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Arabic Podcast Listenership is Booming, by Kerning Cultures’ Bella Ibrahim

Kerning Cultures’ marketing director, Bella Ibrahim says her network is building for a future where MENA tops global listener penetration rates by 2025.

Podcasting in the Arab region is heating up. This past year, we’ve seen podcasting prove its success as media’s next frontier through listenership growth alone. As it stands, podcasts average a 20-40% growth in listenership year over year, and the global podcasting market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.5%  from 2020 to 2027. The global podcast market is already sized at a $75bn opportunity. Regionally, we’re lacking growth trend and cross-country market data, but hats off to Markettiers MENA for giving us a starting point: there are 5.1 million podcast listeners in KSA  and 1.3 million listeners in the UAE, listening to an average of 5-7 hours of podcasts a week. Egypt is Kerning Cultures Network’s #2 listening country, so we estimate current listenership there to be between 1-3 million.

We as Arabs are huge consumers of content and a significant market to tap for any new media. We already top global usage for Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, and we at Kerning Cultures Network are building for a future where we’ll top global listener penetration for podcasts by 2025.

Listeners Trust Brands More on Podcasts

As the podcasting market in the region is accelerating in scale and sophistication, brands can target their audiences through podcasts in a more engaging, powerful way. It’s harder than ever for brands to break through the clutter of social media. Meanwhile, audio is outperforming video when it comes to captivating your target audience.

The attention span of social media users is shrinking with the overload of content: Facebook users spend less than 3 seconds with any piece of content and 94% of viewers skip video pre-roll ads. In contrast, podcasts are creating a deeper connection to consumers. Podcast advertising generates up to four times better brand recall than other digital ads. Podcasts have listeners’ undivided attention. Unlike TV or social media, you’re literally in their ears. Podcast advertising campaigns result in an average 10-times lift for brands relative to print, digital and TV.

Brands are already sponsoring some of the region’s top Arabic podcasts, and it’s paying off. Toyota ALJ sponsored a first-of-its-kind Arabic fiction thriller podcast produced by Kerning Cultures Network. Not only did it chart #6 globally, but it proved to be a case study for strong results: Listening to Saqr’s Eclipse positively affected brand image, outperforming automotive industry benchmarks by 24%. Toyota ALJ isn’t the only automotive giant in the region interested in podcasts. GMC sponsored content by Finyal Media. Al Rahji Bank and Visit Saudi are among other brands in the region also expanding into podcast advertising and sponsorship.

Audio Giants Are Betting on Podcasts

Streaming platforms are investing in podcasts as they continue to grow. Anghami, Spotify and Deezer have thrived in the past five years. Remember when we used to download mp3s? Anghami has 70 million registered users and 1 billion monthly streams , Spotify has 356 million users across 178 markets , and Deezer has 14 million monthly active users as of 2019. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek estimates that podcasts will comprise 20% of all listening. We’re seeing Podcast Originals being produced by all three audio giants, as well as significant in-app changes to bring podcasts front and centre. As streaming platforms compete for share of ear, the majority of our listeners at Kerning Cultures Network come through the OG podcast app, Apple, which recently announced that podcasters could customise paid subscription offerings to their audiences (Spotify did a quick-follow).

Social media giant Facebook is jumping on the podcast bandwagon, too, announcing last month their own in-app podcast player. 170 million Facebook users are connected to podcast pages, and I imagine Facebook will roll this out with some loaded monetisation approach of audience targeting to take podcast advertising potential to the next level via their owned platform. Similarly, Spotify acquired podcast advertising platform Megaphone last year to offer granular audience targeting via streaming ad insertion. This kind of targeting is a huge opportunity for the industry, because the current capacity outside markets like the US is more general audience targeting: we know about our listeners through audience surveys, through the genre of show they choose, and our ability to geotarget. Through these new platforms, however, you can run ads targeting specifically age, gender, interests, location, and behaviour.

As listenership continues to grow in the region, powered by platforms and media companies alike, it’s more strategic than ever for forward-thinking brands to take advantage of engaging with their audience on podcasts.