MENA-based podcast network Kerning Cultures lays off several members of staff

Company suspends operations due to lack of financing

Dubai-based podcast company Kerning Cultures has paused operations and laid off several members of staff due to a lack of financing, according to a tweet from its now-former founding producer and audio editor Dana Ballout. 

Balllout tweeted last week that she and “the entirety of our team” were laid off last month. Ballout has been part of the company since it first launched eight years ago. There are 33 members of staff working within the company, according to the website, which has produced 17 English and Arabic podcasts. 

According to an article by news platform L'orient today, the operations that Kerning Cultures suspended specifically include its flagship eponymous show and that the status of the network is still unclear at this time. 

“I know the podcast meant a lot to so many of us,” Ballout said in a series of tweets. “It filled my heart every time someone sent a note of support or stopped me at [a] bar, cafe or wedding to share how you felt about the podcast. It meant the world to me.”

“There’s a lesson in this for me/us: to have more ownership over our work and the stories we develop [and] care about so much,” she added. “And with that, I look forward to telling more stories from our incredible/insane/beautiful/rich region and its diaspora. And doing so with integrity and foresight. So here’s to not stopping.” 

Kerning Cultures was one of two MENA-based podcast companies to partner with Acast in May 2023 as part of the company’s initiative to expand its international presence. As part of the partnership, Kerning Cultures gained access to Acast’s monetisation tools which allow its advertisers to buy both sponsorships and spot ads either programmatically or directly. Co-founder and CEO Hebah Fisher previously said that the organisation was thrilled to partner with Acast as it could help the company grow its ad sales both locally and globally. 

The other company that Acast partnered with is Sowt, which is based in Amman and has produced over 25 shows since launching in 2017. Sowt CEO Ramsey Tesdell told PodPod that the industry has developed “dramatically” since the company launched six years ago. 

"Building a successful and sustainable media business in the MENA region, or anywhere in the world for that matter, is a challenging and often rewardless endeavor,” said Tesdell. “The podcast ecosystem in MENA is still in its very early stages and while the industry is growing, it is a challenging environment to build a sustainable and growing business.”

“New players are starting up and old, important players won’t make it. This is the reality and in times of economic downturn, the importance of strategy to build a sustainable business is key. Growth at all costs is not a workable model for media.”

Podcasting is still considered a small, yet growing, medium in the Middle East and North Africa region. During a radio and podcast conference held at the University of Sharjah in the UAE in January, podcast platform Podeo’s strategy director Lama Masri said that there were more than 13 million people in the Middle East who are listening to podcasts for up to seven hours a week. 

Acast international managing director Megan Davies previously told PodPod that, based on demand that the company was receiving from international advertisers, the MENA region proves to be one of the biggest growing regions this year with listening increasing in the last year. 

“The consumption has grown enormously, particularly in Saudi Arabia which seems to be leading this,” said Davies. “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.”

“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.”