The growth of podcasting in Singapore

Monday 26 November, 2018


Listenership of podcasts in the US and Australia has exploded in recent years, with some estimates suggesting that almost half of Americans (44%) have listened to a podcast at some point, or some 124 million people.

Yet in Singapore growth remains relatively sluggish. A decade ago, the podcast scene in Singapore was sorely lacking, with only the well-known the mrbrown show by Blogger Lee Kin Mun standing out. Today, magazines and radio stations like Esquire Singapore and MONEY FM 89.3 are starting their own podcasts to fill the gap. However, podcasts have yet to truly take off in Singapore like they have overseas.

Editor-in-Chief of Esquire Singapore and Host of Esquire's podcast THE BITE, Norman Tan, thinks this might be because of Singapore's size. "As a small country geographically, we don't drive or commute for very long, and so don't think to throw on a podcast to keep us informed and entertained".

This is backed up by Shenton Wire's Executive Editor, Leslie Shaffer, who has previously hosted a podcast. She acknowledges that aside from the mrbrown show, there simply aren't many regular and high-quality podcasts, let alone well-known ones.

"There's also a long history of radio in the US - National Public Radio tends to rule the airwaves for the types of storytelling that podcasts are well suited to. But in Singapore, I think a key issue is simply that, outside of taxi uncles, people don't spend long periods in cars, which is prime radio-listening time."

Surprisingly, survey results show a slightly different story. A 2018 podcast survey conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation showed that 78 per cent of people listen to podcasts at home, with the next most common location being "out and about" (60%).

This fits in with Norman's view that podcasts are expected to be a growth platform, and that its popularity overseas is driven by the fact that people can multi-task while podcasting.

But what sets podcasts apart from radio? Film & Television Editor at Popwire and Co-Host of Genre Equality and Hard Hidz, Hidzir Junaini, thinks that it comes down to the flexibility that the format offers.

"Unlike radio which can be beholden to the state, ratings or advertising, there's a freedom to podcasting that makes the listening experience much livelier and more exciting. Hosts are generally able to speak about whatever topic they like, for however long they like - meaning that listeners are able to be engaged in more intimate and boundary-pushing discussions."

Leslie feels that the ability to archive sounds and memories is an advantage podcasts have. "I've had older taxi uncles tell me stories about doing their NS on Sentosa and running up the hills every day, and another one told me about being a kid in Geylang in the 1950s, and he pointed out who lived in what buildings and what buildings used to be where new ones are now. These are the kind of stories a radio-like format is made for, but which aren't fully suited to commercial radio."

With all that said, the future looks bright for podcasts in Singapore and possible monetisation of this format. An example can be taken from Australia. Despite the format already being well established in Australia, there is still strong growth in the podcast market there, with 59 per cent of listeners indicating that they are listening to more podcasts compared to 2017 while being highly engaged, listening to an average of six podcast episodes and five podcast series in a week.

Norman feels that podcasts are able to engage audiences better than existing radio programs, and "can only grow and mature as more quality podcasts are recorded. It's all about the consistent and quality content that eventually develops a loyal following."

Hidzir also expresses optimism for the future, stating that "eventually audio content will be consumed primarily online. Which means that it's important for Singapore's podcasters (or prospective podcasters) to strive to keep making content about things they are passionate about. It's all fun for now, but the ability to monetise isn't far off."

Telum Media is a Singapore, Hong Kong & Sydney registered company founded in 2013 by former PR & journalism professionals who saw the need for a comprehensive media database in Asia.

Country Singapore
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