Podcasting Grows Up

Once solely the domain of small-time content producers, podcasts are increasingly being embraced by traditional media players. Brands like Volvo, Toyota and Honda are sponsoring podcasts. And since podcasting is positioned to deliver highly specialized content to niche groups, all sorts of advertisers are likely to tap into the medium. Podcasting is poised to grow exponentially through the end of the current decade.

These are not my words. They are paraphrased from Adweek sister publication Mediaweek earlier this year. A great case for the boon argument—and I don’t disagree—but is the case closed?

If you’re still not sure what a podcast is, it’s OK. Half the folks I talk to don’t know, and neither did I until recently, when a podcast button appeared on my iTunes player. Now, two months later, I’m producer and host of my own podcast: TheMarketingShow.net. Who knew.

The word “podcast” (which, for the record, was New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2005 Word of the Year ) is a blend of “iPod” and “broadcast.” The thing that makes a podcast “a podcast” is the downloading of it from the Net to an iPod. Not that you need an iPod—any mobile audio/video-playing device will do. But I must hand it to Steve Jobs for helping to create a Word of the Year in which his product’s name is embedded—now that’s product placement.

What was news to me about podcasts is that about 90 percent of them are audio. Think talk radio in a downloadable MP3 format. The other thing about a podcast is that if you don’t have the desire, patience, or technical acumen to download it, you don’t have to. You can simply play it from your computer. I learned about podcasting while doing the dishes and listening from my home PC that I hooked up to my giant 32-year-old KLH speakers that sound as good as they did when I was listening to Black Sabbath on them in college. I also listen to podcasts off my $125 iPod clone. MP3-playing cell phones are yet another way more folks are listening to podcasts.

However you choose to listen, podcasting’s coolness is the ability to hear (or view) what you want, when you want, wherever you want. Kinda like TiVo, except it’s like having the TV in your pocket. And, never before has there been such an easy way to get, and play, such a multitude of broadcast information for free. I don’t know about you, but anything that allows me to learn about something I’m interested in, for free, while doing house chores or getting a tan, is something I’ve got to have. And, unlike traditional media, most podcasts have little or no interruptive advertising. Yet.

Podcasting is in its infancy (the medium turns two this summer). Yet there are already thousands to listen to—from business, to religion, to comedy—you name it. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that most current listeners are male, 18 to 28. So, you will find a fair share of programs on gaming, sophomoric humor, Star Trek and other flavors of higher geekdom. However, that’s changing and evolving as hundreds of new programs pop up monthly. Podcasting is poised to grow quickly as more teens educate their parents, and more articles like this inform the business community.

RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication) are contributing to the exponential growth of podcasts. These feeds allow for fast and easy distribution of Web content. They also allow frequent listeners to automatically get show updates. CNN and CNET News are among the many sites that now deliver updated online content via RSS. Yahoo! News offers dozens of RSS feeds you can read in My Yahoo. Apple’s iTunes, which offers a PC version, also offers easy access to podcast feeds. Creating a podcast takes a microphone, a laptop and audio software. Once you record and edit your MP3, it’s ready for posting. If you’re seriously interested in learning, do what I did: download a few podcasts on podcasting.

Ease of creation, combined with ease of distribution, combined with sales of iPods, combined with Americans’ information addiction, support the notion of a Podcast Nation. Plus, podcasts are free. No wonder advertisers are licking their chops … even if they aren’t totally certain how to monetize it.

So, back to my question. Now that so many have discovered—and continue to discover—this exciting, resource-rich, virgin ground in cyberspace, how will the natives react to the bead-offering encroachment of advertisers? Will it be a peaceful co-existence, or the start of a turf war?

To answer that, tune in.