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Podcasting: New media frontier to watch out for

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Three decades ago, it was virtually impossible to imagine how vibrant and dynamic digital technology would be. Experts could make some predictions about how the internet would shake things up, especially within the media industry, but only a few could accurately pinpoint where the shake-up would be felt the most. The advent of podcasting, a by-product of the internet and the spread of social media, is a prime example.

Podcasting involves the distribution and preparation of audio files that can then be downloaded over the internet. Podcasts tackle different topics such as social issues (Iko Nini by Mwafreeka), current and political affairs (The Kenyanist by Kamau Wairuri), food and farmers’ rights (Cha Kula podcast by Route to Food) and relationships (The JoyRide by Ben Cyco and Wanjiru Njiru) to name but a few. The web is currently teeming with insightful audio discussions, with most of these podcasts lately merging audio with video. YouTube is proving to be just the ideal platform for some of these podcasters keen on tapping into an audience addicted to stories told in video format.

So, why is the mainstream media slow to adapt to this exciting new media frontier beloved by Millennials and Gen Zs, which has arguably huge revenue potential? The Nation and Citizen Digital deserve credit for taking the lead in producing and distributing compelling podcasts that target the groups mentioned. The Star and the Standard both experimented with the idea but then quietly dropped it.

Generally, corporate media have always been slow and inflexible to embrace the change brought by digital technology, despite the immense potential benefits. A report by Africa Podfest listed Kenya as a hub of audio storytelling alongside Nigeria and South Africa, with what a commentator described as “the most developed podcasting markets”, yet there is still a worrying reluctance to take this route.

To prove that the podcasting sector is about real business, Spotify, an audio streaming platform, injected up to Sh12 million to support 13 podcasts spread across Africa. Four Kenyan podcasts benefited: The Messy Inbetween, The Sandwich, ManTalk.Ke and Nipe Story.

All the leading mainstream media houses own radio stations with well-equipped studios that can significantly contribute to the development of the podcasting space. This can be done through collaboration with amateur podcasters who have already amassed a following among their audiences. The traditional media could also invite some of the established podcasters to offer training to their journalists interested in starting their podcasts. This could help save on the costs of hiring expensive foreign consultants, for instance, to come remind us about a sector familiar to a majority of younger journalists who now dominate most media houses. More importantly, partnerships between legacy and alternative media platforms will lead to creative ways of generating revenue to sustain the business.

Podcasting comes with its fair share of challenges, just like other emerging digital platforms that have exploded on social media. How does a podcaster monetise his or her content? Is it through more downloads? Advertising? Subscription fees? Donations from listeners or viewers (if the content is on YouTube)? Does the revenue come through sponsorship deals or by selling premium content, while the rest remains free to bring in more listeners? Since the industry is still evolving, particularly in Kenya, these are hard questions to answer for now. But what remains fundamentally true is that a combination of the above is likely to sustain podcasters keen to succeed.

So what are the key lessons to learn from podcasting?

First, the sector is here to stay and will increasingly grow popular among Millennials and Gen Z. The latest survey by the Communications Authority of Kenya reveals that digital media is now posing a huge threat to traditional radio listenership. The audience base has dropped from 92 per cent to 77 per cent in the past decade. Interestingly, internet usage has sharply increased among younger audiences, with 18 to 24-year-olds leading by 72 per cent while those aged 25 to 34 recording 69 per cent. Second, podcasting is going to create new opportunities for radio producers and multimedia journalists keen to merge audio with video to tell Africa’s untold stories.

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