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Poddster builds on Mena’s podcast popularity

Poddster co-founder and CEO Vuk Zlatarov. The Dubai-based podcast company is expanding its studio network across the UAE and Saudi Arabia Poddster
Poddster co-founder and CEO Vuk Zlatarov. The Dubai-based podcast company is expanding its studio network across the UAE and Saudi Arabia
  • More studios in UAE and Saudi
  • Four planned for Singapore
  • ‘Explosion’ in listener numbers

Poddster aims to “democratise” Middle East podcast production by expanding its network of recording studios, capitalising on high listener figures and rising interest in independent content in the Mena region.

Founded by Vuk Zlatarov and Ivan Zeljkovic, the Dubai-based podcast company plans to increase its number of UAE studios from three to seven, and launch four each in Riyadh and Singapore. 

It has a studio in Dubai Media City and two in Al Barsha. Poddster expects to open two more in Al Barsha this year, and one at gym chain GymNation’s Motor City branch, this month. 

It is also considering another undisclosed UAE location with GymNation, chief executive Zlatarov told AGBI

Poddster aims to make it cheaper and easier for people to create high-quality audio and video content. 

The cost of renting a studio – from AED400 ($100) to AED1500 ($400) including three cameras, post-production and distribution services – is lower than if a creator produced from home and hired such services, which can cost up to AED10,000, according to Zlatarov.

“We wanted to democratise world-class podcast production and create a new community of podcast professionals in the region,” he explained. 

Demand has “exploded” since the first studio opened in 2022, Zlatarov said. The company has more than 300 podcasts and 700 creators on its books and corporate partners including Anghami, Spotify, Podeo, Canon and Shure. 

Poddster is also developing custom recording software and helping corporate clients to produce podcasts as part of their marketing. 

A Poddster podcast studio.Poddster
A Poddster podcast studio

Global growth in podcast listenership has slowed following peaks during the pandemic, but the number of listeners is projected to rise from 464.7 million in 2023 to 504.9 million in 2024, according to YouGov.  

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) has among the highest proportion of podcast listeners in the world, the research last April showed, with 67 percent of adults in Saudi Arabia and 59 percent in Egypt listening to more than one hour of podcasts per week. In the UAE the figure is 62 percent, above the 44 percent global average.

While global podcasts such as The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett have dominated regional streaming charts to date, interest in Arabic content is growing, particularly in the fields of business, mental health and self-improvement, such as Hessa Al Suwaidi’s Think with Hessa and The Matrix Green Pill. 

Podcasts’ regional popularity reflects a shift away from traditional, mainstream media towards independent content, as well as growing appetite for entertainment in nations such as Saudi Arabia, experts said. 

“An immersive audio consumption experience, with high-quality sound design, combines the region’s heritage of oral storytelling with new technology,” said Batoul Khalifeh, content and partnership strategist at Arabic language podcast production company Sowt Media. 

“This speaks to the new generation in ways other media may not.”

Podcaster Hessa Al Suwaidi says 'starting to podcast was never daunting'Supplied
Podcaster Hessa Al Suwaidi says ‘starting to podcast was never daunting’

Mena’s young demographic – more than half of its population is under 30 – is one of the main reasons behind the medium’s growth.

Gen Z podcast listeners have high engagement rates and are a “massive opportunity” for brands and advertisers, according to a report last June by SXM Media and Edison Research. 

Almost half (47 percent) of 1,000 13-to-24-year-olds surveyed had consumed at least one podcast in the past month, up 57 percent from five years ago. Of that, 80 percent had listened within the past week.  

Advertising remains the main source of revenue and the potential is significant. Digital music and podcast revenue in Mena is projected to grow from $200 million in 2020 to $500 million this year, with seven percent coming directly from podcasting, according to Statista. 

“We’ve seen an explosion in listener numbers, creators and brands seeking advertising,” said Lemya Soltani, co-founder and commercial director at Next Broadcast Media, a UAE-based digital audio advertising company. 

“We’ve also seen increased demand from brands adding podcasts to their marketing mix. Our enterprise client base grew 23 percent year on year [in 2023].” 

Podcaster Mohanned MajeedSupplied
Podcaster Mohanned Majeed says ‘advertisers will be more aggressive in using podcasts as a medium’

Amazon Payment Services Mena launched its Re:Imagine Payments series last year to educate merchants and others about digital payments. 

“We wanted to create a foundation for meaningful conversations [with] target audiences,” head of B2B marketing Aditya Alur said. “The episodes have been well received, generating up to 120,000 views.”

In terms of ad conversion rates, Soltani said podcasts command “uplifts” – typically a measure of intent to purchase – more than 20 percent higher than other types of media campaign. 

“People pay attention as it’s purposely selected by them and the host is someone they connect with and trust.”

Streaming companies are also reportikng growth in podcast revenues – as much as 500 percent year on year in 2023 for UAE-based Anghami, commercial director Ramy Al Kadhi said. 

This was driven by awareness of the marketing benefits, “relaxing attitudes towards free speech” in Saudi Arabia and improved access to affordable studios, he added.  

“The industry will expand as commercial awareness of the medium grows and more content creators join the bandwagon,” Khalifeh said.

Two of the region’s best

Hessa Al Suwaidi – Think With Hessa

“The motivation behind launching my podcast stemmed from my TikTok audience and a long-held aspiration to establish a radio channel. 

“Within a month of its debut in 2022, it soared to number one across all categories on Apple Podcasts, stayed there for two months and continued to reside in the top 10 across multiple categories for a year. 

“Starting to podcast was never daunting. It revolved around the choice of topic and credibility of the host. I anticipate a spike in the creation of new podcasts, driven by the broad spectrum of topics creators want to discuss.”

Mohanned Majeed – Sheno Al Qussa (What’s The Story?)

“We discuss regionally under-represented topics like parenting, relationships, personal development and more. Our first episode aired in March 2023 and monthly downloads have reached an average of 3,000, with content also distributed on YouTube and other platforms.

“Production can be relatively easy. The challenge is in the post-production and social media management phase, including editing, preparing, branding and distributing clips.  

“This is becoming easier, so I believe the industry will grow. People want to inform, inspire and influence others. Advertisers will also be more aggressive in using podcasts as a medium.”

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