What’s the opportunity for podcasts in Ghana and Nigeria?
Ideas for moving the medium forward with new formats and new distribution methods.
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How many Ghanaians and Nigerians listen to podcasts? What’re the most popular shows, what’re the demographics of the average podcast listener, and how often do they listen, on average?
I wish I could give you these numbers, but as often happens when it comes to digital data about our part of the world, the information is locked up in walled gardens elsewhere. The best we can do is to extrapolate from macro trends.
Podcast listening trends in the U.S.
This is what we do know.
Podcasts got a huge boost in late 2014 with the breakout success of Serial, an American podcast chronicling the 1999 murder of Maryland teenager Hae Min Lee, and the resulting conviction of her former boyfriend Adnan Syed. Serial became the most popular podcast in history, averaging 1.5 million listeners per episode. For context, it took the famous American radio show “This American Life” 4 years to reach a million listeners. Serial exceeded that milestone in 4 weeks.
It appears that Serial was the gateway drug for lots of newly-minted podcast listeners, who went on to look for new shows. According to Edison Research, monthly podcast listening in the US has surged within the last few years — in 2016, 1 in every 5 Americans had listened to a podcast in the previous month, and the 2017 numbers imply that growth has remained steady.
While it’s dangerous to extrapolate U.S. trends worldwide, my own experience as well as anecdotal evidence implies that there was a parallel rise in podcast listening in Ghana. (I can’t emphasize enough that I have no numbers to back up this assertion. Going by gut here. But if someone could provide a proxy measurement — or if you happen to work at a podcast app maker and would be willing to share your numbers for Ghana/Nigeria 👀— I’d be grateful!)
Observations about Ghanaian podcast and online radio listening habits
In 2016 I toyed with the idea of starting a podcast, and spent some time looking into the digital listening habits of Ghanaians.
Here’re a few insights gleaned from conversations with friends and from an interview with Bubu Nyavor, CEO of AF Radio, an Android app that allows anyone, anywhere in the world to stream Ghana radio stations live, and listen to playbacks of recorded shows.
- There is huge demand from the Ghanaian diaspora for online radio: Bubu Nyavor is CEO of AF Radio. While integrating with Ghanaian radio stations, Bubu discovered that some Ghanaian radio stations were routinely hitting high numbers of simultaneous streams. For example, over 10,000 people were routinely attempting to listen to a certain Ghanaian station simultaneously. Another radio station had over 500,000 online radio listens at the end of the month, and many of these listens were by Ghanians in the diaspora trying to listen to live radio.
- Local language radio shows (NOT English radio shows) dominate Ghanaian online radio: Another insight Bubu was surprised to see was that Ghanaians in the diaspora were listening to a lot more local language radio shows online than English shows. In contrast, Ghanaians in Ghana tended to listen to a lot more English language shows on online radio. Bubu’s hypothesis is that the reason Ghanaians abroad listen to so much more local language radio is because they’re a little homesick and seek out a taste of home.
- College gossip and sex are the topics of the most popular “podcasts” on the AF Radio app: AF Radio allows anyone to listen to Ghanaian live radio, as well as playbacks of recent episodes. The latter are kind of like podcasts (in that they’re recorded bits of audio that can be listened to on demand), and from his data, Bubu sees that the “podcasts”/playbacks that people listen to most often are a show about college campus gossip, and a late night show with a popular sex therapist.
- Accra traffic is a prime time for podcast listening: Traffic is an inevitable part of the daily commute of thousands of Accra residents, and at least one friend used this otherwise unproductive time to listen to podcasts in her car.
- American podcasts are just as popular (if not more popular) than local ones: When I asked what people’s favourite podcasts were, many were quick to name shows that are frequently at the top of the podcast leaderboards, such as This American Life and 99% Invisible. Others also made reference to podcasts that are extremely popular with the African American community, including The Read, and Another Round. Check out this article for a list of popular local podcasts from Ghana and Nigeria.
Opportunities for podcasts in Ghana and Nigeria
So, I listen to a fair number of podcasts. I go through 5 or more episodes of different shows a week.
But the truth is that with the exception of the Ghanaian music podcast Decaf, almost none of the podcasts I listen to are by Ghanaian or Nigerian makers.
Why is that? It’s not because there’re no Ghanaian or Nigerian podcasts — here’s a list of popular local podcasts from Ghana and Nigeria.
