July 19, 2006

What is Podcasting?

Overview

What is podcasting? In the 2006 State of the News Media, an annual report on American journalism, we provided the following definition:

“Podcasting is a way to distribute audio and video programming over the Web that differs from earlier online audio and video publishing because the material is automatically transferred to the user’s computer and can be consumed at any time, usually on an Apple iPod or another kind of portable digital music player commonly known as an MP3 player.”

Rather than listening or watching content from a live stream on the web, in other words, individuals download the file to a portable media player or PC. They can then play it anytime, anywhere. Podcasts now include everything from NPR news reports to episode recaps of HBO’s hit series, Entourage.

The term podcast was first coined by the journalist Ben Hammersley in an article published in The Guardian in February 2004. Only a year later, the New Oxford American Dictionary anointed it as the word of the year due to its rapid evolution from an obscure, techie activity toward a mass medium.

What follows below is meant to be a primer on podcasting and includes sections on audience data, where to go to download podcasts, the economics of the medium, and tips on how one can create a podcast. If you would like to share your experience with podcasts, please email us at mail@journalism.org.

 

The Podcasting Audience

How many people listen to podcasts? As of mid-2006, the total number still appears small compared to audiences for other media platforms, but expectations for growth are large.

According to Nielsen//Net Ratings research conducted in the summer of 2006, roughly seven percent of all adults 18 and over in the United States reported they had downloaded an audio podcast. In real numbers, this means more than nine million adults. Just four percent of all adults (or 5.6 million) have downloaded video podcasts, according to the survey.

(By comparison, approximately 27 million Americans watch network evening news, around 50 million subscribe to newspapers, and roughly 97 million have gone online for news).

 

podcasts

 

Meanwhile, Arbitron conducted a survey and expanded the universe to include teenagers, and found considerably higher usage: 11% of Americans 12 and over reported ever listening to audio podcasts. In real numbers, that is approximately 27 million people.

One way to track the growth of podcasts is to consider the number of subscribers. According to a report from Feedburner, an online site that allows people to choose from over 58,000 audio and video podcasts, the number of subscribers doubled between September 2005 and March 2006.

Even more than the raw numbers, the demographics of podcasting suggest a larger audience for this technology in the future. According to the Arbitron data, one out of five Americans who have listened to a podcast is between 12 and 17 years of age. As these young Americans enter the general U.S. adult pool that pollsters draw from, overall podcasting use should increase.

Perhaps even more significant, future projections suggest the technology could become much more widely used by the end of this decade. According to a 2005 report published by The Diffusion Group, a research and consulting firm that specializes in New Media, the number of podcast users is expected to grow to 66 million Americans by the year 2010. Furthermore, audience figures should grow as the number of MP3 sales continue to rise.

 

Finding a Podcast

Podcasting began largely as a niche technology, a way for amateur enthusiasts to share their passion for say, Adobe Photoshop, or college football. Even the Astronauts made podcasts from the space shuttle available to space junkies.

But the technology caught on and soon many major broadcasters began offering podcasts, including National Public Radio and the BBC. Newspaper companies were quick to follow their electronic media rivals with podcasts as a way to attract more readers, particularly younger ones. Newspaper websites that produce podcasts include the Denver Post, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Columbus Dispatch.

In many cases, they goes beyond simple readings of articles or daily headlines by making available additional news not displayed on the website or printed in the paper. For example, the Philadelphia Daily News offers podcasts of interviews with journalists as well as music. The Seattle Post Intelligencer, meanwhile, has made audio interviews with chefs and cookbook authors available on its website.

Video podcasting–also known as vodcasting—took audio podcasting a step further by adding a visual component to the podcast experience. As discussed above, fewer people currently download video podcasts than audio ones. One reason may be that the market for devices that play vodcasts is not as robust as it is for audio podcasts. Furthermore, Mike Shields of Media Week has reported that most video podcasts “skew towards news-and technology-oriented fare.” And this seems to have the most appeal for the 25-to-34 year-old demographic, rather than younger Americans. Perhaps as the content becomes more varied, video podcasting use will become more attractive–especially to the youngest adult Americans who have traditionally buoyed usage numbers for other online media applications.

