The Podcast Revolution

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s journalism work.

To listen to a radio program, people had to plan their schedule around the show time. With an online phenomenon called podcasts, not only can users now choose when to listen to shows, they can also choose where and how. As new and innovative ways to present content of any kind to users emerge, the choices of the users expand into where, when and how. Podcasts, which utilize audio as its medium, are a fast-rising trend that can be thought of as the start of the online audio revolution.

Podcasts are audio shows placed online for a person’s listening pleasure at any time. Users can listen straight from the home page of the podcast or use a syndication feed to listen to it. Yet another option is to download the show to a multimedia player such as an iPod and listen to it on the go. A syndication feed allows users to subscribe to any type of data such as news, audio, or video and have it delivered to a home page of their choosing.

Tim Bourquin of the Portable Media Expo hosts a podcast called “The Podcast Brothers” (http://www.portablemediaexpo.com/audio.htm) along with his brother Emile, speaking about the business side of podcasts. He attributes the popularity of podcasts not only to the ability of users to choose when and where they want their content, but to the ability to choose the content they want to listen to. “Podcasting offers a tremendous amount of niche content,” says Bourquin. “Listeners can find audio and video content on specific subjects they like, rather than having to listen to mainstream content for millions on traditional radio.”

Brandon Rosage, the director of 360 The Pitch (http://360thepitch.com/), the podcast division of Most Valuable Network LLC, cites the fact that more than 10 percent of adults have currently listened to or downloaded a podcast, with that number expected to quadruple by 2010. “Podcasts allow listeners to pause, rewind, fast-forward and save shows for listening at their own convenience, which in today’s on-demand, Tivo and digital recording world is perfectly suited for consumers looking for the same experience with audio,” he says.

Another form of audio media found online, is the webcast. Webcasts are not very popular, but are out there. Rick Morris, a webcaster who turns his webcasts into podcasts for SportsTalkCleveland.com, has experience with both forms of online audio media. “Webcasts and podcasts differ in immediacy,” Morris explains. “Webcasts tend to be made available live to the listeners, while podcasts have a relatively short delay until listeners can hear the show.” The one reason why webcasts are not as popular as podcast despite webcasts being able to broadcast live is that podcasting can be done with a laptop and a few plug-in instruments from a local outlet such as Radio Shack. Webcasts, on the other hand, need more sophisticated technology. Rick Morris broadcasts from a radio station that looks “exactly like any terrestrial radio station, because of the various pieces of equipment needed for live streaming of programming,” Morris says. In addition, webcasts are not always converted into podcasts, so they cannot be made available after the show to listeners who were not able to listen live.

Podcasting is far from a perfect entity, as podcaster Mike Boyko can attest to. Boyko, who hosts “The Blitz” on 360 The Pitch, believes that the biggest problem with podcasters is the advertisers not trusting the medium just yet. “Many have wrong information or think you need to have a certain type of equipment to listen to the shows,” says Boyko. “All you need is a computer with Internet access and you can listen to anything you want.” Morris and Rosage also cite other struggles with podcasting. Morris says that the technology for converting files to MP3s (the audio file used for podcasts) needs to improve. “Presently, I have to take an audio file stored on a server and play it through Adobe Audition and record it, which is a time-consuming process. There are easier ways to process the recorded file, but the software is in many cases more obscure and/or expensive.”

All the audio content available is making its way into journalism as well. Now newspapers and television networks can add audio to their main means of communication, which are respectively print and video. The Boston Globe delivers six podcasts, one daily, one weekly and one with intermittent recordings. Rick Reilly, the popular columnist for Sports Illustrated pens “Life of Reilly” for the back page of the magazine, and then also records a podcast titled “Riffs of Reilly” that can be found at the Sports Illustrated Web site.

Morris says that podcasts are a part of a new style of media that is changing journalism in a profound way. “[It is] a citizen-oriented atmosphere that has no gatekeepers,” Morris says. In this era, citizens are able to choose for themselves what to read or listen to instead of having no choice but to listen to a certain radio station or pick up the daily local newspaper. Journalists are suddenly accountable to not only their competitors, but citizens as well, for citizens are becoming their competitors. Citizens are producing podcasts on their own, which causes traditional journalists to “up their game,” as Bourquin puts it, and journalists now have to put out a better production of a podcast than citizens, increasing the free flow of information.

