In 2015, American business publication Fast Company published an article entitled “The Future of Media is Podcasting.” At the time, many media outlets were beginning to take a closer look at podcasting.
By mid-2019, nearly three in four digital native news outlets were running their own podcasts, according to the Pew Research Center. Between January and October of that year, the number of news podcasts had grown by almost one third worldwide, with 12,000 new programs emerging.
In Ukraine, demand for podcasts today is modest, but on the rise. “In our country of 40 million, the number of podcast listeners is still measured in tens of thousands of people. Even the most popular episodes have no more than 10,000 listeners in their first weeks,” said Andrii Ianitskyi, director of the Center for Journalism of the Kyiv School of Economics. Ukrainian podcasts are often reliant on grant funding or personal financing, he added. “If the podcasters lose their enthusiasm or the grant, the podcast is over. But even so, the market keeps on growing,” he said.
Although podcasting in Ukraine remains far from mainstream, media outlets in the country are increasingly turning to the format. “Over the past year, Ukrainian media, including radio and online publications, have been actively engaged in podcast production. All of them see this genre as an additional opportunity to interact with their audiences,” said Maxim Shevchuk, the founder of Podcasts NOW.
In 2020, the number of people in the U.S. who have ever listened to a podcast reached 155 million. According to this PricewaterhouseCoopers forecast, advertising revenue from podcasts in the U.S. will amount to roughly $1 billion this year. In Ukraine, it’s too early to speak of podcasting as an income generator.
“For the media, creating podcasts is an attempt to go after a younger audience, to test an innovative format that is new for the Ukrainian market, or to lay claim to the platform for the future in hopes that podcasts begin to attract funding. Right now, it’s not a viable business model,” said Ianitskyi. “So far, Ukraine has not had its Serial, and it has no local version of The Daily. The majority of all Ukrainian podcasts are produced as dialogues. There are very few narrative podcasts and there are no genre podcasts — investigative, humor or children’s, for example.”
Today, radio stations are the most active podcast creators in Ukraine. The Aristocrats Radio alone runs more than 80 shows. Many others now record their own audio series, as well. We spoke with podcast creators in Ukraine about their experiences.
COVID-19 has taken a toll on Ukrainian businesses. AIN.UA, the country’s leading outlet covering entrepreneurship and startups, has focused on this side of the pandemic. “We had an idea to do a podcast in addition to the articles that we publish. We called it Business in the Times of Crisis,” said editor-in-chief Ilya Kabachinsky.
Business in the Time of Crisis has successfully engaged its listeners: 85% of the audience listened to the show’s episodes almost all the way through, according to Kabachinsky.
AIN.UA also publishes transcripts alongside the audio episodes, which has helped further boost the series’ popularity. Series creators are currently looking for partners to produce another season of the show.
“For many people, podcasts are much more convenient than traditional long reads. This is why in the spring of 2018 we began to do voice-overs for articles that were especially popular with our readers,” said former WAS.media editor Maria Charkina. “We would embed an audio file at the beginning of an article and mark the articles themselves with an audio symbol. A month later, we began to add our podcasts to iTunes. Readers were gradually transformed into listeners.”
On average, each podcast has received 1,500 playbacks, said Charkina. However, WAS had to halt production due to a shortage of resources.
Yuri Povoroznik, the co-founder of Vertigo, an online publication that focuses on cinematography, comic books and pop culture, recalls that not all of the outlet’s content was well suited for print. “Mostly, we’re talking about discussions of new movies. At some point, we decided to turn them into the "Vertigo Filmspotting" podcast,” he said. Vertigo’s team also decided to share major industry news through its Vertigo Weekly podcast.
Although Ukrainians haven’t yet fully embraced podcasts, Povoroznik believes that high-quality content eventually finds its audience. “The number of Vertigo Weekly’s playbacks increased quickly. We went from 150 playbacks per episode to more than 1,000,” he said.
The first episode of Podcast Pidkast was released in March 2019. “Together with my friend Oleg Idolov, we like to talk politics, and the podcast became the natural outgrowth of these conversations,” said co-creator Oleksiy Kushnir. “We knew about this format before, and wanted to see how it would work in Ukraine. Plus, the podcast app charts had almost no Ukrainian content.”
Podcast Pidkast episodes come out every Tuesday. They cover a variety of topics: there may be an episode on George Soros, an interview with a standup comedian, or a conversation about local elections in Ukraine. “The episodes are often narrative, in which I talk about important phenomena and look for answers to questions relevant to Ukrainian society,” said Kushnir.
Today, Podcast Pidkast has over 1,000 regular listeners, and the project’s creators say that its audience is growing. Kushnir believes that key factors for any podcast to succeed are the quality and variety of topics, as well as a systematic approach: “If you try different promotional efforts and do them regularly, people will find you.”
The pandemic's impact
While the pandemic’s impact certainly hasn’t been all roses for the podcasting industry, it has led to some positive developments. According to a new report by Westwood One Podcast Network, more than 90% of listeners say they have listened to the same amount of podcasts or more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The average number of playbacks for a single episode has grown. And of course, new interesting projects have appeared,” said Ianitskyi, of podcasts’ popularity in Ukraine during the pandemic.
The pandemic provided a new impetus for media around the world, noted Shevchuk, and Ukraine is keeping with these global trends.
Olha Dubenska is a Ukrainain business journalist and media manager with a background in online and print media.