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Why This Startup’s Audio Blockbusters Are the New Craze

Why should filmmakers have all the fun?

Times have changed. The world of modern entertainment has evolved and expanded to a much wider spectrum—thanks to streaming apps that brought entertainment more personal and mobile internet that made it possible on the go. Entertainment today goes beyond the confines of movies or music. People are spending more time listening to audio dramas, audio-only talk shows, podcasts, and discussions, fuelling the growth of non-music audio entertainment. Then, why should the term “blockbuster” be restricted to describing the box-office success of a film anymore?

Interestingly, the origin of the word “blockbuster” isn’t films or anything to do with entertainment. It was originally used to describe bombs in the 1940s. TIME magazine claimed to have used the word first in a November 29, 1942 article to describe bombs with the capacity to destroy an entire city block. Interestingly, it was also the TIME magazine that used the term “blockbuster” for the first time to describe a movie on May 9, 1943. Interestingly, it was not to describe the box-office success of the movie but rather for its content. Over the years, the use of the word “blockbuster” picked up steam, and film critics started using the word to refer to films that were commercially successful or considered a hit at the box office.

Enter audio blockbusters

When start-up Pocket FM introduced the audio series—a dramatic audio adaptation of stories presented in a serialized manner—in 2018, it was an experiment. However, one of its earliest shows, “Insta Millionaire,” turned out to be a myth-buster after receiving over 1 billion plays worldwide. To add to its blockbuster-worthy success, “Insta Millionaire” has generated a cumulative revenue of more than $15 million from users in about one year, not including any additional revenue it has generated from advertisements. 

What makes its success even more incredible is that Pocket FM operates a micropayment-backed freemium model. Under this model, listeners can listen to several episodes for free every day with the option to purchase more. This flexibility is a key advantage of Pocket FM. Operating a tweaked version of the “pay-as-you-go” model backed by micropayments is in direct contrast to the status quo of online entertainment, as most services require users to pay a monthly subscription fee, forcing them to pay for content they won’t even get the chance to enjoy.

Indeed, “Insta Millionaire” is the highest-grossing audio show globally to date, making it a true blockbuster in the world of non-music audio entertainment. The show’s success came on the back of the “binge listening” habit of its listeners from around the globe. On average, Pocket FM listeners spend about 115 minutes daily on the platform, which is higher than any other entertainment platform across the medium of audio entertainment. Interestingly, Americans spend around 20 minutes more, or an average of 135 minutes more, on the platform every day.

Pocket FM’s $10-million club

The commercial success of “Insta Millionaire” did two things. First, it helped Pocket FM spot the market. And second, it made the startup want to produce more blockbusters. To crack the code, the startup decided to emphasize data-driven decision-making utilizing an iterative “hypothesis testing format,” followed by localizing context for every market. Over a period of time and through rigorous trial-and-error, the company managed to figure out what may work and what may not. This process led to it launching other audio series like “Saving Nora” (500 million plays) and “The Return” (380 million plays) that followed the standards set by “Insta Millionaire,” with each series crossing $10 million in revenue from users.

While “Insta Millionaire” is a story of rags-to-riches, “Saving Nora” is a fictionalized tale of love, sacrifice, and second chances. “The Return,” on the other hand, blends elements of mystery, suspense, and the supernatural to take listeners on a journey into the unknown. What worked for each of these series was gripping storytelling and captivating plots that resonated well with listeners globally. Without a doubt, there has been a distinct seismic shift in the overall entertainment space, with non-music audio being the showstopper, and the audio series format coined by Pocket FM is enjoying its infancy. In the years to come, there will be innovations and renovations. As Pocket FM’s co-founder and CEO Rohan Nayak says, “We are just getting started!” The time has arrived for audio entertainment platforms to deliver blockbusters consistently.

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