Listen up: Podcasts mean business when done right

Listen up: Podcasts mean business when done right

Listen up: Podcasts mean business when done right
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Podcasts used to be the companion of choice on the daily drive to work or while exercising. But when COVID-19 hit and we had nowhere to go and nothing to do … were people still tuning in? It turns out, podcast listeners escaped reality by tuning to podcasts even more than usual.

A report titled “Podcasts in MENA: State of the Industry” showed that, after an initial dip at the start of the pandemic, 56 percent of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE listened to more podcasts by the end of 2020.

“With access to WiFi and an appetite from creators, the MENA region has a big opportunity as one of the fastest developing podcast markets in the world today,” said Simmi Areff, a popular South African podcast host and co-founder of POC (People of Color) Podcasts, which is expanding into the Middle East with new offices in the UAE.

It is a global phenomenon. Brands are taking note. Late last year, Amazon bought podcast company Wondery and Spotify had inked exclusive deals with the likes of Michelle Obama and Joe Rogan. Just last month, YouTube joined the club with its first official podcast highlighting successful creators.

The stats in MENA are along the same lines, with added nuance. Women listen to podcasts five times as much as men, and 56 percent of listeners tune in socially with family, as opposed to solitary listening, according to an insightful report by 4DC Markettiers. 

Perhaps most interesting from a business perspective is that podcast listeners have a higher purchasing power. The report shows a 17 percent higher spend on food and beverage, 19 percent more on travel, and 22 percent increased spend on subscriptions when compared to non-podcast listeners.

In a survey by regional company Amayea Media, 92 percent of respondents stated they would listen to a branded podcast. The appetite is there, but is the content being created? We’re starting to see some activity, with Saudi Arabia leading the way.

STC was an early supporter of podcasts via Thmanyah, a leading Saudi podcast platform with 1.6 million monthly listeners. Thmanyah recently launched a fintech series on the history of Saudi financial institutions in partnership with Al-Rajhi Bank. It is a great example of podcast content that aligns with the ethos of a brand.

“In the US, there’s now a frenzy for brands to be associated with podcasts. In MENA, advertisers and brands are starting to realize the importance of audio and taking steps to share authentic stories,” said Zeina Tabbara, a content strategist. “It’s different to a quick Instagram post. Podcasts require longer collaboration with content creators and ask a listener to tune in for an average of 30 minutes for a single episode.”

She says there is a particular need for more Arabic content. In general, the profile of a typical podcast fan is someone digitally savvy who appreciates art and culture, has a high disposable income, and is well educated, according to the Markettiers report. It is an appealing audience profile for the right brand, particularly as 86 percent of those surveyed confirm they like brand-funded content because of high production quality and relevant subject matter.  

The report details that podcast advertising revenue will have increased by almost 15 percent to “nearly $1 billion in 2020” (rising from $708 billion in 2019), according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC, and that “it’s clear that the future looks bright for the medium.”

“A lot of audience members in MENA have brand fatigue — it feels like every other post is sponsored on social media,” said Tabbara. “People want more authentic experiences, and podcasts offer that now. And we’ve barely touched the surface.”

• Sara Hamdan is a former Merrill Lynch banker, New York Times journalist, and editor at Google. She writes on startups, women in business, and post-COVID-19 work trends. Twitter: @SaraHamdan

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view