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SA’s podcast industry explodes as mainstream radio slumps

Read time 5min 30sec
Gareth Cliff, co-founder of CliffCentral.com and host of the Gareth Cliff Show.
Gareth Cliff, co-founder of CliffCentral.com and host of the Gareth Cliff Show.

As South Africa’s mainstream radio market struggles to grow, the increase in internet penetration and accessibility to smartphones see the podcasting industry take off.

This is the word from SA’s podcasting experts, who say over the past two years, more South Africans have been consuming podcasts at an exponential rate, with listenership numbers catching up with the rest of the word faster than anticipated.

According to PwC’s Media Outlook, the South African podcast market is forecast to be up to 19 million monthly listeners by 2024, while the podcast advertising revenue segment is estimated to be worth R302 million by 2023, as digital media increasingly influences how the audience consumes content.

Some of SA’s most popular podcasts include local and international productions such as Podcast and Chill with MacG, On Purpose with Jay Shetty, The Gareth Cliff Show, 5 True Crime South Africa, The Money Show and TED Talks Daily, with the most popular garnering a minimum of one million listens per episode.

While many doubt podcasting, also known as on-demand radio, will one day become mainstream media, it remains undisputed that traditional media is undergoing a tectonic shift, as brands look to innovation to engage customers and influence their behaviour.

Gareth Cliff, co-founder of CliffCentral.com and host of The Gareth Cliff Show, tells ITWeb that while the online radio station − which bills itself as a “podcast pioneer” − has a significant live audience, the podcast and on-demand space is where the biggest listenership growth lies.

“The demand for and supply of quality podcasts and on-demand content is growing faster than any other medium in SA, partly due to the rise of cheaper and more accessible smartphones and the internet.

“When we started CliffCentral.com in 2014, hardly anyone even knew what a podcast was. Now, millions of downloads later, we’re converting more and more people every day, because podcasting is convenient, easily accessible, and it goes where mainstream radio cannot – both in terms of depth of discussion and agenda.”

According to Cliff, podcasts also allow listeners to find exactly the kind of content they care about, while mainstream broadcasters are often expected to try and be too many things, to please a wide variety of listeners.

CliffCentral.com’s stats doubled since the onset of lockdown and have continued to grow, he points out.

According to The Infinite Dial 2022 report released in February, 61% of the South African major metro population aged 15 and older had listened to online audio in the previous month, and 26% had listened to a podcast in the same period.

While SA still has relatively higher data costs compared to most parts of the globe, Cliff is of the view that data costs don’t pose a threat to the industry’s growth.

“It doesn’t really hinder market growth. Especially if you consider the growth of TikTok, Instagram and Twitter in South Africa – not to mention the video-streaming platforms such as Netflix, Showmax and YouTube. Podcasts and live-streaming cost a tiny fraction of what it costs to scroll through social media − and it’s a cost people are willing to bear.”

Jon Savage, CEO of InBroadcasting, which specialises in broadcasting innovation across digital media platforms, says even though podcasting has been around for a long time in SA, the commercial growth has boomed in recent years.

Jon Savage, CEO of InBroadcasting.
Jon Savage, CEO of InBroadcasting.

“I started my first podcast in 2010, but the commercial growth has been sudden and rapid over the past two years − and I mean from almost zero to a very healthy emerging space.

“The mainstream radio market is struggling and podcasting is an affordable alternative to radio advertising. An important contribution has been the addition of video as an acceptable component of podcasting, and so YouTube has become another significant tool that has helped podcast growth and monetisation.

“SA is very late to the party but the party has started and we are seeing great returns in the podcasting space already.”

According to Savage, companies finally understand the value of podcasting and are starting their own platforms and networks to gain value. This has led to many companies evolving their business strategy to produce their own podcasting channels, going beyond just placing an advert on someone else’s production.

“There has been a huge growth of businesses playing in the podcasting arena and it's very exciting.

“According to Nielsen's Podcast Ad Effectiveness study released in February 2022, 71% of surveyed consumers said host-read podcast ads lead to higher levels of interest, purchase intent and recommendation intent, while 51% of listeners had a favourable opinion of podcast advertising that includes host voices or personalised discussions about products/sponsors by the podcast hosts.”

Greg Cohen, station manager of CliffCentral, says that due to the high demand for podcasting from businesses, CliffCentral has shifted its business model to help hundreds of South African brands to craft and distribute their own podcasts.

“This shift resulted in new campaigns that rely on branded content and content marketing. It allows brands to build their own valuable content and audience. The demand for this is growing. According to Chartable, there are more than 8 000 branded podcasts, with a significant uptick since 2020. Local brands are realising quickly how a good content marketing strategy is the future of advertising.”

Digital marketing expert, influencer and podcaster Deshnie Govender, also known as “DJ Roxxi”, says while SA has seen much growth in the podcasting market, several obstacles remain.

“There are still a lot of grey areas related to getting proper promotion on platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, so a podcaster’s best bet is to leverage their other social media channels to drive traffic.

“There is still a massive opportunity for more growth across industries; for instance, creating talk shows based on popular soapies and producing episode recaps like they do in the US. Industry leaders could also use podcasting to drive educational content,” states Govender.

Digital marketing expert, influencer and podcaster Deshnie Govender
Digital marketing expert, influencer and podcaster Deshnie Govender


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