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.”
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.”
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