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Sounds promising – by Carat’s Tarek Nemer

Surfing a wave of popularity, Arabic podcasts are getting a promotion, writes Carat’s senior media planner, Tarek Nemer

In the past couple of years, podcasting has been gaining considerable momentum and a rise in popularity in the GCC and MENA regions. The bullish growth in listenership is expected to sustain its rise throughout the upcoming years, with an estimated increase of 20-40 per cent year-on-year. In 2021 alone, we’ve witnessed a huge growth of podcast users making podcasting the next big thing in our media arsenal. Based on recent statistical studies conducted by The Guardian, the global monthly podcast listener figures are forecast to reach a staggering 1.85 billion in 2023, a figure that will simply make podcasting the most significant storytelling medium of the century in the media industry.

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State of podcasting in the region

The number of listeners to audio podcasting in the region has been on an upwards trajectory. Looking at the most recent numbers issued by Internal Logs, there is a 50 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth of podcast audience within the MENA and GCC regions, averaging an additional 10 million and 7.5 million listeners respectively every year.

With a median weekly listening period of 5 to 7 hours, the highest audience observed so far in these locations is in KSA, with an estimate of more than 5 million listeners, followed by the UAE at approximately 1.3 million listeners. It is also worth noting that in KSA, almost one in every four women is an active podcast user. It is evident that people have a lot to say, and the audience loves hearing it.

Within the region, the podcast space is also getting more organised and structured. With major players like Next Broadcast, Rising Giants, Anghami and others, the future of the industry in the region looks promising.

State of Arabic podcasting in the region

Taking a deeper look into the state of Arabic content in the region, most podcasts are still interview-based. This is reflected through the leading podcast genre in the region being ‘Social & Culture’, which currently includes eight out of 10 podcasts in the top 10 chart in KSA. Although interviews work, they might not always be the most attractive way of storytelling. The way I see it, Arab civilisation is based on storytelling; it’s in our DNA, and this in itself allows for huge potential growth in the podcast industry, specifically for Arab listeners.

Storytelling elevates podcasts into more interactive, dynamic, engaging and entertaining encounters for the listeners. Listeners are attracted to podcasts due to their unmatched ability to story-tell. While there are pockets of podcasts capturing the Arab Youth – with great examples of brands collaborating on more engaging and youthful miniseries – the current quality of Arabic story-based podcasts has not yet reached its full potential in terms of content production, but is set to improve based on the current growth and quality trajectory.

Advertising with podcasts

With the consistent growth in listener usage and podcast providers, it is evident that this medium can be used as a major tool for advertising. There are several ways of marketing through podcasts, ranging from standard advertising forms such as pre/mid-roll, to host announcements and mentions.

From a more creative point of view, a podcast and its storytelling capacity can allow for advertisements through a more integrated approach, making the product part of the entire narrative. A recent example of this is GMC’s product integration with Finyal Media. Brands are already sponsoring some of the region’s top Arabic podcasts, and the results are paying off.

The main innovative enhancement that podcasters will focus on will be audio – binaural audio, social audio and geofenced audio. Similar to the enrichments witnessed in video and pixel quality over the past decade, audio is on the brink of dramatic tech and format changes, which will eventually drive audio podcast creators to tell even greater stories in new, immersive ways.

How do we measure success?

From the saying ‘you cannot manage what you cannot measure’, it is important we also understand the metrics used in the podcast industry and the impact they have on media and advertising. Other than the common metrics used (downloads and indirect approaches such as offer codes, custom URLs, web hits, etc.), developing brand lift studies allows for measuring the uplift of the podcast on your brand.

Within the past couple of years, the medium has proven to excel in engagement, positive recall and positive brand sentiment. This result has created a new stream for brand marketing and advertisements, where brands have now started to harness the power of podcast marketing through making their own podcasts or collaborating with existing ones as guests and through ad sponsorships.

What should brands do?

Audio content provides the medium that allows us to get the information and entertainment we are pursuing, while also providing the convenience of multitasking. Knowing this, industry experts expect podcasting to grow significantly in the upcoming years as on-demand audio popularity increases and becomes more and more mainstream.

Emotionally intelligent brands should develop an audio strategy, giving themselves a distinctive voice and sound (while remembering to listen too). Find ways to reach key audiences with new advertising and content channels. There’s never been a better time to investigate the opportunities within the latest creative technologies, such as voice-response advertising. From a media planning perspective, it is fundamental for us to work with content creators to ensure we have a seamless integration between the brand and the content, and similarly between the content and the users through the podcasting identity.

Regardless of the current challenges that podcasters are facing, the future seems bright. With targeted efforts towards creating higher quality content and more creative ways to generate revenues, there will always be a story to be told.