5.1 million Saudis beat virus lockdown blues by joining podcast revolution

Omar Tom, the managing partner of Dukkan Media.
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Updated 17 April 2020

5.1 million Saudis beat virus lockdown blues by joining podcast revolution

  • Survey says that 23 percent of the Saudi population had listened to podcasts,

JEDDAH: Over recent years, podcasts have gained steady traction and popularity, and today 5.1 million Saudis listen to the digital audio files.

According to research carried out following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Kingdom has witnessed a boom in the number of people tuning into podcasts during the lockdown.

The study by broadcast specialist, markettiers MENA, supported by global podcasting consultancy 4DC, found that 23 percent of the Saudi population had listened to podcasts, and 15 percent of that number regularly tuned in.

Podcasts come in many forms, and 93 percent of Saudis who took part in the survey said they trusted podcast content more than that delivered by any other medium.

Khayra Bundakji, the founder of Mstdfr Podcasting Network, told Arab News: “When we started podcasting nobody knew what a podcast was.”

Khayra Bundaki

And Mstdfr co-founder, Ammar Sabban, said: “We wanted people to have friends in their pockets for the time they didn’t have their physical friends.”

The survey, the first of its kind into Saudi Arabia’s podcast landscape, revealed that the number of women who listened to podcasts was double that of men. Sabban pointed out that one of the main reasons why podcasts were more popular among women was because they could be consumed passively.

“For instance, you don’t have to pay visual attention to podcasts. You can listen to it while driving, cleaning the house, working or even exercising. There are a lot of boring things that you have to do during the day and with podcasts in the background it kills time and at the same time you learn something new,” he added.

Omar Tom, the managing partner of Dukkan Media, is a podcaster on the “Dukkan Show,” one of the Middle East’s leading society and culture podcasts. He said: “They (the podcasters) care deeply about storytelling and getting to know characters and making deeper connections.”

He added that Dukkan’s main reason for podcasting was to share stories from the Middle East with the rest of the world, while aiming to educate, connect, and build bridges through love, shared interests, and cultural connections.

“We are contemporary hakawatis (storytellers in Arabic) of our time. The ‘Dukkan Show’ was designed to be our voice as third culture kids from the Middle East to the world,” said Tom.

Bundakji noted that one of the biggest challenges she faced as a podcaster was the lack of knowledge in people; however, the positive side of this was that podcasters banded together to create a friendly industry. 

“We’re focusing on building the industry more than competing for listeners and I think that this is a very important thing that we don’t do often.”


93 percent of the surveyed adults believe podcasts over any other medium

The name podcast is derived from the words iPod and broadcast.

Podcasts are not as formal as radio shows, and Sabban said that some people had told him they felt radio “had no soul.”

He added: “Radio has an audience of its own but sometimes you need to hear something that is more like you. When driving around in big cities takes a minimum of 30 minutes, during that time you can’t watch anything, and radio is too formal, so people can consume podcasts.”

Bundakji said that it was in 2018 when the industry began to pick up and the number of listeners quickly grew.

Asma Zaki, a 19-year-old regular podcast listener, said: “I got into listening to podcasts when I came across one that talked about anxiety. I remember tearing up when I heard people talk about their symptoms.

“It was shocking to me that I could relate more to these strangers than to my family and friends. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

She enjoyed listening to Ted talks and mental illness podcasts and was looking forward to finding more shows to tune into. “I turn to podcasts now more than ever since the lockdown began, especially when I run out of things to binge-watch, as you can never run out of podcasts to explore,” added Zak

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Updated 30 November 2020

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

  • Founder of Unitas Communications says Kingdom has ‘set a precedent’ in its handling of both events

LONDON: According to one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, Muddassar Ahmed, Saudi Arabia has “not only done an admirable job but has set a precedent for other nations to follow” with regard to its handling of Hajj amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Hajj pilgrimage during the pandemic was a brave one, all the more so because it is a religious occasion that hundreds of thousands of people spend their lives preparing for,” Ahmed, the founder of Unitas Communications, told Arab News.

“To tell people making a once-in-a-lifetime journey that their plans must be put on hold cannot have been easy. But it was without a doubt the right thing to do. In our religion, the protection and preservation of life are of paramount value,” he added.

Ahmed, one of the UK’s top 1000 most influential people, also praised the Kingdom’s handling of the G20 summit last month after deciding to go fully virtual, calling it “absolutely the correct course of action.”

“In both instances, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for other countries to follow. We can contrast its proactive, forward-thinking and compassionate approach, as well as its own COVID-19 statistics, with other countries’ track records,” he said.

Countering extremism as a British Muslim

Ahmed is not only known for his role as a communications expert, but also as a leading figure in the Muslim community in the UK, countering hate speech and the rise of extremism as an advisor to the British government on anti-Muslim hatred.

“As a born-and-bred British Muslim, this is not just important to me on a policy level but on a deeply personal level. I have dedicated my life to improving relationships between Muslim and other communities and I believe that, through Unitas and other projects I have dedicated myself to, we have made tremendous progress in improving the image and position of Muslims in Britain and the West,” Ahmed, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims worldwide three times, said.

Before founding Unitas, Ahmed was an activist campaigning against the Iraq war and founder/host of East London’s Radio Ramadan shows.

“I soon realized that adversarial campaigning only went so far. I was concerned by the growing divide between Muslims and wider society, between the Islamic world and the West, and I wanted — I needed — to help heal these divides, to bridge these allegedly irreconcilable narratives,” he explained.

Soon after, he teamed up with fellow East Londoner and childhood classmate Shiraz Ahmad to give birth to the world’s first public relations agency dedicated to bridging the gap between the Islamic and Western worlds: Unitas Communications.

One of the group’s first clients was the National Health Service, which needed to access hard-to-reach minority communities in East London.

It was not long before their work earned the attention of people invested in efforts to do the same. A few years after the start of the Iraq War and after the 7/7 2005 London terrorist attacks, community cohesion in the UK was at an all-time low.

The UN’s Alliance of Civilizations then reached out to Unitas to “see minority and Muslim communities have the training and develop the skills necessary to engage effectively and constructively in wider British society.”

Ahmed and Unitas’s work is not restricted to the UK alone, with the group and its founder earning praise and recognition from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the City of New York.

Brexit and what is to come

While many businesses have been critical of Brexit and its potential consequences, Ahmed looks to the bright side of matters and instead calls it “an opportunity for Britain to reset its narrative on the world stage.”

“I have every confidence in the ability of the British nation to reinvent itself,” he added, explaining that “Unitas operations extend across continents in order to connect people, cultures and ideas and to make communicating effective and impactful.”

With regard to what the future holds for Unitas in such uncertain times, Ahmed remains optimistic.

“The future will see Unitas continuing to work with leading international brands and expanding its presence across Europe and the Middle East and deeper into Southeast Asia. But I should also say that a major priority for us has always been the US. We’ve had major American clients, like the National Football League and the US State Department,” he said.

“We will continue to choose clients who contribute to making the world a more understanding place, and we will engage those relationships to improve the world, to leave things better off than where they were when we started.

Because this work isn’t just a business to me or my team. It’s a moral calling.”