“Podcasts are great for me because they don’t need my full attention. I can listen to one on my commute or while I work.”
That’s Joana Adesanya, a 26-year old digital marketer.
You’ll find Joana every morning on the streets of Ojota, Lagos, earbuds plugged in as she listens to her favourite podcasts on the busy bus trip to work.
Today, she's catching up on some episodes of Nigerian American, a podcast of personal stories by hip-hop legend, ElDee the Don. They’re over an hour long, just enough time for her to get to her Lagos Island office.
Podcasts are audio discussions on different topics, usually run as a series. Unlike the radio, you don’t have to tune in to listen at a particular time as they are recorded and saved on platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify or iTunes. They are effectively the audio equivalent of TV shows.
There are over 525,000 active podcasts hosted in the United States, with more than 18 million episodes produced. Everyone seems to be tapping into it, including celebrities. Snoop Dogg has the GGN podcast where he interviews entertainment icons, and Charlamagne tha God has Brilliant idiots that covers news, race in America and relationships with Andrew Schulz. Even Steve Austin—the Stone Cold of wrestling fame—has The Steve Austin Show.
Podcasts have been around for decades, gaining popularity in the first iPod generation, and have fit perfectly in today’s culture of on-demand entertainment, facilitated by this era of smartphones and cheap internet in developed countries.
This podcast popularity has trickled down to the Nigerian audience. It’s why people like Joana pay attention to them.
Who is listening?
Unsurprisingly, podcasts are most popular with young people in Nigeria. After all, they consume more mobile data than any demographic in Nigeria and spend more time—and money—consuming content online.
For Joana, one of the best things about a smartphone is being able to play podcasts. She knows that having a smartphone and internet help. “If I wasn't connected, podcasts would not cross my mind,” says Joana.
It’s also a relaxed way of learning or just keeping up with what’s going on in the world. Whether you’re cooking lunch or running on a treadmill, podcasts can provide the best way to zone out and still be informed and entertained.
“I download a lot of podcasts because they are convenient. I learn all sorts while jogging—about books, women’s beauty routines,” Sani Rabiu enthuses.
Now an accountant working in Abuja, Sani started listening to podcasts in 2015. His most played right now is Kelechi Okafor’s say your mind. He loves that he can listen to Kelechi voice her thoughts on current happenings and do other things at the same time.
Who are the creators?
Starting a podcast is straightforward. Although it takes time to set up, anyone with access to the internet, a microphone and a laptop can start a podcast. All you need to do is record and edit the audio in a studio or on an app, and upload it on a website or audio store.
According to Mayowa Idowu, a sports and media virtuoso who runs the Cruijff turn, a football podcast with his friend Ebintonye Atte, “The barrier to entry is low. You don’t need sophisticated equipment; you don't need to have any certification. You just need to be able to talk.”
If this seems too simple, remember that the hard bit is getting people to listen to what you have to say.
Jola Ayeye and her friend Feyikemi Abudu run the I said what I said podcast, a relatively new but popular show about millennial culture. Listening to them, they appear comfortable and natural on the mic, with that knack for quality that separates the likes of Maraji from the others. The two ladies are also both incredibly funny, but also share chemistry formed out of respect and genuine friendship.
I said what I said also touches on topics only lightly covered in mainstream media. “We have had conversations about dysfunctional homes and battling addictions. There’s a lot of banter, and it’s a generally more relaxed environment to express ourselves. You don’t have that with TV or radio” she comments matter-of-factly.
The same goes for the Cruijff turn which analyses football in ways traditional football pundits in Nigeria on large platforms don't do. They do this by infusing their knowledge of more obscure football leagues and trust in statistics—a growing movement in the sport.
Podcasts listeners have voted in favour of this type of comment with their ears. An extra delight is that podcasters are freer with their listeners and more willing to show their true selves, explains Sani Rabiu. Over time, their perspective, worldview and communication style become familiar to him.
Will podcasts become the new FM?
The growing appeal of podcasts has a lot of people signalling that podcasts will soon take over from radio. There is logic in this as podcasts are much more convenient to consume; you can choose where, when and how to listen to your favourite shows.
But 87 million Nigerians still live in poverty, and a large part of the population don’t have smartphones or can’t access the internet. Even relatively well-off Nigerians struggle with data prices and disappointing quality.
Meanwhile, radio probably has the widest penetration of all media forms in Nigeria. It reaches the most remote places and caters to the Nigerian on the street. The random man in the village knows BBC radio, but guess what he doesn’t know? Podcasts.
What we may soon begin to see is a hybrid of podcasts, radio and other multimedia—similar to the bundling we have seen in the Fintech industry. In the United States, radio stations already have their own podcasts. We have also seen publications like Slate and the Wall Street Journal tap into the buzz of podcasts.
From what we have seen abroad, the likes of Jola and Mayowa may be the future of Nigerian audio news and entertainment. For now, the present is still radio.