I suspect it’s because while podcasts from elsewhere in the world come in different formats and cover a broad range of topics, the local podcasts I’ve encountered appear to be very similar to each other.
While I’m a sample size of 1, I suspect that improving the variety of topics and formats would significantly grow the number of listeners of local podcasts.
In the spirit of providing constructive feedback, here’re some ideas for anyone keen to innovate in the Ghana/Nigeria podcast space.
1. Explore new podcast formats
Almost all of the popular Ghanaian/Nigerian podcasts I’ve encountered use a similar format — 3 or more people around a table, discussing a topic within the podcast’s theme.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this format.
My favourite Ghanaian podcast, Decaf, uses it to great effect with their music criticism show.
The thing is, this is only one of different podcast format types, and I’d love it if Ghanaian/Nigerian podcasts explored other kinds. A few ideas:
In this podcast format type, the host takes a singular topic, and explores it from multiple interesting angles over the course of 10 or so episodes in a season. The podcast show has a beginning, middle, and end, and tells a cohesive story.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is Alexis C. Madrigal’s Containers — an 8-part audio documentary that tells the story of global capitalism through the lens of the massive, planet-hugging infrastructure of the shipping industry.
One episode goes deep into what life is like for modern sailors, another explores how a single commodity — coffee — flows through ports, and yet another looks at “the future of human-robot combinations on the waterfront and in the rest of the supply chain.”
I’d LOVE to hear similar short-run audio documentaries on single topics that’re relevant to Ghana or Nigeria.
Here’re some examples of fictive podcast documentaries that I wish were real.
Lagos’ electricity grid is famously dysfunctional, but have you ever wondered how it got so bad, and why it’s so hard to fix? Join your intrepid host as we interview a colourful cast of characters —politicians, engineers, and generator sales-people — as we get to the bottom of this mystery!
In 2006, a renowned economist revealed that Ghana was the world’s second largest importer tinned tomatoes. Why does a country with so much arable land rely so heavily on imports to feed itself? To answer this question, we’ll follow a tomato seed from planting, to harvest, to the market, and all the way to the cooking pot. Along the way, we’ll learn more than we could ever imagine about agriculture in Ghana.
On January 7, 2001 Ghana witnessed the first peaceful and democratic change of government since independence. This 7-part podcast documentary chronicles the final 7 days of that fateful election — 1 episode for each day.
None of these podcasts exist — I made them up. But if they did, I’m certain that they’d fine a decent audience both at home and abroad.
The Audio Drama
There is something uniquely compelling about a good old-fashioned yarn delivered through the medium of the voice. One great example is Cabin Pressure, a hilarious British comedy about “an airline for whom no job is too small but many, many jobs are too difficult.”
I believe strongly that audio stories in a broad range of genres — comedy, romance, thrillers — would do well as podcasts in Ghana and Nigeria.
A few examples:
- Thriller — The Return of Inspector Bediako: The famous 90s Ghanaian TV show returns as a podcast thriller. The Inspector is back…and she’s a fast-thinking 23 year old? When her dad (the original Inspector Bediako) disappears, his daughter takes it upon herself to solve the mystery.
- Comedy — Charles Kwenin III has grown up in the lap of luxury, with no cares in the world…which is why his dad his signed him up for public boarding school in the Nigerian hinterland 😳 Join hapless Charles and a merry cast of characters as he attempts to navigate doing his own laundry, and staying one step ahead of the school bullies!
- Drama — The sudden death of the patriarch of an oil and gas empire thrusts his young heir into the high octane world of global business and continental politics. Can the Kwashie clan survive family intrigue and corporate espionage? Tune in to find out!
2. Create local language podcasts for the diaspora
Ghanaians reading this might remember the popular TV show, Greetings From Abroad. It was a show where host Nana Adwoa Awindor travelled all over the world with a microphone and camera, connecting with the Ghanaian community in far flung places, and sharing news of happenings back and forth. This is what it looked like.
Shows like this, and Bubu’s observation about Ghanaian diaspora listeners of online radio, imply that the diaspora is hungry to connect with home through media.
I suspect that there’s a strong opportunity for podcasts targeting this niche.
3. Create local language podcasts for local audiences
Everywhere in Accra, it’s not unusual to see people traveling and working with headphones in their ears. Some are listening to live radio on their feature phones, while others are listening to music, either via YouTube or more likely via pirated MP3 files.
It is these MP3 music files that interest me.
