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Podcast Power

 A studio microphone [iStockphoto]

You might have seen it. Either in its entirety or shot clips of it. I’m talking about Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna on a grey sofa, a microphone in his face, and magazine cuttings and covers framed in the background. 

No, it wasn’t a breakfast show, where the vocal senator has made a name as an able adversary, but on the Mic Cheque podcast with Chaxy, Mariah and Mwass.

Unlike on TV, where he’s formal and serious trying to keep the government in check, he was easy-going, dressed in an AFC Leopards Jersey. He poured out nuggets, jokes, low blows, lessons in political science and puns.

With over 200,000 views, the senator’s interview, episode 149 titled ‘3 Bedroom Bungalow’, is one of the most watched episodes in Kenya’s podcast history, and the most watched on Mic Cheque, which has the tagline ‘your weekly dose of madness’.

Podcasts have well and truly taken over, giving a more youthful audience an alternative and easily accessible source of entertainment, news, life hacks and even employment. 

“Internet connection! It gives you access to the online audience,” was what Richard Njau, gospel rapper, digital enabler and the man behind the popular Cleaning The Airwaves (CTA) YouTube series, said when asked how content consumption has changed, especially enabled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Podcasts are also easy to consume; on the mat on your way home, sweating on the exercise bike, in between cooking, hanging out with friends or at your work desk.

Just like the world over, there is a podcast for everything and anything under the Kenyan sun. 

There is a podcast for storytelling (Headline Hitters), a podcast for sex (CTRL Z and TMI - The Messy In-between), everyday happenings (The Weekend Update, off Iko Nini), finance (Financially Incorrect), vibez (Zoza Podcast, Boxpod TV, or Mics Are Open) or politics and current affairs (SemaBox TV). 

There is one for ladies' stuff (It’s Related, I promise), and lots for faith, life and marriage (Best Kept Secret, The Joy Ride, and The Sound Girl Pod). In essence, whatever you need, we have it.

Some, like the Stephanie Ng’ang’a Show (SNS) creatively combines interviews on lifestyle and entertainment, with quizzes and fun games. With podcasts on every corner, it’s becoming quite important to stand out.

Mwafreeka explains that diversity is the biggest sale for Iko Nini, one of the most diverse podcasts in terms of content and interviewees.

“I’d say our X factor is our raw conversations where no topic is a no-go,” he said, which further truly explains the origin of ‘kwani iko nini’. “Our interviews are the same. We ask questions that mainstream media wouldn’t dare to.”

Artistes and media practitioners are all on these platforms, creating content that explores the medium.

Ronge Rende has a podcast (Real Raw & Rare), Wakamba Waili has a podcast (Asikuambie Mtu), Mwafreeka has a podcast (Iko Nini), Mark Masai has one (SemaBox TV),  and A-Star has one too (CTA). 

CTA is one of the most insightful podcasts in Kenya, a product that started in 2011, before the pandemic, with gems from veteran artistes, actors, industry masters, church leaders and finance gurus.

It’s also probably the biggest, with over 100,000 subscribers, 2,300 videos and over 13 million views. 

So, why are celebrities and known personalities ditching the cameras and high seats on the set of mainstream media shows, for the cozy, chill-out couches of bedroom podcasts?

Agnes Nonsizi, publicist, media personality, music executive, YouTuber, voice-over artist, and events host, explains that most podcasts are niche and give the subject an element of choice.

“You don’t have to go everywhere... you can narrow down to what you are really good at and what conversations you want to take part in,” she explains. 

“For example, an artiste who is into architecture or finance, would not choose a generic platform that only touches on their artistry and not the other elements, but will choose a podcast that is specific on what they are good at.”

Nonsizi, a master of many hats, also explains that podcasts are more flexible.

“Time is also an aspect, as podcasts are not limited. You can have very lengthy conversations that are not dictated by the aspect of time, because the owner of the podcast can dictate how long the episode can go.”

Mwafreeka agrees, adding that the time element is a huge pull that podcasts have.

“Celebrities prefer podcast interviews to mainstream media because they can be able to articulate their thoughts without the two-minute limit interruptions that come with, for example, radio,” the former YFM and Ghetto Radio presenter and boss said. 

Owning the narrative has led to many celebrities choosing to talk to peers or non-journalists, in a platform that is more entertainment-first and ‘chill’, and less intrusive and factual-first. 

Most podcasts don’t do much of a follow-up, and are less concerned with the right of reply, unlike mainstream media. 

An experienced head in matters showbiz, hip hop, radio, social happenings, and all matters of BS, Mwafreeka finds podcasts to be more relaxing to a demographic that’s always on edge; celebrities. 

“Podcasts also allow celebrities to be human and vulnerable while radio interviews just focus on the celebrity aspect.”

When we spoke to Rong Rende rapper Skillo sometime back, he explained that the podcast is a way to make their brands more accessible to fans.

“We rarely do interviews. This was Scar’s idea of letting our fans get a glimpse of the other side of Rong Rende members,” he said of Real Raw & Rare, which revolves around banter and conversations involving more members of their rap collective and friends. 

A perfect example of owning the narrative is the Mind The Game podcast, a conversation between NBA’s greats LeBron James and JJ redick. 

Unlike other American sports podcasts, which are generally based around greatness, Mind The Game is a conversation about the actual game. It’s a game-changer for sports podcasts, especially as LeBron is not particularly available for podcasts. 

Going by the numbers, podcasting is becoming increasingly popular in Kenya. 

According to a report by the Podcast Society, there were over 1.5 million active podcast listeners in Kenya in 2021. That number was expected to grow to over 3 million by 2023. 

Put in the short clips that make it to TikTok, YouTube shorts and are easily shareable on WhatsApp, and that number has been surpassed.  

According to Backlinko, a hub for SEO training and digital strategies, podcasts have taken the digital world by storm, with an audience of more than 460 million listeners worldwide.

This roughly translates to an estimated 5 million podcasts in the world, boasting over 70 million episodes between them. 

The report on podcasts says that “the podcast industry provides lucrative opportunities for both podcasters and marketers alike and offers an effective way for you to connect with your target audience.”

Statistics from content creation platform Riverside show that the best time to get involved in the podcast industry is now.

“It’s estimated that the podcast market will grow to $4 billion (Sh520 billion) by the end of 2024. This clearly shows how big the podcast market is and how much the podcast industry is worth.”

And there is money in it. 

In December 2022, Afripods Africa, a free pan-African podcast hosting platform, paid Kenyan creators hosted on its platform.

Announcing the intent to pay creators, CEO Molly Jensen termed the move as groundbreaking for African creators.

“Ultimately when we are talking about making money, right now there aren’t many platforms paying African content creators. So, it is a problem that Afripods has an opportunity to solve,” she announced. 

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