DUBAI: Nearly 4,000 podcasts have been produced in the MENA region, according to Stefano Fallaha, the founder and CEO of Arab-focused podcast platform Podeo, who said that this number is low compared with other parts of the world.
He was one of the speakers at the recent Step Conference 2022, which attracted more than 8,000 attendees to its 10th anniversary event. The technology festival covered a wide variety of topics related to the fields of digital media, financial technology, future technologies, health and wellness, and the start-up ecosystem.
During a panel titled Podcasting Beyond the Mic, Fallaha joined Bella Ibrahim, the marketing director of Middle Eastern, female-led podcast company Kerning Cultures, and Mouin Jaber, co-host of the podcast “Sarde After Dinner,” for a discussion of the challenges facing the regional podcast industry and the opportunities that exist.
“You still have fewer than than 3,000 to 4,000 podcasts coming out of the region and out of these, maybe 10 to 20 percent are active, compared to 6 or 7 million podcasts globally,” said Fallaha.
He attributed the relatively slow growth of podcasting in the region to a lack of market maturity, a sentiment echoed by Ibrahim.
“Anytime we had a conversation, it always had to start with, ‘Do you know what a podcast is? Have you listened to one?’” she said. “For a good two years, our process with anybody who asked us what (we) do for a living was: ‘Take out your phone, look it up and listen.’”
Although a growing number of brands have been investing in podcast advertising, Ibrahim said many still need to be educated about the long-term benefits of investing in digital audio content.
The nascent state of the regional podcast industry has, however, resulted in a close-knit community rather than a more competitive arena, said Jaber.
“People are willing to help each other as part of the community; there’s no such thing as prime time or zero-sum game,” he said.
A panel discussion titled Optimizing Streaming in MENA looked beyond the audio market to video streaming and brought together Richard Fitzgerald, the CEO of Middle Eastern digital media company Augustus Media; Alaa Fadan, the co-founder and CEO of Saudi-based creative media studio Telfaz11; and Butheina Kazim, the co-founder of independent film platform Cinema Akil. They discussed the role of film producers and directors and other content creators in promoting regional content.
Highlighting the potential for growth, Fitzgerald said: “The region has the opportunity to create its own narrative. You don’t necessarily have to follow what the US is saying around streaming.”
The pandemic has accelerated the growth of media consumption and online streaming, resulting in higher numbers of subscriptions, said Fadan. Given the “optimistic predictions” for growth and viewership in the region, he added, “it’s leaning toward a very strong and very big industry, especially on the production side.”
The region’s potential is apparent not only in the growth of local streaming services but also in the interest and investment from international platforms, according to the panelists, who collectively highlighted the investment by Netflix in an Arabic remake of the 2016 Italian film “Perfect Strangers” as a success story.
Netflix already has deals in place with Telfaz11 and Saudi-based animation studio Myrkott, and Fadan said the release of “Perfect Strangers” is “just a glimpse of what’s to come, especially in the region and specifically for Saudi.”
The Step Conference 2022, which was held in partnership with Dubai Internet City (DIC), took place on Feb. 23 and 24.