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The unique Middle East podcast market, by Next Broadcast Media’s Lemya Soltani

By Lemya Soltani, Next Broadcast Media, Director of Partnerships & Business Development.

Podcast advertising in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is booming. Popularity and trust in the medium are at an all-time high driving brands to start investing. But as a relatively new medium, a common distribution mistake keeps recurring. Understanding the unique Middle East podcast landscape will stop stunting the success of audio campaigns and start to realize the full potential.

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The podcast platform nuance

Before launching an audio campaign, choosing which platform to distribute ads is the most important local nuance businesses need to take note of.

The podcast market is incredibly fragmented across multiple networks and distribution platforms. The difference between the two being:

  • Podcast network – produces content and shares their shows
  • Distribution platform – distributes shows from multiple networks and, on some platforms, exclusive content

The UAE and Saudi differ from the US and UK markets, in that Android users outnumber iOS. The assumption, therefore, is campaigns delivered across device agnostic platforms (like Spotify) will have a larger reach. However, two factors challenge this assumption:

  1. Regionally, podcast content is not always accessible on popular platforms. Rising Giants Network co-founder Basel Anabtawi shared with us – “At Rising Giants, we clearly see that Apple Podcasts lead the charge in downloads with over 86% of our users coming from Apple devices.”
  2. A significant number of device-agnostic users have premium subscriptions which block all advertising. Programmatically, when booking ads Apple Podcasts have 85% more impressions available than the other leading platforms.

Ramsey Tesdell, the CEO of Sowt Media, a leading producer of digital audio shared “Podcasting in MENA is dominated by Apple Podcasts both in the reach and the availability of podcasts. While Spotify is making great leaps globally in podcasting, they do not offer podcasts to accounts from KSA and Egypt, which are the two biggest markets in the Arab world,” said

Armed with the knowledge that Apple Podcasts is the platform with the largest reach, brands now know it cannot be left off media plans.

Achieve marketing goals

Once the distribution is perfected, podcast ads can fulfill marketing goals at a rate beyond other channels. The Claritas 2020 Podcast Campaign Lift report has found it to lift brand awareness by 24% to 79%, which is 30 times the lift rates of digital display, print, linear TV, etc.

These are some of the marketing goals, podcasts ads in the Middle East are particularly good at achieving.

Podcast ads reach more local Emirati listeners

Is your marketing goal to reach an Emirati audience? When it comes to reaching a concentrated Emirati audience, podcasts win. In both the UAE and Saudi we repeatedly see domestic shows that represent local culture, people, news, and language, ranking high in the charts.

Although English is the majority spoken podcast language, the growing MENA podcast scene is fuelling Arab listenership creating a seismic opportunity for brands to reach this important audience.

Middle East podcast listeners spend more

Is your marketing goal to reach an audience with high spending power? The spending power of Saudi and UAE podcast listeners is higher than non-listeners, making it a solid strategy for brands wanting to reach audiences with high disposable incomes.

Listener vs non-listener spend across various categories:

  • Food and Beverage: UAE listeners spend 25% higher. KSA listeners spend 17% more.
  • Entertainment and travel: UAE listeners spend 25% higher. KSA listeners spend 19% more.
  • In-home spend: UAE listeners spend 24% higher. KSA listeners spend 11% more.

Source: Marketettiers & 4DC MENA 2019 podcast report

Podcast ads are heard and trusted

Is your marketing goal to increase loyalty and trust? Listeners tune into shows that reflect their interests, beliefs, and passions, which leads to high trust in the podcast host/show. This trust extends to the ads played alongside the show, making it a solid strategy to improve brand trust.

According to podcast statistics, 2020 was the industry’s most successful year…until now! EMarketer estimates 2021 will end with a $1.13 million podcast advertising revenue – a 45%  jump over 2020. Zooming into the Middle East, podcasts are equally hot. More local content is being produced, access is improving, and lifestyles are changing, causing local listenership to surge.

Marketettiers & 4DC MENA 2019 podcast report found in KSA 15 percent of the population tune into podcasts at least once a week. In the UAE 16 percent listen regularly. Given the global upward trajectory of this sector, it’s fair to conclude listener numbers have grown since then.

Of the regular UAE listeners, the Markettier report goes on to state 91 percent have a high trust factor in podcasts. In KSA the trust factor is greater, at 93 percent.

This means brands can deploy podcast ads as a tool to significantly boost brand loyalty and trust among a large listenership

Programmatic podcast advertising

Impressive listener stats and striking effectiveness make podcast advertising alluring. Further fueling the podcast appeal is the emerging programmatic infrastructure. The ad technology has made access to the medium simple, accurate, and cost-effective for brands of all sizes.

Tedell (Sowt Podcasts) states “It’s important to consider the tools available to reach a diverse and important audience. Working together with podcast producers and advertising networks, the reach of podcasts is growing quickly through programmatic advertising”.

Programmatic podcast advertising allows genre targeting to reach niche audiences with ads that reflect the unique audio content. Optimization can get campaigns to follow listeners on a platform, rather than spreading thinly across 2 or 3 platforms.

Podcasting is still, relatively speaking, new. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE trust and popularity in the media are accelerating, the time to invest is now. Podcasting provides one of the most intimate and dynamic ways brands can talk to their audience – when done in the right way.

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