How Arab media can win a larger audience by creating podcasts

Medium does not require much capital to start up

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A few years ago, a friend called me to be a guest on her podcast show. It was the first time I'd heard the term podcast. I asked where we could meet for the podcast and she said I didn't need to go anywhere and it could be done over the phone.

How convenient I thought. Shortly after, she sent me a link of our interview, and it was that easy. Since then podcasts became my preferred form of entertainment, especially when driving or going for a walk. I like the fact that I can choose the topics I like and tune in at my own convenience. Back in the day, I listened to shows from the West because we did not have many Arabic options then. However, now my favourite podcasts are those coming out of Saudi Arabia.

Podcasting was once regarded as a millennial hobby and an alternative to starting something like a radio show but at a much, much cheaper cost. In some ways, this is still true. You could record a podcast with only your phone and upload it for the world to hear in a matter of seconds. Podcasts are not tied to a specific time frame and are accessible any time.

More businesses and major media corporations such as the BBC and The New Yorker, see the value in podcasts, and produce multiple shows catering to different types of listeners.

The podcast fever is also taking over the Middle East. Funjan is a popular Saudi podcast by a media company Thamanyah and has garnered more than 5 million listeners across the world. The increasing popularity has also prompted Mshari Alonaizay and Majid Al Qasimi to establish Finyal Media in Dubai, the Middle East's first podcast company for Arab listeners.

Millennials, in particular, are tech-savvy and keen on adopting the latest trends. Podcasts are big, and many reports say their popularity will grow stronger. In the future, many new cars will have internet connections. This will make it easier to download podcasts on the move. International brands such as Pepsi, Microsoft and Starbucks have jumped on to the podcast wagon, too, using it as an advertising medium. Apple's new watchOS 5 includes the podcast app for the first time and has a louder speaker.

Though podcasts have started making their mark in the Arab world, there is still room for growth. It's important for more regional media companies to create content in this niche. Not only does it present a new channel to reach targeted audiences, but it could also open up avenues for revenue generation.

Building a following is important and hosting podcasts can help media companies achieve this target. A lot of media houses have journalists whose expertise could be utilised in producing additional content through podcasts.

Loyal followers also means revenue opportunities and targeted ads. As your podcast grows, you can consider sponsored content and branded shows. The Interactive Advertising Bureau that guides media and marketing industries in the digital economy, projects podcast industry revenue to reach $659 million (Dh2.42 billion) next year.  

Starting a podcast will also mean you and your company are on-trend and care to reach out to your audience. It will show that your company is evolving and willing to try new things. You never know where business growth and development could come from.

Businesses that haven’t already ventured into podcasts, it’s worth the try as it doesn’t require large capital to begin with. The trick is to find a niche where your listeners would feel that your content is adding value.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi