Podcasts: Does Pakistan Promise A Viable Market?

The world is going digital and Pakistan is no exception. Social media is a rage. Be it a student or a professional or even a retired senior citizen, use of social media applications is becoming frequent for networking, information, transactions and entertainment. So while videos on Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube are quite common, have you ever used a podcast?

Chances are that majority of the Pakistan based readers of this piece will answer in negative. While in Pakistan it’s still a small niche, podcasting is often a preference in the West. Thousands of foreign pod-casters have emerged as the mainstream media, creating podcasts in every category for millions of their listeners worldwide.

“Every major platform abroad has its own podcast”, says Wasim Ahmed, Founder of Oxford Creative Hub (OCH), which is an incubation centre based in Pakistan as well as Britain, eager to use the platform of podcasts. “Podcast is a form of getting information across in a very short time”.

So what exactly is a podcast and how does it work?

“Podcasting is streaming of digital audio which users can listen online or download in their devices to hear anytime according to their convenience,” explains Noreen Khan, a Karachi based Multimedia Journalist. “Since broadcasting is for huge heterogeneous audience, podcasting could be for selected and dedicated audience like small groups who share similar interest”.

Basically, a podcast is an episodic series of digital audio or video files. In markets where podcasts are popular, the reasons are ease as well as compatibility with an active lifestyle. “Just like radio, when you are receiving audio messages you can do all other activities while listening to the content; you can read, you can drive and you can exercise”, says Noreen Khan.

Ijaz Khan Sahu, also a Multimedia Journalist experimenting with podcasts in Punjab gives another perspective. “Its convenient to use because for a YouTube post, you need to dress up, arrange a nice background but in podcast all you need is a good, catchy topic to go viral”.

Surveys have shown that podcasts are able to engage listeners in a way traditional media can’t. Speaking in a listener’s ears helps building a direct connection and gives a more personal touch. Also, the ability to take the podcast anywhere adds to the ‘addiction’ and it becomes a part of everyday routine of the listeners: during traveling, exercise, coffee breaks and even domestic chores.

Even from a business point of view, the podcasts seem a lucrative option.

“Podcasts give away information to the consumer at a low cost, with the cost involved being editing and promotion”, points out Wasim Ahmed. “You can monetize podcast, in fact, podcasts can help monetize through social media with all platforms, and it can be in the middle”.

What Wasim Ahmed means is that when a company advertises in a podcast, it will be getting exposure at multiple levels on multiple platforms. iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube and company website are some of the platforms that are used worldwide to place podcasts.

So why is this easy, cost effective and globally acclaimed medium not popular in Pakistan?

“There are many reasons for that”, Noreen Khan makes an attempt to explain. “First of all we always look down upon radio industry in Pakistan. Even existing radio channels have had low listener-ship in last few years. Then technology is to blame for back in time we used to hear radio for popular charts, but now user is the one who has the authority to make playlist of his own choice. On the other hand, in UK or USA, radio broadcast isn’t just a music related medium but one to give useful information about the country’s political matters and about the world”.

Podcasts which are operating in Pakistan are either undergoing an experiment or have a very basic format. Nevertheless, their reach is also limited. Most examples of podcasts in Pakistan are from the music industry like Patari, possibly owing to common usage of radio or audio content only for purposes of music. Others may be run by Pakistanis but are operated from abroad.

One podcasts which seems both promising and fairly popular is How to Pakistan, run by veteran journalists Mosharraf Zaidi and Fasi Zaka. The podcast focuses on in-depth informative discussion about Pakistani issues.

Khan and Sahu both agree that the medium of radio in Pakistan needs to modernize itself as well as play a front foot role in media.

“Radio industry needs to adapt digital media trends just like TV or print have adapted in the past years”, argues Noreen Khan. “Radio journalists need to work on the promotion of podcasting because they know the language of sound, they know editing and sounds effects. Similarly, they do understand how easy it can be when you don’t need an entire channel or production setup and not even a license to do entire shows. You just need a smartphone, better mic and some basic training of apps”.

“Radio and TV should monitor and start broadcasting postcard posts; in this way, podcast can have some of its buyers”, Ijaz Khan makes a point.

Fortunately, some enterprises in Pakistan have started showing interest in the medium.

“OCH wants to lead in telling people about the use of this medium”, shares Wasim Ahmed. “It is connecting people from Britain to Pakistan”.

In its first podcast, OCH features Spencer Fearon, a British Muslim who is also a sports pundit as well as a boxing historian. Fearon is interested in connecting with Muslim countries and is using the medium of podcasts for the purpose, reveals Wasim Ahmed.

Across the world, over 50 million people listen to podcasts every month. It may be a matter of time, but podcasts could become a new trend in the social media scene of Pakistan. As Noreen Khan suggests, “In our northern areas or villages, radio is the only means of communication. The government or any organisation working to advocate masses can promote podcasting for reaching out to greater audiences to get the message across”.

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