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The MENA podcast market holds potential: US market offers great lessons

Podcasting has been experiencing its first steps in the region over the past few years. For the future, producers could stand to learn from their US counterparts.

American marketers are set to spend over $1 billion on podcast advertising by 2021 "The amount of [Americans] that listen to at least one podcast per month surged from 23 million in 2013 to 78 million in 2017" Anghami has signed multiple partnerships with podcast producers that will help its platform reach 70 million users

Podcasting is slowly gaining traction in the Middle East. A look across the pond over to the west can give podcasters in the region the edge and insight they need to help the medium flourish in the MENA.

Embrace the reality of the situation: Podcasts still cater to a niche 

It’s no secret that podcasting was never as big a fad in the Middle East as it was in other countries in the world. While podcasts burst into the mainstream around 2004-2005, around the time of the iPod’s blowout success, it never quite caught on with Arab countries. Naturally, internet speeds lagged behind the rest of the world, and the concept of mobile internet services faced a similar delay in widespread adoption. 

Even now, with exceptional regional smartphone penetration rates, podcasts still cater to a small portion of the Arab population. Podcasts remain a growing staple of Western culture, such as in the US, where American marketers are set to spend over $1 billion on podcast advertising by 2021, as per a recent Business Insider Intelligence report. 

Graph: Business Insider Intelligence Report 

Despite these figures, podcasts are a ways off from becoming as mainstream as radio, for example. While about 26% of Americans listen to podcasts monthly, radio still reaches about 92% of Americans every week, Forbes notes. 

It is worthy of note, though, that most people who listen to podcasts are young millennials. Millenials are expected by professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY) to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, which is likely to result in a similar rise in podcast adoption. 

The US podcast market almost solely powered by ads

Podcasting continues to operate mainly on an ad-based model. 

The US market is growing significantly, with Apple’s Podcast app taking the lead as the platform to be on as a podcaster. Spotify follows close behind, upping their game with a $200 million takeover of Gimlet Media, a digital media company and podcast network. 

These big names of the industries know there is money to be had. 

“According to an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)/PwC report, podcast ad revenues in the US reached $314 million in revenue in 2017, up 86% from the $169 million posted in 2016,” Consulting.us noted. “Globally, PwC’s E&M Outlook projects podcast ad revenues to reach $650 million in 2018, growing by a robust 29.7% CAGR to $1.6 billion in 2022.”

Consulting.us continued: “The biggest reason that ad money is moving to podcasts is that they now have a big enough audience. The amount of people that listen to at least one podcast per month surged from 23 million in 2013 to 78 million in 2017, according to the Outlook.”

Yet, even with the growth in ad revenue, Forbes believes that “it’s not enough to sustain the production of great shows indefinitely.” 

“There’s a macro problem with betting on ads,” Tech Crunch argues, “The dominance of Facebook and Google over all digital ad spending has already driven a shift to subscriptions across music, video and publishing. Even with dramatic market growth, podcasting doesn’t have a comparative advantage in competing against the scale and ad-targeting of the duopoly.”

As such, podcast creators are now looking for new revenue streams, such as subscription-based models, for example. Others are creating multimedia content based on these podcast properties. 

“The President of the iHeartPodcast Network, Conal Byrne, says that derivative content such as television shows, film and books are driving additional revenue to podcast creators like his own,” Forbes said. 

Perhaps a similar approach could help Middle East-based podcasts break into the very TV-concentrated mainstream. 

Anghami boosts the MENA podcast market, soon to 70m users

Back in March, music platform Anghami announced that it will introduce to the MENA region more than 250 podcast shows from more than 40 regional podcast creators – in addition to global podcasters and DJ shows. 

Launched in 2012, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform and digital distribution company in the Arab world, and has used its position as one of the region’s pioneers to capitalize on the podcast market gap. It is bolstering its podcast serving with audio content partnerships with regional creators such as Communicate ME, Time Out, Harper’s Bazaar, Eurosport Arabia, Jamalouki, and Gulf News, who will add Podcasts on Anghami.

This will help the podcast platform reach nearly 70 million users, the company has said in a press release. Audio is easier to produce and is a cheaper broadcast medium and it is also more scalable, the company explained. 

In an exclusive interview with sister site Communicate ME, Rami Zeidan, vice-president of Anghami, said: “Today, we have over 300 shows out of which 60% are from the region, including amazing podcast groups who have been producing content for years, such as Mstdfr, Kerning Culture, Dukkan, Amaeya FM.”

When asked what advertisers should know about podcasts, he said: “Brands that wish to tap into podcasts today should be aware that this medium is on the rise and scaling, but hasn’t delivered on mass reach so far. 

He continued: “That said, this is not a reach product but rather a storytelling experience around the need the brand’s product or service might deliver.”

Indeed, those advertisers that do their homework now will be poised to enjoy the returns of a soon-to-be flourishing regional podcast market.