Case Studies - Product Design - Media

Can Pocket FM Build a Global Entertainment Brand?

The company has tasted success with two herculean tasks – creating content for a global market, and getting the audience to pay for it.

Still from Insta Millionaire Pocket FM series showing girl in bathrobe opening door to delivery boy
Still from Insta Millionaire Live Action Promo, one of Pocket FM’s top grossing series

Insta Millionaire on Pocket FM is a drama audio series about a rags to riches story. If you are accessing the story from India, the hero is called Lucky, while the protagonist for the US audience is named Alex Ambrose. Insta Millionaire has 1440 episodes and has grossed US$ 15 million to date. Another Pocket FM chartbuster called Saving Nora, a 1884 episode series about a homeless, single mother’s quest for revenge, has grossed US$ 18 million. 

Pocket FM is one of the few B2C companies that has gained a toehold in the lucrative, but daunting US market, by using a brand, product and playbook built in India. The Total Time Spent Listening (TSL) per day for an Indian user on Pocket FM is 115 minutes, while daily TSL for an American user is an impressive 135 minutes. 

As of March 2024, Pocket FM had raised US$ 196.5 million in funding.

How did Pocket FM get here and where is the platform headed?

Finding the Right Format

Pocket FM was founded in 2018 by  Rohan Nayak, Nishanth KS and Prateek Dixit, who felt the need for audio entertainment on their long commutes. While platforms like Audible and Spotify offered books, podcasts and music, there was no ‘Netflix-type’ option for audio.

After a couple of years of research, the founders honed in on serialised audio dramas that could be consumed episode by episode. The first series they launched was a Hindi romance called Kitni Mohabbat Hai. When daily user engagement went from 30 minutes to 60 minutes and then 90 minutes in just six weeks, the founders knew they were onto something.

By early 2021, the team noticed that they were gaining organic traction from other countries. While early adopters were the Hindi-speaking Indian communities, the company decided to go all in – launching both Android and iOS apps in the US, with content modified for the US market.

By 2022, data showed that the audacious move was paying off. From negligible revenue in 2022, Pocket FM was clocking an ARR (Annualised Revenue Run Rate) of US$ 150 million by the end of 2023. According to Rahul Nag, Director, Corporate Communications, over 70% of the audience in the US comprises mainstream Americans. 

Screenshots of Pocket FM library with caption 2000+ audio series
Pocket FM offers popular entertainment across genres

Finding the Right Monetisation Model 

Pocket FM experimented with different monetisation models, including subscriptions, before finally settling on a gamified, micro-subscription framework. The company’s ad revenue network is also in the works.

A certain number of episodes can be watched for free in a day. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the user wanting more. After exceeding their daily limit, users must buy ‘coin packs.’ These packs can be priced as low as Rs.9 in India and US$ 1.99 in USA. 

Nag points to the benefits of this model. Cost of acquisition is low, since users come back daily to avail of their free quota. The low cost of coin packs, coupled with the psychological win of paying only for what they consume, has found favour with users. Pocket FM’s surge in revenue can also be attributed to the fact that this model allows for differential pricing between different markets.

Date given by Pocket FM

Where are the Moats?

As the company doubles down on global expansion, it will need to find deep moats against formidable competitors like Spotify and Audible – the latter is already offering a catalogue of romantic audio series. 

Where could Pocket FM’s advantages lie?

  1. The default audio series destination

Pocket FM is sharpening its positioning – moving the narrative away from being a audio platform to an audio series platform, a sharper and more defensible space.

  1. Owning IP to a vast content library

Pocket FM owns the IP to exclusive content that is created by a vast community of 250,000+ creators, resulting in healthier gross margins than platforms based on licensed content. This includes mass entertainment content that spans genres from fantasy to suspense and romance. The company has also seen success with adapting content for different markets, something the larger players have not found viable to do. 

  1. Easier on the pocket

Pocket FM is less expensive than most subscription-based platforms and this may prove an advantage. The gamified micro-subscriptions allow users to feel more comfortable about flexibility and control.

  1. Building a differentiated user experience 

Niteesh Yadav, Director of Design, Pocket FM, is convinced that a category-defining user experience will also be a key differentiator. “The platform requires a hybrid foreground / background experience,” he explains. One is the visual experience – what the user sees on the app – when s/he is not actively listening. The other is the pure listening part. The design must seamlessly integrate these.” 

Yadav and team are starting with an overhaul of the design language and evaluating critical flows to minimise any friction. They are also working on giving users as much control as possible over their experience, via features like auto-debit that can be turned on or off. 

There is another interesting design challenge which involves content creators. These writers are often located in small towns and use low-end phones to type stories that run into thousands of words. Optimising their experience via typography is also on the roadmap. Yadav has designed the Google font, AR One Sans, and is the author of the AR/VR typography guidelines published by Google, currently the reference for all major players in the AR/VR space. 

Expanding into Categories & Markets

With the launch of its online reading platform Pocket Novels, the company has started experimenting with other formats like text. “This helps in expanding content across multiple formats. One IP can be leveraged across formats, making it a sustainable model just not for us, but also for the writers’ community,” explains Nag. 

Currently, the company seems to be following a monolithic brand architecture, using variations of the same logo for different product offerings. Nag admits that while the journey up to now has been about growth through teaser content and performance marketing, the team is now focusing on the bigger brand narrative. The company has appointed Vineet Singh as VP-Branding and Communications to drive this mandate.

Screenshot from homepage of pocekt Nvels showing a gorl and by inside a rectangular frame
Online reading platformPocket Novels had been launched and other formats could follow

Further expansion is also on the cards as the company targets Latin America, UK and Germany. This will mean maintaining Pocket FM’s key driver of success – the ability to deliver popular and culturally relevant content at a sustainable cost, across different markets. This will not be an easy task. Regardless, the company has set an important precedent for Indian media companies by busting the myth that made-in-India means stay-in-India.

4 Comments

  1. With A.I. cost of production for different formats will be nil. Finally quality original content only will matter.

  2. Waiting and watching to see how this turns out but wish pocket all the best. Please do a deep dive into design changes also

  3. For me this story was about the hope that even with big global players, you can find a white space. I wish you had focused more on how they arrived at content strategy. What did they know that Amazon did not think of?

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