Innovator Insights – Sowt Podcasts

Fathm’s Innovator Insights series explores the bold steps taken by individuals and organisations seeking to increase value and improve quality in journalism, communications, and information sharing and identifies what we can learn from them.

In this edition we spoke to Ramsey G. Tesdell of Sowt; a podcasting platform that produces and distributes high-quality audio programs in Arabic.

Q. Can you briefly describe Sowt for us?

Sowt is a leading digital audio network in MENA, producing high-quality, narrative-driven audio content for Arabic-speaking audiences. Sowt means ‘voice’ or ‘sound’ in Arabic. 

Sowt Originals – including Eib, Domtak, Masaha and Manbet –  have been featured in international media and have topped the Apple Podcasts charts and been selected as Editor’s Choice by Apple Podcast. Through Sowt Studios, we produce digital audio for clients that has also reached the top ranking on Apple Podcasts. 

Sowt is a growing team of full time employees consisting of senior producers, producers, sound engineers, journalists and editors working together with freelancers to produce content. 

Q. What problems and/or challenges were you trying to overcome when the idea for Sowt was first identified as a solution?

When we first started, there was simply a lack of high quality audio content in Arabic. To solve that, we decided to produce narrative-driven, high quality content in Arabic, distributed across many platforms. Our strategy has shifted, into creating higher quality, more immersive and spatial audio.  

Q. Why was Sowt the right thing to meet the needs of your target audience of Arab listeners?

There were few alternatives at the time, and even fewer high quality Arabic shows. There was a clear gap and we moved quickly to meet that need. 

Q. What metrics are the most meaningful for measuring success?

We measure various data points, with the obvious ones being downloads, minutes listened, engagement, ratings for content, and revenue, growth and diversity on a business level. 

Q. Can you describe your editorial approach and how you had to adapt traditional newsroom processes and operations to accommodate a different approach?

At the beginning we developed as a journalist would to produce stories, but we quickly realized that we need more storytelling skills. We now work with a lot of filmmakers as they understand the script writing and storytelling aspects and with journalists in order to produce high value content and gather information. Its a wonderful mix and hybrid of two important media worlds. 

Q. How does your commitment to support your audience to explore principles of equality, diversity, and human rights affect the content you produce?

We provide content produced by and about various communities in the SWANA/MENA region. We’re excited about the plurality and the diversity in the region and ensure that the people who produce, the subjects in our stories, and the audience are a diverse group. 

Q. How has the need to achieve sustainability impacted the way you work?

We work on business development and have integrated that into our work flow to ensure that we have a multitude of revenue sources. It is our goal to build a sustainable and profitable business that provides value to our listeners and employees. 

Q. Can you offer three ‘top tips’ for anyone thinking about starting their own innovative platform?

1. Work in something you love, because it is really hard and if you don’t love it, you’ll give up. 

2. Mostly trust your gut, but do your research. 

3. Do research/testing and user studies to see if there is an actual need/gap/product fit. 

We think Sowt is an amazing example of how clearly understanding audience needs and investing in quality, distinctive content lays a strong foundation for sustainable media. If you’re ready to think more about product/market fit and revenue mix, find out more about our Revenue Development Lab and pilot a new revenue-generating product guided by our expert practitioners.