Podcasting’s allure to broadcasters

Everybody’s a’twitter over podcasts these days, and why not? The announcement that iTunes will soon be podcast-friendly was a biggie. ABC and CBS have announced their plans to podcast, and the snowball effect is underway.

While I recommend that my clients podcast (It’s more “you can’t not.”), I have doubts about the long-term legs of the genre for broadcasters, unless it’s used to deliver different types of content. I’m just not convinced the concept has been fully thought through. The idea that Dave Winer and Adam Curry first innovated involved podcasting as a way anybody could record and distribute an audio file via the Internet for playback on an MP3 player. So if I wanted to, say, make a regular audio “letter” to family members, I could record it, put it on my server, and distribute it to family members via RSS. Same thing with a group of friends, or business, or church, or civic group, or social organization. If I had an offbeat niche, I could create a program and put it out there for anybody who might interested. Cool.

Then came the pros, and now we have Curry doing a satellite radio program with podcasts and a radio station in San Francisco programming their day with them. Podcasts are viewed — in these applications — as content for mass marketing. This is the same model that has traditional media outlets seeing dollar signs. After all, it’s easy to attach an ad or ads to my “radio” program. And I don’t have to do much work either. It’s just like the good old days — top/down mass media. It’s the perfect repurposing vehicle.

Or not.

The networks and local stations are offering newscasts, sportscasts, weathercasts and a host of other “casts” via the podcast format and technology. And the BIG question is who will download and listen to them? If you’re on the way to work and you want a newscast, well, we already have this thing called radio for that. If you’ve missed the evening news, but you sure wanted to see hear what Ken and Barbie had to say, well, we already have this thing called a DVR. Okay, so let’s say you’re sitting a work and you want to get caught up with the news or the weather or the sports, well, we have this thing called the Internet, and it’s very efficient.

So who wants to download an MP3 newscast? Nobody.

Terry, you’re being cynical again.

Alright, let’s say you’re smart enough to recognize the above, so you plan to create separate, more compelling pieces of content for this. But that means more work for people. There’s thinking and writing and music and production, to say nothing of uploading, labelling and promoting. If you’ve ever done radio, you’ll know what I mean.

So to television stations who are considering (or doing) this, I offer two pieces of advice. One, don’t expect a great return, if all you’re going to do with this is repurpose TV news or TV news segments. Original or expanded coverage is much more likely to be compelling to podcast users. Secondly, don’t let this fool you into thinking you’ve entered the new media/multimedia world. You haven’t. Just like your portal website, all you’ve done is find another way to do the same thing you already do. Repurposed content — regardless of the venue — is just same‑o, same‑o.


Meanwhile, the personal conflict between Dave Winer and Adam Curry over authorship of podcasting has now gone public. Alex Beam, a columnist for The Boston Globe, has apparently made up his mind that the title should go to Curry. In a piece called, “Bickering among the ‘Pod squad,” he refers to Winer as a geek and “one who does not play well with others,” while calling Curry, among other things, a “supercool helicopter pilot and promoter extraordinaire.” Hmm.

The issue is a no-brainer to me. Here’s what I said in an entry dated October 7th of last year:

Let me add my voice to those of Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, Dave Winer (the father of RSS), Adam Curry (former MTV jock) and others who are touting podcasting as a major new media development. Curry and Winer are pioneering the concept, which is essentially a radio show that’s included in an RSS feed for downloading (it can be automatic) to your hard drive and then loaded into an iPod for listening whenever and wherever.
This entry was written shortly after Doc began counting Google references to the topic. The point is if it was being pioneered by Curry and Winer (read: TOGETHER), how is it that Adam Curry is now referred to as “The Podfather.” Sounds like it’s that “promoter extraordinaire” at work.

Dave and I have had words in the past, but I support him completely on this one.


  1. Terry’s posts are must reading, but here’s a piece of contrarian evidence. At Northwest Public Radio, we podcast the news stories produced by a consortium of public radio stations in the Northwest. It began in November and by about February 1st the number of requested pages for the RSS feed tied that of our home page and is now 42% larger. –Dennis

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