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Podcast Industry in the Arab world

It is a sure thing that the Podcast industry is growing bigger every day around the globe with a bigger number of listeners and the variety of the podcast shows available by many producers. It is spreading in many regions around the world reaching out for more audiences and tackling different topics with various backgrounds and cultures. The growth of the Podcast Industry in the Arab world is no different from all that! But how did it all start? 

The idea of a Podcast came to light in 2004 when Dave Winer, Software engineer and also known as the Podfather, collaborated with MTV Host Adam Curry on technology that allowed people to automatically download audio files, and be alerted only when the files were there ready to play.  Ever since that time, the Podcast became the key to many services in the easiest form for almost everyone. 

About Dave Winer, he had always believed people would love podcasting as soon as they grasped what it was, and he was proved right. At first, its popularity grew at an astonishing speed. At the end of September 2004, searching for “podcasts” on Google found around 500 results. 

Going from west to east, how was the podcast industry introduced to the Arab World? It came along with the new technological sparks especially when Apple added Podcasting options to the devices manufactured in 2005. However, Arabs started paying more attention and showing more interest in Podcasting in general after that with even more time. But looking at it now, Podcasts as an industry and a tool of entertainment is widely known in the Arab World like never before!

According to data released by Markettiers MENA, More and more youths in the Gulf region have been delving into podcasting and talk about themes varying from films and video games to philosophy and health. Some shows focus on just one theme while others cover several topics. 

As well, there are 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE alone who, interestingly, rank miles ahead of non-MENA listeners when it comes to trust in podcasts (versus radio & TV, for example). The medium has proven to excel in engagement, positive recall, and positive brand sentiment. A real opportunity for brands! And, indeed, brands are starting to harness the power of podcast marketing whether it’s through making their own podcasts or collaborating with existing ones as guests or through ad sponsorship. As the spread in podcasting continues, spurred by the sudden increase in working from home, new research has revealed there are 5.1m regular listeners in Saudi Arabia, with one in four women (21%) listening to podcasts every week. 

Very soon, the UAE could lead the way in world podcasting. Data shows that the medium is quickly taking over hearts and minds here, with 16% of the population now tuning in at least weekly. In listenership, the UAE is on par with the UK and creeping up behind the USA – for now the world’s premier podcast market

As the industry is still in its infancy in the Gulf, most of the content creators continue to fund their own programs. The low cost of creating podcasts helps. In addition to being amateur, many khaleeji podcasters do not know the monetizing potential of this industry and did not develop a business model for their shows. According to Turki al-Balushi, the lack of professionalism may stand in the way of competing with other online content. “The biggest challenge podcasters face is to produce content that is more attractive than visual content and with high sound quality that competes with radio content.”

It’s surprising but the podcast industry as a whole grows up fast in the Arab world as statistics show that the number of Podcast creators and audience are increasing! With 52% in Saudi Arabia, 10% in UAE, 6% in Egypt, 4% in Morocco, 4% in Kuwait, 3% Oman, 3% Lebanon and 18% in other Arab and Middle Eastern countries, it is stated that Podcasting has a great future of growth and development in the Arab World and MENA region. 

However, people now tend to go after content that is short in length and can be easily consumed, podcasts are steadily growing in popularity in the MENA region.  Storytelling is an integrated aspect of the Middle Eastern and Arabic culture. A quick look into history books and you’ll find yourself surrounded by waves of stories that capture your imagination and take you on a journey through times and places. 

Tell me a story!

When we look at the variety of the available Arabic content, we will find that the big chunk is interview-based which is very understandable due to the ease of production. There is nothing wrong with interviews. But interviews don’t always tell good stories. Storytelling is in our DNA and that represents a huge opportunity for growth of the podcast industry between the Arab listeners. There are lots of untouched subjects and niches to cover. Storytelling helps with making podcasts more interactive, dynamic, engaging, and fun. Listeners are attracted to podcasts due to its unmatched ability to story tell. That is why if you look at the top trending podcasts you will find that many story-based podcasts are placed in the top 10. Unfortunately, the quality of Arabic story-based podcasts is not as good as it should be in terms of the quality of content and production. On the bright side, this is a tremendous chance for improvement and growth.

