Do Podcasts Lend Themselves to Localization?

This week, we interview CMI’s CEO Haitham Wahab and Director of Business Development, David Kirk, for a two-part blog series on trends and opportunities in the podcast industry.  As the following statistics indicate, podcasts are a growing form of entertainment.

  • One-third of all Americans now listen to a podcast on a monthly basis and one out of five on a weekly basis (Edison Research)
  • These weekly podcast listeners spend an average of 6.5 hours per week listening to podcasts (Edison Research)
  • Podcast ad revenue hit $400 million in 2018 and is expected to increase 64 percent in just two years to $650+ million (Interactive Advertising Bureau)

Podcasts have exploded as an entertainment form in the US. Could they follow in the footsteps of movies and television, and be localized for markets abroad?

Haitham Wahab: The growth of podcasting is big in the U.S., and is catching on in other countries. From an entertainment perspective, there’s such an interest in documentaries and deeper storytelling these days. It’s the modern, digital version of the golden days of radio and people tuning in to listen to programs. So it’s not a surprise that in the U.S., the leaders in podcasting came out of public radio, with NPR. “Serial” is the most successful podcast around, and that came from the folks who gave us, “This American Life.”  I think there is interest in that type of content from an international perspective as well. In fact, I have come across several podcast surveys from Germany and France specifically referring to the “Serial” Podcast as being a major catalyst for podcasting in those markets… And “Serial” doesn’t even exist in other than English! Imagine the potential for a localized version, one that will reach beyond the early adopter market….

David Kirk: A few things that remain true over time is that we still speak thousands of languages on this earth, and storytelling still exists. There’s a reason why Hollywood is so dominant in the entertainment industry. Early on, they cracked the code for what makes for a good story, and figured out how to export the stories internationally. Localizing them just makes them that much more reachable.

What kinds of podcasts have the potential to localize well?

DK: There are certain stories and topics that have universal appeal, and much like a great novel that has great storytelling, it certainly can and should work in multiple languages. A series-type podcast has the potential to work on a global scale, say a murder mystery, or debunking a myth, rolled out over five to ten episodes. If it’s a good story, it should play well in Japan or Germany.

HW: Yes, well, after all, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marples have been entertaining international audiences in their native languages for decades. First in print and then in (localized) film! Podcasts localized to global audiences is simply but a matter of time!

DK: Yes, though not all podcasts. For instance, localization is not ideal for the daily conversational, unscripted type of program. A podcast that lends itself to localization is more likely to be something more focused, an in-depth analysis of something, as opposed to a talk show, which we do not actually believe lends itself well to international audiences. Those kinds of chatting programs tend to have followings that are local.

Isn’t this a fairly complex investment for a small podcast?

DK: The publishers or producers have already made the main investment with authors or journalists, doing research and scripting of the program. The majority of the investment is already done. So why not look at a way of amortizing that investment by making it available to multiple audiences, at a fraction of the original production cost?

HW: Podcasts are already complex in terms of their quality today. What makes the podcast gripping and more interesting to people is that it’s a near-intimate experience, an engagement with the same host episode after episode. We see that all of this “intimacy” has to do with the high quality of the production itself—it’s more than someone just speaking into a microphone…. You need to think more along the lines of Orson Wells’ “War of Worlds,” which for all intents and purposes was a movie without pictures. People’s imaginations get stimulated in ways that are amazing through audio, but it has to be high quality.

What CMI does really well is take high-end Hollywood content and create localized versions with professional talent. Our voice actors literally act the roles in other languages, respecting the modulation, tone, inflection, etc. This creates the richness of experience in a film and ensures that experience continues to be provided in a dubbed version. I think the same is true of taking a highly produced podcast, with one or multiple voices, and rendering it in another market’s language.

But localizing a podcast is going to be less budget-intensive than doing it for a movie. And since you don’t have to localize all your podcast episodes at once; you can start with one or two, you’d be able to test your podcast at relatively inexpensive entry points.

From a marketing perspective, it’s not such a huge undertaking to get the users in that new market. There’s a tendency for them to find you. Podcasts are still a relatively new medium, and they are being accessed by savvy users with an “early adopter” mentality, seeking out the content themselves. So, the market is already there. The audience will seek you out, why not make it easier to find you and hear what you have to say in their own language?  

Are you ready to start offering your podcasts to new markets? Contact CMI to get started today!