What Sacred Games on Netflix did for the video streaming industry, Thriller Factory helmed by director Anurag Kashyap could do for the podcast space in India.
Shows like Sacred Games opened the video OTT world to a larger audience in India thanks to its Indian (desi) content, language, and the fast paced-thriller genre.
Something similar is what Thriller Factory, an Audible India Suno original, is offering, but in audio format.
"Audio has the ability to give more fuel to your imagination and this is something we thought while creating Thriller Factory because we thought of it as audio cinema where the idea is to give you the experience of a cinema hall," said Ruchir Joshi, President and Head of Content, CM Studios.
But why thriller?
"Genre-wise, horror and crime are sought-after categories along with social conversations like love stories, gender issues and relationship stuff," he added.
Thriller Factory which has been developed by CM Studios, one of the content production arms of Rainshine Entertainment, will remind you of the work of famous pulp fiction writer Ved Prakash Sharma, whose work inspired the makers of the show.
"We are big fans of Indian pulp. We sat down and shortlisted to do something in pulp and Ved Prakash Sharma was very famous while we were growing up. Ruchir said that if we are doing thriller, we cannot have one story. We then came up with 10-episode series and we decided to get into sub-genres. Hostage drama, conman, etc," said series writer Pravesh Bhardwaj.
For audiences, what is thrilling along with the content is the Bollywood touch.
Lending their voices to the many episodes of Thriller Factory are Anurag Kashyap, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tabu and Sachin Khedekar.
Bhardwaj, who has known Kashyap for a long time, decided to take the stories to him due to the director's love for pulp fiction.
"Anurag's house has one room full of DVDs and another full of books entirely pulp and graphic novels. When he read the first story, he said yeh toh Nawaz k kahani hai (this story is best suited for Nawazuddin Siddiqui)," said Bhardwaj.
He added that when he approached Tabu he knew it was a different ball game, unlike films where there are many evaluations. “But here (audio show or specifically for Thriller Factory) there was no requirement of makeups and looks or a year-long commitment,” he said.
According to both Joshi and Bhardwaj, it is the medium that lets content creators explore newer content and novel forms of story-telling.
"Earlier, we would have pitched to a platform (TV, films) there would have been lot of inputs trying to make the content more PG 13 which would make it less edgy. The idea of adaptation would be much less true to the original piece. And the fact that kind of literature worked in many parts of the country is because it appealed to the most raw sense of a person. It was important to retain the elements which was possible only through an audio show," said Joshi.
Bhardwaj shared an anecdote of the time when they met Kashyap for the narration of the stories.
"When we went to Anurag. he said karna kya hai (what do we have to do?) Is it just like movies? To which we said, yes ,but we won't shoot images. Audience will do that with their imagination," he said.
The content space in India became a lot more exciting thanks to the advent of video streaming platforms.
According to a 2019 PwC report, consumption of podcasts has increased significantly in India over the past few years.
By end-2018, monthly listeners for podcasts increased to four crore from 2.5 crore in 2017, a 57.6 percent rise. It is this listener base that has made India the world's third-largest podcast-listening market (after China and the US).
The report estimates growth in the podcast industry to continue with listener numbers increasing at a 34.5 percent CAGR to 17.61 crore by 2023.
Yet, advertisers have shied away from this medium.
Interest of brands in the podcast space in India is very less currently. But things will change with growth in consumption. Going ahead there will be a significant shift to tier II in the podcast space because there is bulk of listeners there. Tier II markets will definitely be the focus in 2020, said Kiran Nithyanand, SVP, Emerging Business, at Rainshine Entertainment.
While brands are yet to turn their attention to podcasts in India, globally big markets like US in the digital audio content space are seeing strong traction in terms of advertising revenues.
An Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)/PwC report says that podcast ad revenues in the US reached USD 314 million in revenue in 2017, up 86 percent from USD169 million posted in 2016.
Globally, it is expected that podcast ad revenues are likely reach USD 650 million in 2018, growing by a robust 29.7 percent CAGR to USD 1.6 billion in 2022.
And the biggest reason for the growth in ad money is the bigger audience the industry is seeing.
Hence, there is high probability of the Indian podcast space to repeat the success of the west thanks to the growing listener base for podcasts.
But there are challenges and Joshi points out few----
"The big challenge is to get writers because everyone is so tuned to thinking visual. To have the ability to think in audio is rare in the industry right now," he said.
He added that for non-fiction world, you need a lot of deep research and then there is a battle with timeline that a studio would have set. And many people are not available to do this kind work.
"Also, because of the video OTTs, a lot of literature is already up for grabs at a much high price point for rights," said Joshi.
Along with the challenges Joshi pointed out the good points as well.
"The good point is that there is good technical talent in the industry. People who produce sound and music in films and television for them this is a good opportunity. Like in a movie a cinematographer is the most important to a director. Similarly, for audio shows, it is the sound designer and music person. And that was the case in Thriller Factory where Pravesh managed to bring the sound alive," he said.