If we want to compare the growth of this industry in different regions, we should start with the USA. In the United States, and in particular, the country where the podcast originated, more than 124 million of its population listened to the podcast and Million dollars annually and studies expect a significant increase in the coming years. In the other hand Podcasts in Egypt and the Arab world in late 2014 and perhaps before that had no confirmed statistics, and saw rapid progress during the last 3 years with the spread of an Egyptian podcast such as Radio Ideas and Podcast more life, and also spread in Jordan through the platform that produces and distributes the Arab podcast And, in the Emirates, where there is a podcast Kerning Cultures and many also in various countries of the Arab world and North Africa.

So is the podcast in the Arab world a missed opportunity? Certainly not, Unfortunately, we are very late in this section, on the production side, and on the receiving side but now it’s the best timing for content creators to shine in this field, yes there are several good Arabic podcasts, but they are very few compared to foreign and English production, in particular, it is good and accelerated growth in Arab digital content, whether text or visual but the audio is unfortunately late and it needs a push forward 

“People are starved for really good Arabic content,” the Sowt founder, Ramsey Tesdell, said. The Arab youth now seems to keep an eye on what’s out there in terms of good podcasts in their own language, and topics that fit their social interests more, Arabic podcasts now focus on social issues, such as religion and the state or gender taboos, that are of interest to Arab young people 

To help you keep up with the booming podcast industry, we put together a list of podcasts from the Middle East as well as MENA based podcasts : 

Kerning Cultures is a leading Middle Eastern podcast network on a mission to tell stories that the MENA region can relate to, these podcasts aspire to tell stories that you’d want to discuss with friends and family. 

Eish Btswi is an Arabic language podcast where guests are invited to tell the story of their career journey. By hosting experts who share details about their studies and experiences

Eib عيب an Arabic-language show from Sowt Podcast Network that discusses issues that are socially stigmatized.

When Women Win On this podcast, Rana Nawas, chats with female business leaders, celebrities, and inspirational figures to share their stories and secrets of success with other women in the region.

Fnjan (فنجان مع عبدالرحمن أبومالح) is an Arabic-language podcast that was founded in 2015 covering a variety of topics that, at their core, explore the idea of diversity and differences. Saudi Founder and host, Abdulrahman Abumalih, releases weekly episodes and has interviewed an impressive line-up of guests. The podcast is available on a range of platforms but, most interestingly, is now accessible on Saudi Airlines flights too as part of the inflight entertainment system!

Sciware سايوير hosted by Mohamed Qasem about science and technology. In his episodes, he discusses scientific or tech-related topics at length and delivers the latest updates in the world of science & technology.

Insijam Podcast This Arabic language podcast is based out of Kuwait and hosted by a certified relationship coach, Dalal Al-Janaie. Dalal uses the platform to help people improve their relationships with friends, family, and themselves.

Money, Money, Money!
Generating revenue to sustain the creative process is the main concern for any content creator. In an up and coming industry like podcasting the situation is even harder especially in the MENA region. Increasing the variety of genres of podcasts is very substantial for expanding the fanbase. This will help podcasters to find creative ways to monetize their platforms. The traditional ways for generating revenues are advertisement, subscription fees, and sponsorship. A recent report by 4DC shows that 92% of podcast listeners trust podcasts more than other means and 26% spend more than non-podcast listeners.

These numbers should motivate podcasters to pursue establishing relationships with brands for either sponsorship or advertisement. It is projected that the ad spending on podcasts in the U.S.A. will reach 1 billion dollars by 2021.

 Another revenue-generating method that is underutilized by podcasters in the MENA region is live shows. Lots of the well-known podcasts in the U.S. go on the road and have live shows with audiences. Such a method is tremendous not just for generating revenues but for increasing awareness about podcasting in the region in general. Podcasters can generate revenue by offering production and consultancy service as well as through licensing and merchandise sales. The growth numbers available empower podcasters to make a solid case for why their platforms are worth investing in.

Podcasting in the MENA region holds huge potential. Regardless of the current challenges that podcasters face, the future seems very bright. They just need to direct their efforts towards creating higher quality content and finding creative ways to generate revenues. And remember! There is always a story to be told.

This post was authored by our wonderful interns who joined us on May 1 2020 to learn from and help Podcast Inc grow. The authors of this article are Ibrahim ElShamy from Egypt, Hadil Khenissa from Alegria, and Somaya Abbas from Egypt.

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