How Omidyar Network India is riding on the power of audio content

The investment firm dedicated to social impact joined forces with the IVM Podcast Network to launch a 26-episode audio series known as 'Smartphone Nation.' In a conversation with, Rohan Vyavaharkar from ONI and Amit Doshi from IVM discuss the intricacies of crafting the audio series, and the advantages of audio-branded content in comparison to video-branded content

Akansha Srivastava
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Podcasts have emerged as a formidable tool for content marketers, providing a unique and powerful platform for disseminating information, building brand awareness, and fostering a loyal community of listeners.

As part of content marketing strategy, there has been a noticeable surge in investment firms conducting video interviews with entrepreneurs and sharing inspirational stories of ordinary individuals in recent years.

Building on this burgeoning trend but in a unique Avatar, Omidyar Network India, an investment firm focused on social impact, collaborated with IVM Podcast Network to introduce a 26-episode audio series titled 'Smartphone Nation.'

The series:

Debuting on September 15, 2023, and hosted by the dynamic duo of Utsav Mamoria and Niveditha Prakasam, 'Smartphone Nation' highlights the perspectives of consumers, particularly those within the Next Half Billion’ (NHB) – the 500 million first-time internet users, and insights from entrepreneurs and investors.

Rohan Vyavaharkar

A believer in the power of spoken and having experimented with audio content in the past on radio, Rohan Vyavaharkar, Director, Marketing and Communications, Omidyar Network India said, “Our primary mission is to partner with entrepreneurs who are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for every individual in India. We specifically concentrate on identifying entrepreneurs making a significant difference in the lives of first-time Internet users in India.”

He added, “While podcasts often feature stories of well-known entrepreneurs, there is a vast number of lesser-known entrepreneurs who wield a remarkable influence on the lives of the next half billion Indians. Through this episodic, documentary podcast series, we aim to shed light on the narratives of these unsung entrepreneurs, ordinary people whose lives are being positively transformed through the efforts of these entrepreneurs, as well as the investors who support such ventures.”

Amit Doshi

Throwing light on the uniqueness of the series, Amit Doshi, Head, IVM Podcasts - Pratilipi, said, “Some of the stories one might not have even heard of. In the podcast, we have spoken to investors, entrepreneurs, customers or even regular people on the street, where they’ve shared challenges related to the industry. The podcast is about bridging the gap between technology and human experiences, highlighting the digital revolution and the human spirit that propels it. As we delve into the narratives of the 'next half billion' and the startups driving this transformative wave, we hope to inspire, educate, and empower audiences nationwide.”

Vyavaharkar added that unlike conversational podcasts created in studios, “We have gone out in the field, gathered information, and bytes from people, scripted, edited and weaved together into an engaging documentary-style package.”

From education and healthcare to insurance and transport, the podcast explores initiatives that cater to the specific needs of the new internet users, providing them with an opportunity for social and economic mobility and improving their lives.

Why choose audio format over video?

Generally, these days a lot of podcasts are also shot in videos and uploaded on YouTube. But Omidyar Network India chose to stick to only audio to keep the story as the hero of the content. Vyavaharkar explained, “This documentary lends itself quite naturally to an audio format, primarily because of its focus on the story. Stories can be unfolded better in audio format as opposed to a video format. On top of it, unlike video formats, we don’t have to write for pictures, offering more flexibility in telling great stories.”

Available in English, Hindi and Tamil, he further explained, “The Smartphone Nation series shares stories from various parts of India, be it West Bengal or Southern states. It’s practically easier to do in audio format.”

Doshi added that creating video content for conversation shows is not very expensive. But this series is constructed in a documentary style. If we were to build this for YouTube as a video as well, the cost would have become exponentially higher.

The power of distribution in content marketing

With that being said, Vyavaharkar underscored the significance of effective content distribution. "Irrespective of the quality of content one produces, the key lies in effectively disseminating it and connecting with the relevant audience, which has consistently proven to be a challenge, whether it's in the form of audio or video,” he said.

Doshi from IVM revealed that the Smartphone Nation series has been strategically distributed across major platforms, including YouTube, music apps, podcast apps, and social media, to maximise its reach and impact.

He elaborated, "We've harnessed all four primary distribution channels for podcasts. Firstly, YouTube provides the broadest exposure but tends to yield lower engagement. Secondly, music apps like JioSaavn and Spotify boast a substantial user base of podcast enthusiasts. The third channel caters to dedicated podcast enthusiasts who prefer platforms like Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Google Podcasts, and others. Finally, the fourth channel involves crafting shoulder content for social media."

However, Doshi emphasised that a robust distribution network alone isn't sufficient for the success of any podcast. He noted, "It's essential to create compelling content that piques people's interest, making them eager to listen, and then ensuring effective distribution."

Marketing is little without content

For Vyavaharkar, marketing is little without content. He stated that while Omidyar Network India doesn't engage in traditional advertising, content plays a pivotal role in helping the company share compelling narratives. Although, "The choice of content format for storytelling depends on the budget,” he added.

Expanding on the advantages of audio content compared to video, he mentioned, "Audio proves to be a more cost-effective option than video. It has a greater capacity to delve deeper from a psychological perspective, making it a more immersive medium than video. In the case of video, weak visuals can lead to audience disengagement. Similarly, in audio, unengaging content can also result in a loss of audience, but it presents a significant opportunity to truly engage with your audience's thoughts and emotions."

Having said that, Vyavaharkar believes that one has to be further prudent in audio-branded content when it comes to brand integrations. “Hard selling a brand in audio-branded content will put off the audience. It’s crucial to maintain a high level of authenticity in audio-branded content.”

Doshi went on the emphasise keeping in mind the relevancy of content for the TG a brand aims to target. He added, “We must clearly define for whom we are creating content and what the brand’s objective is.”

In the end, he also said that it’s wrong to expect performance marketing-like results from long-form branded content.

Vyavaharkar concluded that, while the brand remains receptive to exploring further content ideas, those presenting pitches should demonstrate a thorough grasp of Omidyar Network India's principles and goals.

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