Updated: Jun 12
Overview of the podcast market in the Middle East
Review of consumer audio consumption trends in the region
How to create, promote, and monetize a podcast in the region
There is a gap in the Middle East media industry for quality audio content. Enter: Opportunity.
Though there are a number of podcast networks producing Arabic content, compared to the volume of content in the English language, the ratio is huge. Even more prevalent is the gap in podcast industry players who have managed to successfully build commercially viable podcast businesses in the region — without which the industry cannot sustain itself!
But what works in the Middle East?
Well, given that it's an untapped market, anticipating which genres will be most popular is tricky to do without data to back up assumptions. But, you will see a crossover with what's popular on other platforms, and across other podcast networks around the world.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been an increase in podcast consumption (interesting, given that people were not commuting for months on end during lockdown). This means that there is an opportunity to cater to a demand-side that is seeking to be entertained through audio.
There are some shows that are popular globally, but Leila thinks that production and consumption of original, fiction, story-based podcast shows will witness an upward trend soon in the region.
What does it take to create a show that caters to the Arab world?
Be mindful of ownership/ licensing rights of characters you may be borrowing to tell your stories.
Research and prep your storylines, and release a pilot before scaling production to the public.
Cater to who you want to target (e.g. produce in English if targeting the UAE given its international population, otherwise in Arabic if targeting Saudi Arabia or Egypt given their largely local population).
If producing in Arabic, consider a modern, standard Arabic dialect that can be understood across different audiences.
BUT, there are also instances where certain Arabic dialects need to be considered deliberately to target different segments.
Consider distribution across local streaming platforms (e.g. Anghami).
Consider adding promotional content on YouTube (e.g. behind-the-scenes footage and audiograms).
Can a podcast hobbyist realistically pursue podcast creation as a career?
Since COVID-19, the regional podcast industry witnessed a spike in the supply of podcasts. Leila anticipates that during the lockdown period, there were a lot of people stuck at home who realized they can launch a podcast (given that they wanted to, of course) because it’s accessible to produce.
Though Spotify recently reported a growth in its listener base (year-on-year), it also reported a decrease in its ad revenue due to reserved COVID-related business sentiments (witnessed around the globe this year). Nevertheless, the total ad market for podcasts is estimated to have reached USD 1 billion; not quite matched with radio, though that is on the decline itself.
When producing a regional podcast, your approach to finding sponsors needs to be direct.
Though there are some international podcast platforms (e.g. Anchor) that handle monetization and distribution of podcasts for content creators, podcast sponsor adverts need to be created with a personalized touch for them to be effective. There is more that goes into an ad than reading a script. Part of the benefit of podcast advertising is that the show producers understand what the brand is looking for, and therefore will craft the ad messaging whilst keeping the same style and tone of the show, thereby coming across as authentic and integrated. You cannot achieve this without direct conversations with brands themselves.
Too often what people do now to reach people is go straight into lower funnel and performance.
What about streaming platforms built for consuming podcasts vs. music first
There is a distinction in functionality between the platforms set up purely for podcasting vs. the platforms set up for music streaming that then expanded into podcasting. 80% of podcast listeners in the Middle East stream through Apple Podcasts. YouTube is also a platform on which listeners in the Middle East consume podcasts. On whichever platform people consume shows is how they will continue to consume those particular shows.
Nevertheless, Spotify (originally built for music streaming) is making conscious investments to enrich its appeal to podcast listeners. Notable investments that we discuss in this episode are:
Producing original content (e.g. The Michelle Obama Podcast)
Purchasing globally popular content (e.g. The Joe Rogan Experience)
How do podcast shows get discovered?
This is notoriously challenging for creators to crack!
Most platforms have either: (1) recommender machine learning algorithms built in to suggest shows to listeners, or (2) recommended selections by their editorial team(s).
Or, if you’re interested in specific genres, you can find shows in your podcast app directly (e.g. browsing their “top charts”). Apple Podcasts updates their charts on a live basis!
A big thank you to Leila Hamadeh for lending us her insights for this episode!
For updates on Finyal Media, follow them on Instagram. Here are some more facts about the company:
Founded in 2019
Produced 10 episodes within its network (and counting!), which have accumulated over 3 million downloads (as of the time of the episode recording)
Most of its shows are in Arabic language
Five shows have been ranked “Number 1” in the Middle East (as of the time of the episode recording)
Now supports independent podcasters – find out about Finyal Studios here.
Recently released the region's first original mystery/ thriller/ drama series in podcast format, titled The Basement (in Arabic)