Is IVM really fruitful?

Multiple current and former employees The Ken spoke to said that of late, salaries haven’t been paid on time. Not just of executives, but of the office staff as well.

Doshi admits that in November 2019, IVM fell into a cash-drought situation and had to delay salaries. “We are in a business that even after all these years is just beginning to find its business model. There are structural challenges in the business, and payment cycles are not the quickest,” he said.

“We are extremely fair with everyone. We may lag on the timeliness of payment but everyone is paid as per contracts,” he added.

Calling it “early days”, Doshi said IVM is in this nascent podcasting ecosystem “for a long-term payoff”. “Look at our peers in the west. Their advertising markets mature faster, and people are willing to pay for content. That shift will come to Indian market as well. We want to be around when that happens,” he added.

Be that as it may, IVM’s talent pool is also shrinking. Some of its star hosts have left and gone independent.

Mae Thomas, host of popular podcast Maed in India, worked as IVM’s creative director for two and half years. She left in June 2017. And by January 2018, Maed in India was independent, with a podcast production company and consultancy of the same name. But she acknowledges her roots in IVM.

“Maed in India wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Amit [Doshi]”, who, she said, is still a friend. Apart from Thomas, Amit Varma, the creator and the host of The Seen and The Unseen, has also taken his podcast independent and now produces it himself. He claims that his split from IVM was amicable, and that he admires its work.

Partner problems

While IVM has a host of brand tie-ups, they’re not necessarily fruitful.

An IVM ex-employee lamented that while brands get excited about the apparent novelty of podcasting as a medium, they still do not want to spend the big bucks.

Chhavi Sachdev, founder of the podcasting production company Sonologue, said, “Most brands and even their agencies, that are often the gatekeepers for a brand’s spends, are negligent about what it takes to create a good podcast. Most will overcommit what they can deliver to their clients and underestimate the cost of quality.”

As a new medium, podcasting isn’t something advertisers jump into. “Podcasting is still an experimental medium for advertisers. We have to go and convince each brand to allocate a part of their budget on not just IVM but podcasting as an ecosystem,” said Rajwade.

The biggest challenge is that there is no reliable tracking mechanism for the number of plays apart from the reports shared by publishers/hosts. It’s hard to monetise.

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Further, in contrast to the PwC report cited above, industry insiders believe that the actual number of listeners in India is probably in the 8-10 million ballpark. Even Amazon’s Audible Suno, with all its glitzy line-up, is in the 1 million downloads category on the Android Play Store. For comparison, IVM’s app has 10,000+ downloads.

For now, podcasting is a hard sell in India.

Saif Omar, the founder and host of the Musafir Stories podcast—which was syndicated on Amazon’s Audible Suno—said, “If you are incredibly lucky, you would make just enough money to buy an occasional beer and maybe a slice of pizza. Not even professional podcasters get to make any serious money. You can insert ads (host reads) and programmatic inventory in your podcast but the rates are terribly small.”

Varma—of The Seen and The Unseen—said that revenues had been slow to begin with. “I’m optimistic that advertisers will soon figure out that the engagement levels for podcasts are off the charts. I’m certainly very happy with the way my numbers have been growing.”

Bijay Gautam, host of The Inspiring Talk podcast said that monetisation through ad revenue is difficult. “It is far better to be your own sponsor instead of chasing advertisers by creating products for your audience like books, subscription based content etc.”