CAIRO: According to a recent Middle East report, 1.3 million people in the UAE alone regularly listen to podcasts, which presents an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs, businesses and brands to connect with audiences online.
Although still in its infancy, the region’s podcast scene is expected to continuing growing, especially as mobile connectivity and awareness of such services increases.
The storytelling nature of the medium is what attracts listeners to podcasting.
Ramsey Tesdell, executive director and partner at Jordan-based Sowt, believes it is the timeless tradition of storytelling that makes podcasting special, particularly to Arab listeners.
“Audio is an old and important tradition, and with podcasting, we can help innovate it,” said Tesdell, whose podcast delivers narrative-driven content in Arabic.
Listeners crave something different and much more focused than the standard radio shows. He explains that people are tired of scrolling endlessly on social media and are looking for new ways to engage with content.
“With podcasting, they choose specific topics and listen to that show,” he said. “It’s an alternative to a very crowded media space.”
Omar Tom, founder of Dukkan Media in Dubai, said that podcasting provides an opportunity to delve into niche content and personal narratives.
Whether it is exploring cultural and social issues, like Sowt, or focusing on culturally diverse English-speaking Arabs in the UAE, like Dukkan, the options are endless. “Podcasting is a niche within its own. You can go as niche with it as you like,” he said.
Podcasting in the region still has a long way to go before it becomes an industry. “We are barely at the beginning,” Tesdell said. “We’re looking to develop it and make sure it keeps growing by producing more content as well as different types of content.”
According to Tesdell, the main challenge is that a lot of people still do not know what podcasting is.
Many podcasters in the region also fail to offer real storytelling, creating radio-like content instead.
Nevertheless Tesdell sees this as a chance to lead by example.
“This is an opportunity to produce quality podcasts and develop good relationships with media,” he said.
Tom agrees that the medium is still in its infancy. “Up until this point, it is a paid passion project,” he said. “What would make podcasting an industry is aggressive competition.”
Many podcasters continue to struggle to monetize the medium, and lack a clear financial model or structure to turn it into a profitable business, he said.
Podcasting can be monetized through advertisers, sponsorships, subscribers, production and consultancy-based services.
However, neither Sowt nor Dukkan uses advertisers for revenue generation.
“I don’t want to limit the conversation,” said Tom, adding that podcasting was a means to create a business.
“Podcasting has opened so many doors for me. From one show, I built a cultural consultancy firm,” he said.
Although still a nascent medium, podcasting is proving to be a trusted one. According to that same report, 92 percent of regular listeners trust podcasts more than traditional media, while only 72 percent trust social media platforms.
“Although exposure is high on some social media platforms, podcasts add more value. It is a trusted and respected medium,” Tesdell said.
For this reason, podcasting is a great space to enter, Tom argues. “It is a medium that you own,” he said.
“Just like you are on certain social media platforms for personal or business use, podcasting is an extension of that.”
Meanwhile, the podcast scene seems to be growing, albeit slowly. It is gaining traction in the Middle East as people look for ways to express themselves outside of mainstream media.
“Everyone has a story to tell, and they want to tell it in their own way,” Tom said.
• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.