Jon Savage unpacks the podcast space in SA and uses ‘podfather’ MacG as a benchmark of success
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In South Africa, the podcast wave is starting to catch on.
And content strategist and podcaster Jon Savage, unpacks the strides being made in this space. After all, he’s got the expertise to back it up as he’s been a pioneer in this playground for over a decade or so.
And he also heads InBroadcasting, which solely focuses on innovating in the broadcast media and branded content space.
The former 5FM presenter said: “I’m an early adopter in the podcasting space, so I’ve been in podcasting for around 10 years, maybe longer.
“I was always a fan-first. I was a big listener of podcasts.
“I think the first podcast I ever had was called ‘The Official South African Music Industry’ podcast and that might have been in 2010 or 2011.
“These days, the new apps and social media stuff catch up a lot quicker. I think podcasting has been a whole island unto itself for a long time and what has become popular now is the sort of commercialising opportunities that have brought it into the mainstream.”
And he says that podcasting only started to gain true momentum in recent times.
Savage explained: “I started a digital radio station maybe four or five years ago – Eye Radio – and it was also very on-demand-show-centric. And we really struggled. I mean our business has absolutely come to life in the last year or two.
“But the podcasting industry, I think what has happened in the last year or so, we are getting podcasting megastars. And I’m deep in that water. I work with a lot of podcasters. We’ve managed brand podcasts. We’ve created some of the biggest podcasts in the country.”
He pointed out that Google, who has got one of the biggest streaming platforms on the continent called Boomplay, didn’t even have a podcasting section on the streaming app until three months ago.
“So, until now, it’s been heavily on the Apple front and sort of Deezer-ish. It’s a work in progress. The wave is here but it is still quite early I think,” Savage pointed out.
Savage has been working with podcasters to grow the industry.
He shared: “And it is a big part of my passion and it’s become a big part of our business, something that is more exciting than my podcast would be MacG’s podcast, which is starting to see a million people an episode, which is insane. My podcast, from a personal front, was a spin-off of a show I was doing on Eye Radio and I restarted it.
“There is no podcasting industry yet. So podcasters are notoriously hard to get a hold of and aren’t working together.
“And that is a lot of what I’m trying to do – connect podcasters and create a bit of an industry – because a lot of creators, particularly in this digital space get taken advantage of because they don’t know anything and brands are looking for an easy deal.
“So I started to get in between those sort of deals and started chatting to Lasizwe or MacG or Vusi Thembekwayo, who is a very good businessman so he didn’t need help.
“But we needed to consolidate a way for something more standardised and so I developed some relationships and started helping podcasters just streamline how they operated and now, in bridging the gap between brands and podcasts.”
Expanding on the MacG deal, Savage said: “For me, this is a very important deal for a few reasons. We are trying to grow podcasting.
“I can tell you this, I won’t mention names, when I was in the digital radio space, one of the biggest problems that we had was people with very big profiles were going into the digital radio space and they were commanding from brands a lot of money.
“But their listenership did not reflect their following on social media.
“I think a lot of brands got burned because they put the money in but they didn’t see the returns in the digital radio space.
“And so it is also important in podcasting that we protect that and that brands are getting value.
“To answer your question, this is quite a historic thing for podcasting because, first of all, Channel O, has licensed this show from a podcast. I think it is the first time that has happened.
“They also gave us a very good deal, I think unprecedented. And third, they (MacG and team) are smashing it on Channel O.
“It also shows the incredible power and loyalty of having a great show. That’s what MacG is, no-frills.”
Savage continued: “My podcast is also a TV show now. We were originally approached by Comedy Central and we reinterpreted it, it wasn’t quite right for TV. It’s now called ‘The Madness Method’ and is hosted by Moonchild Sanelly. So it’s showing new avenues of the power of this space.”
At the moment, when it comes to podcasting, MacG is the “podfather” as Savage put it.
He said: “If you look at one of the biggest podcasts in the world, ’My Dad Wrote a Porno’, they built a global empire about that brand. And it started out with these two kids whose dad had written a sex novel when he was like 19.
“Each episode, they read a few pages of it and teased it and made fun of it. Again, that’s not strategic.
“Because there aren’t any gatekeepers, a lot of podcasters that do well, come out of left-field because somebody was really passionate about something.”
He said despite popular belief, celeb-driven podcasts don’t often fair well.
Savage clarified: “What happens when a podcast starts with a celebrity, it spikes at the beginning because everyone wants to hear that person but after six weeks, the numbers start hitting the ground because you can’t rely on the fame in the podcasting space.
“It’s very raw, it’s very real and that’s why unexpected hosts like your MacG does well, for example.
“He could interview a policeman and still be very interested in that person.”
Of course, MacG has been in trouble a few times. But Savage, who’s been working more closely with him this year, said: “This is why I’m a big fan of MacG. I was the guy that had to fire him because of the LGBTQIA+ thing. He is incredibly aware of how important his audience is and what they want out of him.
“He’s a truth-teller, that’s what his role in the space is. When he said those terrible things, those terrible jokes, he was as close to cancelled as possible.
“But he did something that I thought was commendable and he changed his behaviour. He approached the LGBTQIA+ community, got them onto his show and said, ‘Listen, I made these jokes because I didn’t know any better and there are a lot of MacGs out there who also don’t know. Why was what I said, offensive’.
“And that was him being real. Now Bujy (Bikwa) runs one of the biggest LGBTQIA+ podcasts on MacG’s network.
“He’s created work and opportunity and now there is a place where ignorant people can go to learn more about the community.”
He added: “MacG is so passionate about what he is doing, he will never stop. You can cancel him but he will carry on. He is not doing it for fame.
“He’s not doing it for the controversy.
“He’s doing it out of the love for what he’s doing.”
While the entertainment podcast scene is still growing, the business and self-help podcasts are gaining traction.
Savage pointed out: “I think that there is so much potential here. The audiences are so much better because they are way more engaged.
“We need to work together closely on growing the podcasting industry. We need something big and scalable.
“Podcasting is still figuring itself out, the structured part is still the Wild West.”