Rosage believes podcasts have changed journalism, but no more than blogs and other independent media have helped shape journalism. The most significant change Rosage sees are “established outlets taking their cues from independent bloggers and podcasters, copying their amateur and personal writing and delivery style.” The mainstream media then create podcasts and put them on the company’s Web site, but Rosage doubts that the mainstream media is doing this for journalistic purposes. “Ultimately, the efforts are transparently motivated by marketing and are not taken genuinely.”

Many traditional outlets have yet to embrace podcasts. The reasoning may lie in the production of podcasts costing money and the relative newness of podcasting, but out of the top 100 newspaper sites (ranked by print circulation), only 31 newspapers offer podcasts, as found by the Bivings Group, a Washington press relations agency.

Rosage believes that podcasts may always struggle to be accepted as a professional medium for the ability to produce a podcast is accessible to anyone, while the broadcast medium is only accessible to big-budget corporations. “Podcasts, by nature, will always come off as amateur and will always feature a wide range of professionalism,” Rosage says. The way to solve this, he says, is to improve the technology. In the current environment, podcasts are accessed by navigating to a Web site and clicking multiple links until they can get to the podcast file to listen to. “Podcasting will evolve only as quickly as it is made more accessible to low-tech users through automobile interfaces and next-generation software,” Rosage says.

Bourquin emphatically believes that podcasts are here to stay, believing that advertisers will begin to spend money on niche podcasts, because “it will allow them to hyper-target their marketing dollars to the exact audience they want to reach without wasting millions of impressions on people who are not potential customers.” The number of impressions, also known as clicks on the advertising link, generally are tied to the amount of revenue that the advertiser must pay the promoter.

Bourquin also believes that the signal-to-noise ratio is only going to increase as podcasts become even more popular. To help sift through the numerous podcasts, listeners will need better search engines to find content and “podcasters will need to be willing to spend a few dollars to promote their shows and brand in creative ways,” he says. An important step toward that search engine can be found at Podscope.com, the first search engine that finds podcasts according to the words spoken in them.

In addition to being able to download podcasts anywhere, anytime for any possible niche that can be sustained through increased advertising revenue, Morris believes that podcasts will become easier to download to mobile phones, car radios and televisions, which may help offset Rosage’s belief that the Internet will need to be hyper-accessible.

Rosage believes that the future of podcasting will rely on the ability for the Internet to be as accessible as a cellular phone signal. Currently, a listener is not able to listen to a podcast just taped if he does not have the Internet available to him at that moment. Listeners will have to plan ahead to download a podcast into something they can take with them. “So much of audio consumption is an impulse buy,” says Rosage. “Podcasts and the Web need to be available on everyday devices in everyday places so users can feed their impulses” for it to become a dominant form of media.

To supplant terrestrial radio, Rosage believes that podcasts have to be “more universally accessible in automobiles, as most audio consumers are trained to dial up content on their built-in AM/FM radios.” The one word vital to the future of podcasts, Rosage believes, is the word “accessibility.”

Morris cautions against getting used to the podcasts at this time. Podcasts are part of the new entertainment/information-on-demand world that people are moving into rapidly, he says. As cell phones start providing mobile television service, podcasting may morph into live podcasting or even live videocasting, which can be thought of as podcasts with video. “We’re about 10 years into the Internet broadcasting age, and about 10 years from seeing how the Internet, cell phones, television, iPods, satellite radio, terrestrial radio and possibly some yet-to-be-invented forms of media tie together to allow us to access our entertainment and information needs on any platform,” Morris says.

The present period is a period of constant change and adjustment as mainstream media all the way down to citizens struggle to find out what the best communicative medium in the technological era is, and how to best reach every single person in every possible medium and niche. Morris is tremendously excited to be a part of this period, as everybody is currently “living history with each podcast.”

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