Finyal tap booming Arabic podcast market in MENA

Published: 24 September 2020 - 9:28 a.m.
By: Nikhil Pereira

According to research by Markettiers MENA there are 5.1 million regular podcast listeners in Saudi Arabia, with one in four women (21%) listening to podcasts every week.

From the popularity gained by individual podcast artists such as Joe Rogan to corporations such as The New York Times, there is no denying the global popularity of podcasts today.

The jury is still out on the amount of quality Arabic content that’s available in the market. Finyal Media, a company founded in 2018, took it upon themselves to address the demand for Arabic podcasts.

In a short space of time Finyal has established itself as a go-to destination for Arabic podcasts. Its founders Mshari Alonaizy, Majid Alqassimi and Leila Hamadeh researched to arrive at a conclusion that the “current media landscape does not champion local cultures”.

Hamadeh says: “When we ran focus groups to understand what people were looking for in the early stages of the business, the main complaint we received was that the narratives told were either not representative of the current culture and reality that young Arabs live in. Or subsequently they were presented in a way that felt outdated and unexciting.

“I think what people are looking for are stories that spark their imagination, that stand outside of rehashed tropes, and that make them feel seen, proud and inspired as an Arab.”

Hamadeh says the shows that Finyal creates “champion our past by telling cultural stories in new and creative ways” that have never been done before.

“We tell the stories of our cities in a way that allows our listeners to fall in love with them and understand what made them what they are today. We tell stories about the struggles of chasing your dreams as a young Arab in today’s day and age, whether through the real life stories of young Arab musicians in Watr, or through the eyes of a fictional young Egyptian character in our upcoming drama series set in modern day Cairo, The Basement.

In terms of content, Finyal also has programmes such folktales such as 1001 Nights, to the history of our cities in Ismi.

Programming has been at the heart of Finyal’s existence, Hamadeh recalls that the idea to start a company came about after Mshari Alonaizy started a podcast called Millennial Mirrors.

“The show addressed the intersection of individualistic millennial life and the culture of being part of the collective that exists in the Arab world,” Hamadeh recalls.

The podcast was well received by listeners which gave enough evidence to the founding trio that there was a need for more audio content that resonated with young Arabs. Thereafter, they built a wide portfolio of Arabic podcast content. The endeavour was then to start commercialising the content in a way that would help the regional podcast industry become more sustainable.

Addressing the ‘golden question’ on monetising its content Hamadeh reveals the two prong strategy. “We sell advertising spots and sponsorship packages across our portfolio of podcasts, which allow advertisers the opportunity to reach our young demographic of. Secondly, we produce branded shows where we custom create podcast series on behalf of a company that wants their own channel to convey messages about their brand through engaging audio content.”

In the future Finyal plans to monetise content through licensing and subscriptions for premium content. In the here and now, Finyal’s growth was made possible by a round of initial seed funding where the company was able to raise $425,000 from external investors at the end of last year. The funding has contributed to the company’s growth in 2020, alongside its advertising revenues, sponsorship and branded shows.

Hamadeh also notes that their podcasts have been downloaded more than 3 million times across its network until date, with audience numbers growing steadily month-on-month.

“We have seen both demand and supply in the podcasting space increase dramatically over the last year. In particular since the Coronavirus pandemic, our listenership has increased as more people have turned to new forms of entertainment whilst at home that can provide an exciting escape while they go about their other tasks. We’ve also seen that more and more content creators / brands have turned to podcasting as an accessible route to reach large audiences more cost-effectively than they can through video,” she adds.

Finyal also announced a partnership with StarzPlay at the start of the year. Critical to its success, Hamadeh believes, is forging the right sort of partnerships to reach its target audience.

“We have other partnerships in the pipeline as well, we strongly believe that many regional players could benefit from leveraging podcasts as a new channel to reach younger audiences who have a keen interest in fresh, local content that truly represents them.”

Hamadeh says the company has learnt from other markets frequent tie-ups between podcast networks and established media companies like TV broadcasters have borne fruit for all parties.

“We’ve even seen podcast series being successfully picked up by networks in the US to be turned into TV series,” says a confident Hamadeh who has previously worked as the director of strategy and planning
at OSN.

Looking ahead Finyal has launched a competition to unearth and support the growing regional talent in the podcast space. The competition coincide with the announcement of Finyal Studios, which will become a virtual hub for Arabic podcast talent moving forward.

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