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March 2005

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The Payoff of Podcasting

by Glen Emerson Morris

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In July of 2004 an amateur Mac programmer named Adam Curry wrote a relatively simple program in AppleScript called iPodder that automatically downloaded MP3 files from the Internet and transferred them to his Apple iPod. He posted the code on the Internet as open source and asked for help refining it. He didn't have to wait long. Volunteer professional programmers soon turned his program into a highly effective and easy to use application.

What was unique about Curry's program was that it wasn't after music. Curry's program was designed to download amateur produced audio programs for listening later on MP3 players. The process was dubbed podcasting, after the popular iPod MP3 player. The technology took off, and within a few months there were hundreds of different audio shows being posted on the Internet in MP3 format. Soon, a number of Websites appeared that listed MP3 audio shows available, organized and indexed by content. The trend snowballed, and by February of 2005 a search on Google for the term podcasting returned 1,210,000 results. Podcasting may be the fastest growing technological innovation in history.

Like many of the newer technologies, podcasting is a mixed blessing for advertisers. It will reduce the number of people listening to commercial radio, but it will also allow advertisers to reach consumers without going through commercial broadcasting, if they're willing to embrace the technology. Some major advertisers already are.

General Motors released a podcast of an introduction of its 2005 car models. Though barely meeting the format of podcasts (it was just a recording of a live presentation) the effort proved helpful to GM. Consumers downloaded the podcast, listened to it, and posted comments about the new cars on the GM blog. Microsoft is posting podcasts on a regular basis now.

Public radio is also adopting podcasting. The BBC has started making some of its programming available as MP3 downloads. WGBH has also started making an MP3 file available for its "American Stories" segment. The first show was downloaded 30 times. In December, downloads exceeded 57,000.

Still, most podcasts are privately produced, in part because the equipment needed to produce audio shows is extremely inexpensive. Every new Mac ships with a program called GarageBand which is all the software needed to record an audio program. Add a relatively inexpensive good microphone, like a Shure SM57 ($100 or less) and production can begin. Owners of Windows machines can opt for a program like Music Studio from Magix, which retails for about $80.

Even ASCAP has jumped on the podcasting bandwagon and has already started offering music licensing for podcasts for as little as $288 ( The deal covers all music licensed by ASCAP, though some restrictions apply.

Probably the biggest selling point for podcasting is that it allows consumers the option of time-shifting digital content. Traditional Internet radio must be listened to as it happens, and with a computer. Podcasts are designed to be listened to when it's convenient for the listener, anywhere the user happens to be at the time, just so they have their MP3 player with them.

Podcasts may be good news for Apple, since it owns about 90% of the MP3 player market with its iPod, but whether Apple will be good news for podcasting is another issue. While Apple is in a position is make podcasting a great deal easier, it may not chose to do so. Apple is making a substantial amount of money selling content for iPods through its iTunes download site, so it may not be interested in fostering a grass roots movement based on free content.

Advertisers face a different situation. There are several ways advertisers will be able to cash in on podcasting. The most conservative way will be to buy commercials on podcast versions of broadcast programming, when the option becomes available. This may take some time to happen though, and the programs may tend to be talk only. Making podcasts of regular music programming will be difficult because of licensing issues.

A better approach for advertisers will be to sponsor podcasts created by amateurs, an option which exists today. Some podcast shows rival the quality of commercial talk shows, and have formats that would be logical choices for related advertisers. One of the more popular podcasts consists of movie reviews, and it would be a logical place for a company that sells movie DVDs, like Amazon, to run commercials.

In the long term, it is extremely likely that many advertisers will produce their own shows for podcasting, as General Motors and Microsoft have already done. Producing podcasts will become another specialty, much like Website design is now. Some podcasts will resemble infomercials, providing detailed information about the products being offered. Other podcasts will feature commercials within entertainment content specially designed to attract the desired consumers. This could be dramas, comedy, musical entertainment, or even news and talk shows.

Ignoring podcasting will not be a viable option for many advertisers, or commercial broadcasters either. While no single podcast show is ever likely to have the ratings of a network show, collectively podcasting will likely gain a significant share of the market. Eventually, there will probably be far more hours of audio programming produced privately than is produced by commercial broadcasters. Tens of millions of people will listen to podcasts on a regular basis, and for good reason.

Podcasting offers entertainment beyond the censorship of the FCC, and it also offers shows with formats so specialized that they could never make it on commercial radio. For instance, Adam Curry produces a new show most weekdays (at that is aimed at podcast programmers and content developers. A forty minute show of his takes up about 17 megs, easily downloaded by anyone with a DSL or cable modem connection. For a sample of other podcasts available, check out or

Only time will tell who will profit more from podcasting, advertisers or listeners, but so far the winner is clearly listeners. The longer advertisers ignore podcasting, the more difficult this will be to change.

Podcasting may be new, but it's not too early to start considering how your company could use it.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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