Across India, a mobile in hand is more often than not plugged to a listening device in the ear, as young and old consume a range of audio content — music, podcasts, audiobooks, audio series, and more — during morning walks, chores at home or outside, office downtime, commute, or travel. 

Smita Chowdhury, a 34-year-old IT professional, tunes into an audio streaming platform for her fix of daily entertainment as she travels to work or gets busy with household chores. Recently, she bought a month’s subscription at a leading audio platform that had her hooked to a thriller audio show.

Kuku FM, Pocket FM, HubHopper, Khabri, and Suno India are some of the leading names in the Indian audio OTT industry, which has witnessed a 1.6x surge in daily streams over the past three years to touch 460 million in FY23, according to a Redseer report.

And these audio OTT platforms have raised funding of $182.7 million in the last three years, according to market intelligence platform Tracxn.

In 2023 alone, they raised $41.4 million. 

“The Covid pandemic during FY21 and FY22 accelerated the growth of audio OTT, adding more than 50 million music listeners, not only in the young age group but also those above 40 years,” says Ujjwal Chaudhry, partner, Redseer Strategy Consultants.

Audio streaming app Pocket FM notes in its ‘Entertainment Insights’ report that nearly 41 per cent of listeners preferred audio series across genres, whether romance, horror, thriller, or drama.

Regional demand 

Audio OTT players have captured the Indian market with their offer of content in regional languages, personalisation features based on user behaviour and preferences, and, importantly, affordable pricing.

Regional language content, in particular, has been a major factor in driving the popularity of audio OTT platforms. 

“In the last four years, vernacular music has experienced the most rapid growth and accounted for 34 per cent of music streams in FY23,” according to the Redseer report.

“In India, the average listening time for music is 22 minutes, but the average listening time on our platform is nearly 70 minutes per day,” says Lal Chand Bisu, who co-founded the Mumbai-based Kuku FM in 2018 together with Vikas Goyal and Vinod Kumar Meena. The platform hosts over 1.5 lakh hours of content, ranging from stories to book summaries, audiobooks, educational courses, and podcasts.

Kuku FM’s audiobooks are available in both non-fiction and fiction genres, including educational material, entertainment, news, jingles, self-help and spirituality, poetry, and mythology.

The start-up says it works with nearly 30,000 creators to generate audio content in English, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Tamil, among other regional languages. 

Founded by Gautam Raj Anand in 2015, HubHopper, too, plays up its regional accents. The audio platform hosts over 50 million hours of podcasts, news, audiobooks and more, in about 15 languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. 

More than 20 million monthly users have been tuning in to the 1.5 lakh-plus podcast episodes created and distributed by the New Delhi-based company. 

Kuku FM began monetising its content in January 2021 and currently offers two subscription models — ₹99 monthly and ₹899 yearly. More than 50 per cent of its content is exclusive to paying customers. 

With a user base predominantly in Tier II and Tier III cities, it currently has 2.7 million paying subscribers, fetching it an annual recurring revenue (ARR) of $15 million for the year ending March 2024. 

Funding interest

Since September 2022, even as a funding winter pinched the country’s start-up ecosystem, Kuku FM closed its $22-million Series B1 and $25-million Series C rounds, taking the total VC investment in the Mumbai enterprise to $72.3 million. 

Nandan Nilekani’s Fundamentum Partnership has led two rounds of funding, totalling $20 million, for Kuku FM in the last 12 months. 

“Kuku FM has created a niche category that caters to the unique and rapidly evolving demands of the new digital natives of India. Moreover, co-founder Bisu and team have created a business model with a strong focus on unit economics and robust fundamentals,” says Prateek Jain, Principal, Fundamentum Partnership.

Freemium model

Bengaluru-based Pocket FM — founded by Rohan Nayak, Nishanth KS, and Prateek Dixit in 2018 — is an audio-streaming platform with over 1 lakh hours of content and more than 15 million monthly active users.

The platform hosts over 1,000 audio series, each with typically 300-500 episodes.

“With a substantial daily average listener engagement of over 110 minutes, it surpasses any other digital entertainment format. We’re set to achieve $100 million ARR in 2023,” says Nayak, who is the company’s CEO.

Its content is available in eight languages — Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, English, Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi — and across genres such as romance, astrology, self-help, crime, horror, and biography. 

Pocket FM operates on a freemium model, offering a fixed number of free episodes for each audio series within a 24-hour window. Listeners can then pay to access more episodes. 

“It is facilitated through a coin-based system, allowing users to buy coins at various price points. Pricing is adapted to local markets, starting at ₹9 for a trial pack in India,” Nayak says.

As the buzz around audio OTTs grows louder, with newer and smaller players entering the space, industry observers expect the platforms to offer increasingly niche and personalised content to draw in more listeners and keep their ears glued to them.