Podcasting gives enormous opportunities to those in Africa who can produce high-quality content. Data costs still need to come down and discoverability needs to go up but there are potentially big audiences out there for the right (not necessarily mass-market) content. Russell Southwood spoke to Duncan McLeod, Founder and Editor of online ICT site TechCentral about why he's podcasting and how.
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Duncan McLeod did 12 years as Tech Editor at the Financial Mail before he got "itchy feet" and wanted to start something of his own:"I saw what was happening online and what was happening to the press". So in 2009, he launched ICT website TechCentral.
Almost ten years later, it has 237,500 unique users and 658,100 monthly page views (February 2018):"It's aimed at the ICT community in South Africa specifically with a slant towards telecoms, for people working in the industry. However, its second largest readership outside South Africa is Kenya."
But despite being originally a print journalist and then the online equivalent, McLeod always loved radio as a format. When he studied, he spent time at Capital Radio:"I've got lots of friends in radio. But it's a difficult and expensive process to start a new radio station." Podcast lowers those barriers and soon Google will start treating audio content the same for search purposes as text and video.
"The podcast offers readers more than what they get with an online article. A one-hour podcast with a senior executive allows the listener to have a more personal and detailed experience. You get a lot more insight into people in the industry. For an article, you might just pick the best bits out. You also get incredible feedback." The podcasts will soon have an integrated chat room function for feedback:"It takes us closer to our audiences and encourages feedback."
Most importantly, podcasting is less expensive to do than radio but McLeod stresses the importance of investing in good equipment and facilities:"The Zoom H6 is a very good high-end audio recorder and we have a mixing desk and computers. We're also equipping a studio with noise cancellation screens."
Another of the reasons for doing the podcast was that the online tech media space in South Africa "was getting more crowded by the day. This is a key differentiator and will allow us to keep producing quality content. The revenue will flow from that way."
The main distribution channel for the podcasts is South Africa digital audio platform iono.fm that provides live streaming that is useful for the weekly sessions he does co-hosted with Regardt van der Berg (livetechcentral.co.za). He also uses Spreaker.com and says "I'm open to other technology platforms."
He's looking at the idea of doing video but knows that it is "a lot more complicated. We're excited by video but we're not going to launch until the product is right. I'm in the experimentation phase and we'll do something in the next three months." He also owns the domain podcast.africa "and may look to do something with that domain soon."
What's the big difference between text and audio?:"When it's audio, you need to be more prepared and structure, particularly if it's live. You have to work hard at being interesting to the listener."
But he still uses text articles to promote the podcasts to his existing audiences. The largest part of his audiences hear about the podcasts through the TechCentral website but it's also "very discoverable through podcast apps. I use Pocket Casts (https://play.pocketcasts.com/). It's picked up by people who are not reading TechCentral and it allows people to listen while they're stuck in the traffic."
Although he's reluctant to talk about audience numbers, he does tell me the monthly podcast streams number on the basis I won't repeat it. However, it is a serious number and will soon make its way into the light of day.
The business model is to make money from advertising:"There's lots of interest in the podcast and we're getting lots of enquiries. It's a loss leader at the moment but it's our full intention that it will be profitable. We're heading quickly in that direction."
"Podcasting is becoming massive, particularly in the USA and that's translating into growth in South Africa. Iono.fm is showing strong growth (as a South African distribution platform).It's still very small but as mobile data costs come down, podcasts will be a medium with wider audiences."
So what are his two favorite podcasts?:"I like Gareth Cliff at Cliff Central and The Burning Platform with Justice Malala, which is sponsored by Nando's. I don't always agree with The Renegade Report (co-hosted by Jonathan Witt and Roman Cabanac) but there opening up an ideological space that is mainstream in the USA but gets no coverage here".