We're all listening: the rise of UAE Podcast culture
Rana Nawas and Sophie Le Ray on When Women Win
THERE WAS A time when radio listeners in the UAE didn't have much choice about who and what they listened to on their way to work. A simpler time when they would listen to the same hit chart song three times in one drive.
Apple took podcasts and made them mainstream by building it right into iTunes way back in 2005. It had the vision that podcasts would be the next generation radio and that's serving to be true today.
Over the past few years, podcasts have gained steady traction and popularity. More and more podcasters across the region are seeing the value and freedom in the "do it yourself" format that podcasts offer to create original content across categories like news, business, entrepreneurship, culture, comedy and entertainment.
One such podcaster is Chirag Desai, founder of Tales of the Trade, a podcast that features Dubai's pioneers and their stories. Chirag says "Podcasts play a pretty dominant role in the consumption of content today." He continues, "Studies have actually shown that 'voice' is a powerful medium for communication. It's personal and less distracting compared to video. In cities like Dubai, with the amount of time we spend commuting or sitting at desks, podcasts can fill up the void with ease while being a great source of conversation and value."
Hebah Fisher creator of Kerning Cultures, a podcast that shares stories of culture, history and current affairs, says: "In the four years we've been producing stories for our podcast, there really has been a shift from starting our conversations with 'Do you know what a podcast is' to now people asking us 'what podcasts do you listen to?'"
But what is really driving the upward trend in podcast culture regionally and internationally?
For starters, podcasts are perfect for 'on-demand content consumption'. There's something for everyone which makes it personal, and you can listen to what you want, when you want. Just as people will sit and watch Netflix for hours, they're finding that listeners will listen to hours of podcast in a single sitting.
Host of one of the Middle East's top women's empowerment podcast, When Women Win, Rana Nawas shares "Podcasts can be anything you want them to be. They are our coach, our mentor, our teacher, and our entertainer. Personally I listen to podcasts to learn and grow. And my goal now is to tune in to more shows just to laugh!"
Access is also a tap away. The Podcast app on your phone or iPad enables anyone to quickly and easily explore millions of audio episodes, subscribe to your favourite shows, and download and add your favourite podcasts to your library to listen to at your convenience.
Rushdi Rafeek who founded the humorous Hangout with Rushdi, which features upcoming and undiscovered artists, performers, and content creators mentions "podcasts are an extremely flexible form of media. You can listen to your podcast of choice while in the shower, cooking, working out, commuting, and even while your partner is trying to give you the silent treatment!"
From the podcasters' point of view, the platform allows them to create their personal brand or elevate their existing one. They can leverage themselves as industry experts, whilst building an audience of fans and gaining further exposure. They are also finding new ways to monetise podcasts through affiliate marketing and sponsors and advertising which brings in a new stream of revenue.
On the production side, podcasting is becoming far easier. It used to require a sound-proof studio, expensive microphones, and a mixer for recording. Now all you need is a good concept or idea, your commitment, and a few bits of equipment.
Rushdi, for example, kicked off his podcast after realising the need to represent the home-grown talent in the region and give them a platform to speak. He says "we wanted to showcase the people, characters, skills and everything that exists within this region itself which seemed to be overshadowed by internationally produced podcasts."
Additionally, platforms such as iTunes continue to support local podcasters, making it easy for them to submit content for free, and within 48 hours, have a shareable link to send to to the world. Chriag says, "Apple has continued to play a central role in the podcasting world, both as the primary directory for podcast listeners and the ecosystem of apps and players at large. Podcasts drive a majority of our show listens and the new stats platform has definitely improved our understanding of some of the more minute details of how our shows perform today."