Podcasting has seen steady growth across global markets in the past few years. While podcasting still remains the most popular in North America and Western Europe - according to Statista - a number of other international markets are starting to catch up.
In fact, one of the fastest-growing podcast markets is Latin America, following behind North America and Western Europe, with just over half the population in Mexico and Brazil being podcast listeners and 44% in Columbia - according to YouGov’s April 2023 global report. Statista also projects that by 2026, the share of podcast listeners in Latin America will be almost equal to the share of listeners in Western Europe, both at an average of 32%.
Other emerging markets that are showing increasing potential in the space include the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. More than 13 million people there are listening to podcasts for up to seven hours a week according to Lama Masri, strategy director of Arab podcast platform Podeo, and more podcast companies and advertisers are starting to take note of these growing podcast markets globally.
A growing opportunity for advertisers
Acast’s international managing director Megan Davies has overseen a number of partnerships in the region, including deals with podcast networks Sowt and Kerning Cultures. Davies told PodPod that when she first started looking at the MENA region five years ago, despite hints of potential, it was still too early to invest. The amount of content that has emerged in the past year, however, has increased that potential.
“The consumption has grown enormously, particularly in Saudi Arabia which seems to be leading this. There was a study which said that 67% of adults in Saudi Arabia are now listening to an hour or more a week, which is bigger than some of the more developed countries,” said Davies. “There’s a huge amount of interesting content that's being put out. Once we started to look into this, it was beginning to match the demand that we were getting from international advertisers.”
“We started to look into this on a more local level and we can see this listening increasing in the last year, so it makes it probably one of the biggest growing regions.”
According to a report from Statista, digital music and podcast revenue in the Middle East and North Africa region is expected to grow from $200 million (£157m) in 2020 - which is when podcasting first started to gain popularity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic - to $500 million (£394m) in 2024. Of that revenue, 7% is expected to come directly from podcasting.
Sowt senior producer Rana Daoud also added that while podcasting in the MENA region is not yet as mainstream as it is in the UK and US, she can see distinct growth compared to when the company first started producing podcasts in 2016.
“With ads and sponsors coming in, we’re seeing opportunity and I think in the future I can see us becoming more mainstream,” Daoud said. “Every day when you open the home page for Apple Podcasts, you’ll discover something new - either via a network or independently.”
“10 years ago, video was still new in the Arab world - mainly because the infrastructure was still limited - and now we have many videos on YouTube with lots of original content across streaming services like Shahed and so on. I see the same pattern happening with podcasts with more companies starting to experiment.”
Breaking the language barrier
Another untapped area in podcasting that a number of companies are missing out on is podcasting in multiple languages. By translating popular podcasts into different languages, companies are able to reach new audiences globally without having to develop new projects and ideas.
Davies said that when Acast was researching the MENA podcasting market, there was a growing demand for Arabic content and because it’s a language that can reach more than 350 million people worldwide, it had huge potential. Similarly, podcasts in Spanish can also reach massive audiences because of the multiple markets they can cover.
“We even saw this in the Netherlands where English is super well spoken… people still have a preference to listen to their own language,” said Davies. “In terms of numbers, it obviously increases what we have, but I think in terms of just general demographic, the kind of people that we can reach, and now the kind of brands that we can respond to as well has opened up a bit more.”
Daoud also added that not only do Sowt’s Arabic podcasts reach people in the MENA region, they also reach expats that want to reconnect with their culture, as well as English speakers who use the podcasts to help them learn the language.
US-based content company Doha Debates has previously produced a number of successful podcasts in English, including the Doha Debates Podcast, Necessary Tomorrow, The Long Game, and many more. The Lana podcast was the first ever Arabic project for the company, in collaboration with local creators and in partnership with Jordan-based Sowt.
Director of innovation at Doha Debates, Japhet Weeks, who also works on producing and overseeing the editorial content across the Lana podcast, said that it was essential for the company to create the content in the local language as it resonated with the audience and felt more authentic.
“It's important to not just reach global English language audiences, but also to have content that resonates in the region,” said Weeks. “We do a certain amount of translation for English stuff anyway. If you go to our YouTube page, all of our videos have Arabic subtitles, but we wanted to create something that was specifically geared towards regional audiences, that felt native to them.”
Standing out from the crowd
While podcasting in the West is a relatively saturated market, going international and introducing new ideas in regions that have yet to explore podcasts can lead to greater audience reach and engagement.
University of Sussex senior lecturer in digital media Martin Spinelli previously spoke about how one of his international students took a podcast idea that they developed during the course back to their home country and built a successful following there.
“[One of my students] was doing a podcast through the course about young, ethnically diverse people expressing themselves in South London,” Spinelli told PodPod. “He was Nigerian and he took that model to Nigeria, and is now doing a hugely well funded podcast series about young entrepreneurs on the margins of Nigerian society called Climb and he's doing that in conjunction with the LSE in London.”
“He's got a lot of funding and he's spearheading the podcast arm for Channels, which is the equivalent of ITV in Nigeria, the largest independent media channel in Nigeria, a big country with 120 million people and he is on the forefront of introducing podcasting to more and more Nigerians.”
Lana host Rawaa Kalassina also believes that podcasting will start to take over radio in the MENA region, especially since it consumes less data if it’s pre-downloaded, saying that “people who have low data consumption per month can rely on it to have their intake of information while driving or cooking”.
Daoud also highlighted the fact that radio is starting to become a dying industry in the Middle East - particularly with younger millennial and Gen Z listeners who prefer to engage with more long-form and in depth formats that are exploring the issues that they care about - and podcasts are stepping in to fill the gap.
“Arab audiences are rediscovering the power of audio. Radio has been around forever but it has always been too formal, very traditional, and slots for radio shows are very structured with specific boxes to fill,” said Daoud. “With podcasts, we can do whatever we want with the episodes. Of course, we develop a certain style, we do have specific formats and labels for different shows, but we still have a lot of liberty to experiment - and that’s the beauty of podcasting.”