pay for specific episodes they want to consume, allowing flexibility and freedom of choice to our listeners. The model allows listeners to purchase coins at different price points, and listeners can unlock episodes of any audio series with these coins. 

As the audio entertainment industry evolves, we remain committed to innovation and global expansion, striving to enhance the audio entertainment experience for everyone with audio series.

Q2.Pocket FM has experienced significant growth since its inception. How has the platform brought back audio storytelling in the digital age? What strategies have you employed to attract and retain users?

Audio storytelling is deeply ingrained in our culture. From childhood, we've been drawn to listening to stories. Now, with audio series available on the go or during leisure time, Pocket FM has become the ultimate destination for audio entertainment. 

Our library boasts over 100,000 hours of diverse content, continually expanding with new additions to captivate our listeners. The exclusive and serialised nature of our storytelling sets us apart, resulting in an upward trend of 110+ minutes of daily average listener engagement—a true testament to the growing binge-listening behaviour on audio.

Q3.Pocket FM has successfully built binge-listening habits among internet users. Could you elaborate on the methods and features that have contributed to this habit formation?

From gramophones to cassettes and now in the era of OTTs, we have always indulged in binging entertainment content. The thrill of discovering something new fuels the habit of binge-listening, much like the pattern seen in video entertainment OTT platforms.

At Pocket FM, our listener community is captivated by our engrossing storytelling, fostering strong platform loyalty. Audio Series brings the X-factor in audio entertainment, encouraging binge-listening during daily activities like commutes, household chores, work, and leisure. This 24x7 engagement is sustained by fresh, exclusive, and non-stop content unique to the audio series, setting it apart from other formats.

Contrary to popular belief, audio consumption extends beyond commutes. 23% listen while cooking, 12% during household chores, 25% at work, 16% while commuting, and 15% during fitness activities. Furthermore, 33% use audio as a means to relax and unwind. These findings highlight the diverse and pervasive appeal of serialised audio storytelling, demonstrating its ability to enrich various aspects of people's lives beyond traditional listening scenarios.

Q4.Pocket FM boasts an impressive listener community of 80 million globally, with an average daily listening time of 110+ minutes.  How has Pocket FM built a robust content library to engage its listeners with unique content? What are some key factors behind this achievement?

Our audio series library thrives on our creator community, comprising writers and voice actors. Our goal is to uplift new artists and writers, transforming them into audio celebrities while offering a platform to showcase their talents.

Pocket Studio, a platform to onboard and nurture creative talents, welcomes individuals with a creative inclination for audio series, providing an open stage for their ideas. Writers can join Pocket FM to tap into the vast potential of our 80 million listener community worldwide. We are dedicated to cultivating and supporting our creators, enabling them to produce more audio series and gain global recognition while fostering the world's largest audio creator community.

Q5.Micropayments have played a significant role in Pocket FM's growth, leading to a 12-14X increase in the past 12 months. Can you share more details about this payment model and how it has contributed to the platform's success?

Our journey with micropayment began in February 2022 with an annualized revenue run rate (ARR) of around US$2 million. Our revenue experienced a remarkable 12X growth over a 9-month period, surpassing US$25 million ARR in October 2022. Since then, we have come a long way and our revenue continued to experience significant growth.

Q6.In October 2022, Pocket FM announced a US$25 million ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue). What factors have contributed to this profitability, and how has the platform maintained a 65-70% gross margin?

Our revenue and profitability are improving as we optimize our audio series creation with cost-effective inputs.  Operating on a freemium model, we offer significant hours of free content everyday to our listeners. For those who desire more episodes, our micropayment model allows easy access by paying for individual episodes or the entire audio series. This approach has been pivotal in lowering the entry barrier for the listeners and helped in creating a new category in the audio entertainment landscape.

Q7.Pocket FM has successfully expanded globally, with the US being the epicenter. How has Pocket FM tailored its content to suit the international audience? What challenges did you face during the global expansion, and how did you overcome them?

We have successfully leveraged our India playbook for growth and content in the US, finding that the audiences there embraced our new category with enthusiasm. This positive response has inspired us to further expand our creator community in the US, empowering them to produce high-quality series tailored for the US audience. 

We believe great stories can come from anyone and anywhere. Therefore, we continued investing in our creator community to build a strong creator base and explore new opportunities for innovation and success. Our success in the US has enabled us with a vision to build a truly global creator community and empower them with a platform to showcase their creative talent across our global audience and beyond.

Q8.Audio series on Pocket FM outperform other digital entertainment formats in terms of daily engagement, with an average listener time of more than 110 minutes per day. What factors do you attribute to this dominance of audio series? How do you see the future of audio entertainment in comparison to other formats? 

In the audio space, podcasts and audiobooks have shown promising growth for knowledge and conversational content. However, the audio series category experienced exponential growth last year, surpassing other forms of digital audio and video entertainment in daily listener time spent. Short video platforms see an average of 45 minutes, while audio OTTs and video OTTs record 65 and 70 minutes, respectively. In contrast, Pocket FM's daily listener time spent exceeds 110 minutes.

This was further established in the Digital Entertainment Insights survey, where audio series dominate as the preferred audio content format, accounting for 41% of overall audio consumption.

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