Making airwaves: The rise of audio

Kerning Cultures produces immersive audio experiences for the curious listener. Their 12 Arabic and English shows regularly top charts across the Middle East, and their English stories have aired on Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Gimlet, and NPR. Perhaps most pertinent for Magnitt readers, they recently launched the first Arabic daily tech news podcast, Akhbar el Tech, in collaboration with Digital Digest.

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Welcome to the future, folks: it’s audio. Before you argue, I’m not suggesting audio will replace video. But as consumption tools become more portable, easy, and increasingly voice-activated, audio is the next wave. And it’s coming at us from several channels.

Streaming platforms such as Anghami, Spotify, and Deezer have thrived in the past 5 years. Remember when we used to download mp3s? Anghami has 70 million registered users and 1 billion monthly streams, Spotify has 356 million users across 178 markets, and Deezer has 14 million monthly active users as of 2019. And in an interesting digital revival of old-school traditions, Anghami launched Live Radio this month, which cofounder Elie Habib calls a “social audio” move for the company. Great minds think alike because Deezer invested in a US-based live music streaming startup called Dreamstage this month, too. According to MIDiA Research, global live music streaming is meant to grow to USD 6.4 billion by 2027.

Of course, streaming platforms don’t just feature music. They also feature podcasts, which Spotify CEO Daniel Ek estimates will comprise 20% of all listening. As streaming platforms compete for ear share, the majority of our listeners at Kerning Cultures Network come through the OG podcast app, Apple, which recently announced that podcasters could customise paid subscription offerings to their audiences (Spotify did a quick-follow).

As it stands, podcasts average a 20-40% growth in listenership year over year, and the global podcasting market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.5% from 2020 to 2027. The global podcast market is already sized at a USD 75 billion opportunity. Regionally, we’re lacking growth trend and cross-country market data, but hats off to Markettiers MENA for giving us a starting point: there are 5.1m podcast listeners in KSA and 1.3m listeners in the UAE, listening to an average of 5-7 hours of podcasts a week.


Social media giant Facebook is jumping on the podcast bandwagon too, and announcing their own in-app podcast player last month. 170 million Facebook users are connected to podcast pages, and I imagine Facebook will roll this out with some loaded monetisation approach of audience targeting to take podcast advertising potential to the next level via their owned platform. Similarly, Spotify acquired podcast advertising platform Megaphone last year to offer granular audience targeting via streaming ad insertion. This kind of targeting is a huge opportunity for the industry, because the current capacity outside of markets like the US is more general audience targeting: we know about our listeners through audience surveys, through the genre of show they choose, and our ability to geotarget. Through these new platforms, however, you can run ads targeting specifically age, gender, interests, location, and behaviour.

And then there’s a new kind of audio that has emerged: social audio. For the most part, podcast and music consumption happen at an individual level, but platforms like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and sports-focused Locker Room (which Spotify recently purchased) demonstrate the eagerness for us to connect and share with each other through live-stream, audio-only, communal conversations. If you missed the explosive growth of Clubhouse, it was fun. And then it got banned in most countries across the region, and while I can’t attest for sure, I think that attributed a large part to the 72% dip in new Clubhouse downloads from February to March. After all, we as Arabs are huge consumers of content and a significant market to tap for any new media: we already top global usage for Facebook, Snapchat, and Youtube, and we at Kerning Cultures Network are building for a future where we’ll top global listener penetration for podcasts by 2025.

To round out the new world of audio-first, I’d be remiss not to mention the rise of smart speakers and voice activation. It was estimated that 50% of all web searches would be done by voice last year (Siri, Amazon, Google, China’s Xiaomi and Alibaba).

The moral of this story is: audio is extremely powerful, fast-growing, and should be an important part of your business media strategy in order to stay relevant.

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