Recasting the Concept of Podcasting: Part I

By Colin Dixon, Senior Analyst, IP Media and
Michael Greeson, Founder & CEO

You may recall last year that the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “podcasting” the “Word of the Year” for 2005 and “officially” defined the term as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.”

What’s in a Name?

Most would agree that this simple definition of “podcasting” pretty well summed up the concept. TDG’s definition was very similar, highlighting three key characteristics of podcasting: (1) it used file-based downloads (versus streaming), (2) it was subscription-based (you sign up and podcasts are automatically “pushed” to you on a regular schedule), and (3) the content was then consumed on portable devices. Again, few would disagree with this understanding of podcasting. It seemed to be spot-on.

It is interesting to note that one of the technologies behind podcasting (RSS or “Really Simple Syndication”) had been around since 2001, but it wasn’t until 2004 that those using the technology began to associate it with their portable music players – in most cases, an iPod. This was fine with Apple, for it provided a convenient way to fuel the public’s fascination with anything “pod” and position the iPod as the enabler of podcasting. While Apple didn’t come up with the name “podcasting,” it certainly sounds like it. And perception is reality!

The Relevance of Portability

Early RSS converts saw portability was one of the key benefits of podcasting (that is, downloaded files allow for on-demand consumption of content independent of having an Internet connection, whereas streaming required a live connection). But that’s all portability was – a benefit of podcasting, not a logically necessary feature of podcasting. In other words, once podcasts were downloaded to a PC, they could be consumed on a variety of appropriately-enabled devices – some portable and some not. It simply didn’t matter where or on what device the content was consumed.

Of course, this wasn’t the message the public received, as Apple’s media machine successfully tied podcasting to portable music players (in general) and the iPod (in particular). Portability was thus bound to podcasting as a necessary component; podcasting was not possible without portability (or so went the popular line). To conceive of podcasting without an iPod involved? Sacrilege, I tell you. Where’s the romance, the sexy-cool, of the “iPod Revolution”?

Then again, as long as no one knew that the podcasts weren’t being transferred to a portable device – as long as the public imagination swore the two were connected – their secret was safe. The revolution would continue!

Don’t Tell Me How to Use My Podcasts!

According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Bridge Data, the relevance of portability to podcast usage has been vastly overstated. In fact, more 80% of podcast downloads never make it to a portable player or another device – they are consumed on the PC (or, worse, never listened or deleted).

Excuse me? You mean to say that four out of five “podcasters” don’t consume podcasts on a portable device? You mean these are “poser podcasters”? Shame on them – they’re not longer allowed at the country club.

The Quandary

We find ourselves in a bit of pickle: either (a) our definition of podcasting is insufficient or inaccurate, or (b) 80% of those who we call “podcasters” are nothing of the sort.

Before we write off 80% of podcast users as being posers, perhaps we should reconsider our understanding of podcasting – what it is, what it does, how it does what it does, and how it may impact the distribution of Internet media. In other words, let’s go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.

Feedback Request: Your Input

Next week, we’ll publish Part II of this essay and proceed through our virtual white-board session. And we invite you to assist us in this effort. In the next week, think about podcasting, maybe even do a little research. Send us your feedback, we will read it and include some of your responses in our next article due out March 30th, 2006. 

It will make reading Part II more enjoyable, and you may be able to help refine the concept of podcasting in new and exciting ways.

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