What is common between Navya Naveli Nanda, Sejal Kumar and Ahsaas Channa? From What The Hell Nayva, Shutup Sejal to Dear Teenage Me, these upcoming Gen Z stars are hosting unique podcasts that offer a fresh take on life, love, relationships and more, building a fan base that is only growing by the minute.

True crime, food to travel stories—a hyper-visual Gen Z is increasingly turning to audio content for knowledge, perspective, and pleasure. The generation that scrolls past an Instagram reel and forgets about it the next minute seems to have found a keeper in podcasts.

For Millenials, the generation that witnessed the growth of FMs and radio jockeys, podcasts are the next natural choice. “We have heard it all, from Akashvani, ‘cool’ radio jockeys and now, podcasts,” says 29-year-old Neeta Sharma, who bonds with her younger sister over new audio content. Her favourites include Respectfully Disagree, a weekly culture podcast from The Swaddle.

As per a PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook study, India has the third-largest podcast listener base globally, just behind US and China, a number expected to rise to 17.61 million by 2023. It is no surprise then, that a significant chunk of podcast listeners are Gen Z and millenial.

Riya, Neeta’s sister, loves both Navya’s show and The Swaddle’s Respectfully Disagree. She also listens to the podcast by influencer siblings Kritika and Deeksha Khurrana called What’s Up Sister? Both of us relate to the topics shared by the two siblings. We listen to it together, like a weekly ritual,” says Riya.


Also read: Ashneer Grover, Ankur Warikoo books sell like hotcakes. Startup guys new India’s storytellers


The next big thing

A session in progress at Spotify's IRL event in Mumbai | Credit
A session in progress at Spotify’s IRL event in Mumbai | Credit: Spotify

While Spotify and Apple Music have morphed into inclusive spaces where conversations are welcome, music continues to remain a popular choice. As per the Spotify Culture Next Report, 80 per cent of Gen Zs have felt “more centred and generally happier” when listening to their favourite music daily, while 68 per cent of Gen Zs and  84 per cent of millennials say music is a “gateway to other cultures.” It is no surprise that 23-year-old Abhay Arora’s Spotify account has 16 thousand followers. His playlists like Me and Who, When We Go Clubbing Together, and Indie Saviours are quite a hit among his followers.

Arora’s popularity comes from That Music Project, his personal Instagram page with nearly three lakh followers. It was a natural progression from the video-sharing app to the audio app.

On 5 November this year, Spotify organised ‘Spotify IRL’ in Mumbai. This event brought together podcasters, video creators and artistes to interact with each other through panel discussions, quizzes and music.

Ankur Warikoo holding his session at Spotify's IRL event at Mumbai on 5 November | Credit: Spotify
Ankur Warikoo holding his session at Spotify’s IRL event at Mumbai on 5 November | Credit: Spotify

“While all generations look back fondly to earlier eras, the Zs are reinventing nostalgia. With the instability in the last few years, nostalgia has been shown to provide a sense of comfort amid uncertainty for this generation,” says Arjun Kolady, Head of Ad sales at Spotify India.

Creators find it cheaper to start a podcast. From free platforms to lack of reliance on aesthetic backgrounds, podcasts are a far more manageable side hustle for most.


Also read: India has no TV, OTT content for its nearly 50 crore GenZs. It’s still a millennial machine


Love, teenage angst and learning

Ahsaas Channa hosts Dear Teenage Me, a podcast with episodes under 10 minutes, where celebrities talk to their teenage versions. “Podcasts feel more personal, and when you listen to them, you feel less lonely. Podcasts are almost like therapy for me,” says the 23-year-old, who began her career as a child actor and is now a regular face on OTT platforms.

Sometimes, it is also about having ‘meaningful’ conversations that a 30-second reel cannot capture. The absence of ‘viral trends’ from audio platforms also adds an element of surprise to podcasts. Instead, hosts rely on cliffhangers to create an air of mystery and focus on making their content feel more personal.

“I listen to the Modern Love podcast. It feels really intimate like these were real people talking about their dates and love stories,” says Srishti Garg, a student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Jodhpur. Garg is famous for her If Gen Z Did XYZ series on Instagram, and having her own podcast is a goal she has set for herself.

There is also the element of learning something new.  “If you give 30 minutes of your life to a podcast, you might learn something from it. I wonder if we learn from a 30-sec reel on ‘a day in Delhi’, says Abhay Arora. An avalanche of visual content is driving Gen Z to seek other forms of digital interaction, and podcasts fit the bill for many.


Also read: Disability influencers on Instagram have one loud message. They don’t exist to inspire you


‘safe’ space

Podcasts have become the space to explore, in detail, avenues still considered ‘niche’ in India. Esports, or online gaming, is a fast-growing industry, with 100 million people taking to it in 2020. Yet, one almost inevitably relies on gamers and streamers from other countries for information, interaction, and even community building. Podcasts have brought a sea change, though.

“I listen to Mythpat because I am an avid gamer. But India’s gaming scene, even within Gen Z, is pretty nascent. Mythpat helps me know more about all the new happenings in the gaming industry,” says 21-year-old Noorie, who prefers using only her first name. Noorie is just one among gaming content creator Mithilesh Patankar’s team, whose social media followers range in millions.

Loyalty is a unique feature of podcasts, one no longer guaranteed on Instagram. Despite reels that easily cross lakhs of views by the minute, the numbers do not translate into actual engagement metrics. Since everything is about numbers, Instagrammers say there is constant pressure to follow trends to boost posts and increase follower count. “We see ourselves in terms of numbers, and we value ourselves in numbers,” says Srishti Garg.

According to the MIDAS Survey of Summer 2022, a majority of podcast listeners—that is 68 per cent—listen to the whole episode, while 70 per cent listen to almost all episodes they’ve downloaded.

The rapid advent of social media over the past decade has allowed FOMO (fear of missing out) to make its way into conversations. Podcasts are now considered a refuge for those who need affirmations about slowing down instead of rushing through life.

There is no doubt that podcasts are not yet at the phase where one listens to them every day, but gradual and steady growth is evident. With more and more people becoming first-time consumers, podcasts are slowly reaching their ‘gold rush phase.

“There are too many ‘inspiring’ stories on social media sometimes that make you feel terrible for ‘wasting’ time by watching Netflix or even doing nothing. Listening to podcasts, which are real, raw and often unfiltered about everything, be it life or relationships, helps fight the urge to hustle constantly,” says 21-year-old student Ila. Ila felt particularly left out when her friends shared content from parties and vacations while she took extra classes to make up for a month of studies missed due to illness. For Gen Zs like Ila, podcasts feel like an understanding older sibling, wiser Gen Z counterpart, or an equally confused version of themselves—a virtual entity that feels real and does not judge.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)