We know that people acquire and then share songs with each other via USB sticks, hard drives, file transfer apps such as Xender, and other means. It’s a pretty remarkable decentralized distribution network.
What if someone made podcast content specifically for this organic distribution system?
It would mean thinking beyond the traditional podcast infrastructure (third party podcast apps, “leave us a review on iTunes!” etc.) and coming up with new ideas to get the content to people.
Maybe you set up a kiosk in the central market where people could walk up and have the podcast audio files transferred onto their phones? There is precedent for this: IrokoTV (which lets fans of the Nigerian movie industry watch their favourite shows online) has set up a network of physical kiosks around Lagos to provide data-free downloads of Nollywood movies to subscribers.
Or maybe you join various large WhatsApp groups and drop the podcast as a voicenote, relying on the network to spread it organically? Again, there’s (kinda) promising precedent, such as South Africa’s first ever WhatsApp drama series.
The series is written by South African scriptwriter Bongi Ndaba, and it will take place entirely within WhatsApp using texts, photos, voice notes, and video.
4. Create a podcast network
I’d be excited to see the impact of podcast networks in Ghana and Nigeria. A podcast network is a collection of podcast shows under a unifying brand. Examples of podcast networks include Gimlet, Panoply, and Spec.FM.
There’re multiple benefits of a podcast network for both makers and their fans.
- Cross-promotion: Because podcast networks tend to appeal to distinct audience types (for example, Spec.FM’s multiple shows are generally aimed at product designers and product engineers), it’s easy for the shows to cross-promote each other, resulting in a virtuous cycle of increased listenership for all the shows in the network.
- Leverage when negotiating with advertisers: Podcast networks with multiple shows can have the kind of scale that allow them to command premium rates from advertisers, and also provide good outcomes for those sponsors.
- Shared resources: Finally, a well run network can take care of administrative overhead by taking care of managing technology, marketing, hiring, etc . This frees up the podcast hosts to focus on their core skill; making great audio content.
The (Surprisingly Profitable) Rise Of Podcast Networks
In the third episode of , the podcast about starting a podcast business, host and aspiring entrepreneur Alex Blumberg…
The only podcast networks I’m aware of in Ghana and Nigeria are The Gold Coast Report and Pulse Nigeria’s Podcast Network. Gold Coast Report has a promising stable of shows, including a sports show (After the Whistle), a show about women’s issues (The Other Room), and a pop culture show (The Unartiste Podcast), and Pulse Nigeria boasts of the verified hit Loose Talk Podcast, and even the steamy audio erotica Purple Hair Chronicles.
I’m super excited by these project, and I’d love to see them attempt formats outside of the “discussion/interview style” that most of their shows currently use. Both the Gold Coast Report and Pulse Nigeria’s Podcast Network are definitely projects worth keeping an eye on.
I believe there’s an opportunity for multiple podcast networks to exist in Ghana and Nigeria targeting different demographics.
For example, imagine there was a podcast network targeting First-Time Ghanaian Parents. The shows within this Podcast Network might include:
- An audio drama that’s fun for both kids and parents: By the way, children’s podcasts are SO much fun. For examples of shows in this genre, check out this episode of “The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified” (a family-friendly program that follows the adventures of a world-famous radio reporter who is always in hot pursuit of a hilarious cast of baddies), and this episode of “Shabam” (a really fun science podcast for the whole family). For more information about kid-friendly podcasts, check out Kids Listen, a “a grassroots organization of advocates for high-quality audio content for children.”
- An interview show for first-time dads, all about navigating the transition to fatherhood.
- A “send your questions in” show where anonymous parents send in the burning, delicate questions they’ve been embarrassed to ask anyone else.
While it is early days for local podcasts in Ghana and Nigeria, it’s thrilling to see the experimentation that’s happening around the medium. Podcasts aren’t a lesser medium — sound adds a rich new layer of nuance to information transfer that artists can leverage.
This is frontier territory, so it’s possible for sharp, motivated Ghanaians and Nigerians to make their mark with a willingness to try new formats, attempt new distribution methods, and tell new stories.
And if you’re an African creative who is yet to explore this medium, I encourage you to dive into podcasts. You might be surprised by how the spoken word can extend your craft, and act a siren song for your tribe.
(If you’re working on something interesting around podcasting in Ghana and Nigeria, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Want recommendations for popular Ghanaian/Nigerian podcasts? Here you go fam: List of popular podcasts from Ghana and Nigeria →