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Pop Stuff: Radio Killed the Video Star

Podcasting is to audio what You Tube has been to video; making it inexpensive, democratic, accessible.

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Several weeks ago, I was seated in the Howard Gilman Opera House in New York, having nabbed one of two thousand tickets to a sellout show. As the lights dimmed, Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder took the stage and thunderous applause replaced feverish anticipation. The two creators of the Peabody award winning podcast Serial invoked the kind of fan hysteria that teen idols inspire and that radio journalists have never seen: radio journalists soon to be screen mavens no less as Hollywood in its eternal quest to immortalize the zeitgeist, has come knocking on their door to develop a TV drama; about making podcasts.

Serial, a 12-episode podcast that peels back the layers of a true life criminal case of an American teenager named Adnan Syed found guilty of murdering his high school sweetheart, has been downloaded over one hundred million times across almost every country in the globe.

Serial is part of a podcast explosion in the US that I think will be contagious especially in India where we are just dipping our toes in. Podcasting is the new black and talk radio, is in vogue now that audio has found a flashy new partner in the Internet and anyone with headphones and a hosting site can upload their latest installment to the all pervasive internet.

Podcasting is to audio what You Tube has been to video; making it inexpensive, democratic, accessible. As Mark Zuckerburg courts Modi (or vice versa) and the Internet enabled India is coming into her own, I can only imagine that our celebrities, TV personalities, comedians, pundits, journalists but most importantly young creators entering the fray today will turn to podcasting as a means to amplify their voices or create new ones, voices that we’ll find simply by browsing our phones whilst stuck in traffic. Although early Internet podcasts in India have the slow drum of public radio chat, the newer fare is snappy, sharp and intriguing. Earlier this year, two Mumbai-based entrepreneurs Tariq Ansari and Rajesh Tahil launched Audiomatic, whose narrative podcasts cover a range of subjects including politics, comedy and food.

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There is the argument that our own personal hard drives simply don’t have bandwidth. We are torn between cinema, TV and the book we can’t seem to finish. But podcasts have a particular appeal. Without visuals, the content must meet a higher bar and whilst dispensing with the commitment of watching a screen or turning a page the medium provides the intimacy of having someone right there to talk about whatever interests you, when you feel like it. For some, this might sound like the perfect relationship. For me, the joy of having an immediate antidote for homesickness by tuning into Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur’s Our Last Week on Audiomatic to get my comedic update on India is unparalleled.

So, will we eventually have a home grown hit? Serial’s exceptional storytelling has engendered a quantum leap into the spotlight in the US and beyond. Low barriers to entry and high proliferation of smart phones provide the perfect storm to boost a nascent Indian podcast scene. The beauty of the podcast is that it’s a DIY medium that doesn’t take a publishing house, a movie studio or celebrity backing, so while it’s anyone’s guess who the great Indian audio story will come from, it’s very likely that it’s soon in the making. In the end of course, those who search and seek will be well rewarded. After all, people always get the music they deserve.

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The author is a former hedge fund manager-turned-film producer and magazine writer.

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