Below is a list of sites that offer directories of podcasts, with many searchable by one’s particular interest:

  • Apple’s Itunes, perhaps the most well-known directory for podcasts, this site offers users the ability to download more than 35,000 podcasts as well as vodcasts.
  • Yahoo! Podcasts (in Beta form), this searchable compendium of podcasts allows one to se the most popular blogs and those most highly rated.
  • Podcasting News hosts a directory for one to search specifically for podcasts that focus specifically on current events and the news media.
  • Podcast Alley, a directory created by a 26-year old graduate of Purdue University, Chris McIntyre, that lists over 21,000 podcasts.
  • Feedburner lists more than 58,000 podcasts and also offers an advertising network for those who want to profit from their podcasts or blogs.
  • Melodeo Inc. was the first podcast directory to offer podcasts that can be downloaded to one’s cell phone.
  • Vodcasts.tv, an online directory of video podcasts that also showcases the most viewed vodcasts.

A Business Plan

Most podcasts are created by amateurs with virtually no expectations for turning a profit and are simply a way to share one’s passions for a particular intellectual curiosity or hobby. Not surprisingly, most podcasts are commercial-free programming and free to download. But, as more commercial media properties add them to their web offerings, they may well be looked to as another way to generate revenue from the Internet.

Without user fees, advertising has become the basis for most online revenue. There is, though, a challenge to advertising within a podcast, because viewers can use their MP3s to fast forward through commercials, prompting some to regard podcasting as “TIVO for radio.”

Advertisers have found podcasts an appealing outlet for two reasons. First, they can communicate directly with potential customers. And second, podcasters are largely regarded as “highly engaged.” After all, they have subscribed, downloaded, and chosen to experience the particular content, as suggested by Gregory Galant, CEO of RadioTail who has published a guide to successful podcast advertising.

There have been some early experiments with advertising on podcasts. So far, the most popular form of advertising has been corporate sponsorship. Among those who have become sponsors are Nikon, Johnson & Johnson, and General Motors.

Most recently, CNN sought sponsorship for its video podcasts. In late June, the cable news channel announced it signed Chase Bank as a sponsor for its podcasts, such as Doc Talk with Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s senior medical correspondent. When one downloads Doc Talk, the viewer sees a very brief announcement for Chase, much like one sees a plug for a sponsor during a sporting event when a network doesn’t fully break for commercials. The news programming then begins and continues without commercials.

Little has been reported on the amount of revenue from podcast advertising. NPR’s podcasts–among the most popular downloads on Apple’s iTunes–are appealing to many advertisers because of NPR’s affluent and highly-educated audience. According to Advertising Age, more than 25 million Acura-sponsored NPR podcasts have been downloaded. Currently, ten percent of NPR’s revenues come from New-Media operations, which include podcasting. So while revenue from podcast advertising is just a drop in the bucket right now, it will likely grow as the medium matures.

 

Creating Your Own Podcast

In the world of New Media, if 2005 was the year of “on-demand” media, then 2006 is shaping up to be all about Web 2.0. In short, Web 2.0 is a broad term for any media that involve the interaction and participation of the user by allowing one to inexpensively upload and disseminate original work over the Internet, including text, audio, video and digital photographs. Perhaps the most well-known examples of Web 2.0 are Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and MySpace, which is owned by the News Corporation and now has 69 million users.

Podcasting is unique in the sense that it embraces elements of both the “anytime and anywhere” elements of on-demand media as well as the participatory nature of Web 2.0.

To produce a basic podcast, one only needs a microphone and a computer. For example, the Whirlpool company produces a weekly podcast, “American Family,” for just “a couple of hundred dollars” a month, according to the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, the low production costs may be one reason the platform is so appealing to amateurs and increasingly, corporations.

Others say a high-quality podcast requires a more significant investment, such as a sound-proof office or even a studio with sophisticated editing equipment.

 

Below are several links for those interested in producing their own podcasts: