Podcasting is a very simple concept... with about as many
definitions as companies doing “podcasting”. |
Personally, I like to describe podcasting in two ways -- First what it is not and second what it is as described by the user experience. (If you want the full history and technical definition that includes confusing terms like RSS, XML, and so forth, you can find that on Wikipedia).
What Podcasting is... NOT!
#1: Podcasting is NOT only for iPods
First, despite the name, Podcasting is not only for iPods. Confusing already huh? Well, take comfort in the fact that the Television was originally conceived in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison as a device to transmit images and sound… over the telephone (hence the “tele” in television). And the name stuck.
I’m sure that in the early 1900s the name television was similarly confusing (because there is no tele involved in the television). I’m sure companies tried all sorts of clever names, such as videovision or videobox, but in the end television stuck. Similarly, the “pod” in podcasting is probably here to stay despite the efforts by some to “netcast” and others.
So, Podcasting describes a method of consuming media and not the device on which it is consumed.
#2: Podcasting is NOT only audio
There have been some attempts to distinguish between audio and video podcasts by coining “vodcast”. However, podcasting is the medium, not the format and therefore, terms like “vodcast” just confuse an already confusing space. Podcasts can be audio or video – or holograms for that matter (of course Holocast does sound pretty cool).
So What IS Podcasting?
(now that we know what it is not)
I like to think of Podcasting as the medium for content owners (e.g. CNN) to broadcast their content so that consumers don’t have to go back to their websites to download or play the latest episodes of shows they like. By way of Podcasting, the user indicates what stuff they want and then as new stuff is released it is automatically delivered to the end user on any device of their choice. This method of broadcasting is referred to as "syndicating" but for simplicity think of it as broadcasting.
The new episodes are “syndicated” to your device primarily through a technology called RSS (Real Simple Syndication). You can personally tune into the RSS “feeds” but this is a lot like picking up the broadcasts between networks like NBC and their local affiliates. The RSS feed conveys information but it is not terribly useful unless you know what to do with it. (Note: Podcast "feeds" are pretty much the same thing as a "show". A podcast feed is just a collection of episodes, just like NBC Nightly News or Lost is a show made up of episodes. So, I use "feed" and "show" interchangeably).
Fortunately, there are many companies acting as virtual affiliates of the networks. These virtual networks are called “aggregators”. A few of the popular ones are: Mediafly (my company), Apple's iTunes, PodcastPickle, and PodcastAlley. These services allow you to browse for shows and manage which ones you want and on which devices you want them on. To find some shows and test it out, go to Mediafly.com and search for something you are interested in. You’ll see shows from big companies like CNN, NPR, Wall Street Journal, etc. as well as GREAT shows from smaller companies and independent people like you and me -- such as my favorite history show, Hardcore History with Dan Carlin.
iTunes is one of the most popular podcast consumption methods, hence the term "podcasting". You can easily access the selection of Podcasts in iTunes by clicking on the Podcast text on the left side of iTunes. But, you use services like Mediafly to sync with iTunes so that you don't need to manage your podcasts in iTunes -- but you can still get your current episodes in iTunes and on your iPod.
So... Podcasting is just a medium, like radio or cable tv, albeit a very innovative medium. It is also one of the most effective and flexible methods for media owners to distribute their content to interested people – without the need for expensive infrastructure, such as tv/radio stations or satellite networks. It essentially levels the playing field so that the biggest media companies in the world are putting their content out on the same platform as the smallest guy.
Is Podcasting the Death of Big Media Companies?
Some have said this. I personally think the medium as irrelevant without quality and this medium empowers the big companies to create great content just as much as it does the little guys. In fact, for years the big companies have been hamstrung into focusing on shows that work to the mass market. NBC only has one 7:00 PM slot every Thursday. It has to run the show that will appeal to the largest audience. But Podcasting gives media companies infinite slots. So, they can create content that appeals to a more narrow band of people (often called the “long tail”). Or they can create multiple shows that appeal to the same mass market because those people can now consume the shows when they desire.
Are Podcasts Free? ... "Yes" (mostly)
Most podcasts are free (to you the consumer). Some have advertisements but still do not. This is an area that companies like Mediafly are helping media companies earn enough money on their Podcasts so that they continue to release more and better content for free.
Podcasting is also a great emerging advertising opportunity because it offers a platform for advertisers to reach relevant, interested consumers without needing to annoy people who are not at all interested in their product or service. (Of course there will still be advertisers who will try and convince people to buy products and services they are not interested in but it is my hope that the systems are designed to economically rewarded the best matches of advertiser-to-consumer interest thereby maximizing the benefit to both members of the same ecosystem)
Podcasting, Podcast, and Podcasts...
(what is the difference?)
You’re probably noticing that I referred to the medium as “podcasting” but then refer to a podcast like a substitute for a show or episode. This is one of the points of confusion. In my TV example above, there is no such thing as televisioning and a TV show is referred to as a “tv show”. Unfortunately, the derivatives of podcast are used liberally to mean a lot of things and you pretty much have to determine which based on the context.
Here are a couple of the quarks in using podcast terms:
- A “Podcast” can refer to a podcast show (e.g. CBS 60
Minutes) or a podcast episode (e.g. Last Monday’s CBS 60 Minutes’ coverage of the
- “Podcasts” can refer to a collection of podcast shows (e.g.
see NBC5’s Podcasts) or it can refer to the episodes in a podcast show (e.g. here
are the latest MSNBC Hardball podcasts with Chris Mathews)
- “Podcasting” or “Podcasts” can refer to the medium or the act of doing (e.g. “MSNBC is now doing podcasts” or “Is CNN Podcasting the 2008 election coverage?”).
Just think of Podcasting in terms of TV or radio. There are Publishers, Shows, and Episodes. The only difference is that the content is sent by a different method and can be consumed on a wider category of devices.
Is Satellite Radio Dead?
If you define Satellite Radio companies as companies that distribute media over a satellite network then I believe they don’t stand a chance against podcasting. Here are my reasons why:
- It costs billions of dollars to maintain the proprietary network infrastructure to manage a satellite network. The parallel podcasting “network” is the internet and its costs are distributed over all Internet users.
- Satellite radio has had an advantage in the car market because the Internet is not readily available in cars. However, it is only a matter of time until the Internet is ubiquitous and easily integrated into all devices, such as car stereos. We are already seeing this with cellular data networks achieving broadband speed. (I’m holding out hope for quantum bit separation networks but I won’t digress).
- Devices can be enabled to receive podcasts by making them internet-enabled and adding a little bit of software. In contrast, satellite companies need to convince device manufacturers to build in proprietary satellite technology which doesn’t have too much benefit other than receiving their satellite signal.
So, I just don’t see how a company can compete when it costs many millions of dollars more to deliver similar media to fewer enabled devices.
Now, that being said, I think that XM could leverage its device and content relationships to position itself in the podcast space as one of the leaders. But this would take a significant change in strategy and focus. (I hope they do; and if they do, they should call me… Mediafly can help).
How do I get started?
I’m biased but I’d say start at Mediafly… Enjoy!
P.S. If you want to contact me directly you can reach me through Mediafly at Mediafly.com/contactus
P.P.S. Please forgive any spelling or grammatical butchering above. I’m busy striving to make some of these things a reality and don’t have much time for proof reading.