The Changing World of Podcasting PART 1


NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Stay tuned next week for part two!

Is there a podcast in your future? As a listener, almost surely. As voice talent, not necessarily -- but it’s increasingly likely, one way or another.

A podcast is a “radio-like” program distributed via RSS feed syndication. Listeners download the program as an .MP3 audio file or a video file. (The audience sizes of audio and video are roughly 50/50.) The RSS feed is a “push” technology – listeners are alerted when a new episode is available.

You can set yourself up as a podcaster in an hour or two. There are innumerable books on how to do it, and the to-do list is rather long, so we won’t get into that in this article. What we want to document here is how podcasting has evolved. And then how you, yourself, might grow into it for fun and profit.

Podcasting’s growth over the past decade has been exponential. In early 2013, 32-million people listened to at least one podcast per month. Last year, Apple’s iTunes app generated more than a billion podcast subscriptions (Edison Research).

While the audience was once dominated by males, Forbes magazine recently predicted major growth in female listenership.

Last year, finally more people listened on mobile devices than did on computer. It used to be hassle to get the file onto your mobile device, but the hassle factor has been reduced by the prevalence of smart phones and tablets, and the emergence of apps and new podcast sources.

As for subject matter, the field encompasses everything from business and tech niche topics, classes at educational institutions, and government services, to books, sports, comedy (about 50% of today’s activity), storytelling, extension of radio programming (and vice versa) and publications, and other entertainment. Libsyn, a podcast hosting service, reports that comedy, education and sports have become its biggest categories.

One way to locate podcasts of interest is at an online directory of them. The universe of podcast directories resembles the world of website directories 15 years ago. If you had a website back then, there were a dozen big search engines and countless wannabes to submit your site to. Over time, the list of major search sites came down to Google, Yahoo, Bing and a few others.

Similarly, the range of podcast directories, which were mushrooming not so long ago, has dwindled -- to 40-50 of them – as today’s distribution is dominated by iTunes and a handful of other popular services. The list includes Windows Phone 7/8 (Zune), Miro, and Stitcher.

As quickly as those forces grew, they’ve begun to diminish, too. More and more listeners access podcasts directly. iTunes predominance has given way somewhat to iOS and Android apps for direct discovery and downloading (e.g., TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, Stitcher and iHeartRadio).

The level of professionalism has changed, as well.

Dan Benjamin, founder of the Internet broadcasting network 5by5, has observed that podcasting used to be seen as “two guys in their mom’s basement talking about Star Trek.” Today, the subject matter and production values of a great many podcasts are more sophisticated, with some shows even taking a share of traditional media budgets. That share is bound to increase.

The range of programming is astounding. And, unlike some other media, there’s always room for more.

If podcasting is in your blood, sooner or later you’ll ask, should you produce it as video, or go audio-only? Audio is easier to start with. If you’re just a talking-head, video might not be worth the extra effort. Some of its additional are some obvious, some are not. Consider bandwidth. If you’re on a cheap shared-hosting plan, your provider might not allow so much data traffic, or it could become costly if your podcast becomes really popular.

To get popular, promote, promote, promote -- without being obnoxious. Focus on your subject, taking it as seriously as your prospective listeners do their time. (If your topic is comedy, then have some serious fun.) As voice over talent, you should already understand the range of self-promotional techniques. Use all the same techniques to grow yourself an audience, and remember to include cross-promotion with other podcasts, as well as any other products you’ve created or sell.

iTunes seeks new shows, but most of all it’s looking for any series that has worthy content to attract and hold listeners. So there’s no need to rush your debut to market. Before you submit yourself to the Big Time directories, get up to speed. Just as circulating a mediocre demo would cripple your entry into voice over, a mediocre podcast won’t soon get a second chance.

With care, dedication, focus, and practice, you’ll fit right in.

Podcasting used to be proudly nerdy. That, too, has changed. Many people think the genre’s nerdy name (which evolved from “iPod”) is too limiting. Some prefer to call it “netcasting.” Other people think that’s equally nerdy, and have taken to calling it “online radio.” That might eventually evolve into just plain “radio” or “broadcasting,” because that’s what it is – radio by another medium. And yet other people think of podcasting as just plain “talk.”

Plain, clear talk. We like that, too, because that’s what good Podcasting is.

Next week, we’ll give some tips on how to make your podcast properly personal -- to differentiate yourself, and grab and hold more listeners.

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