Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mobile-specific Podcasts

Over the past 2 days I've had a chance to speak with Eric Rice and Andrew Sims of MuggleCast about making mobile specific podcasts. This is as opposed to simply re-using the stuff that exists today. In both cases we've agreed that there's a need for something optimized to the experience on the phone.

These conversations have led us to ask what makes a good mobile-oriented podcast. Since mobilcasting is new, it's an open field for listeners, podcasters, and us to define. Are they simply shortened versions of existing podcasts? Are they the same podcasts you have today but in AMR format with a lower bit rate? Or are they, as the Maestro likes to say, "digital hors d'oeuvres" or small snippets of information served up for easy consumption?

A related question is our role in the mobilcasting world. As I've written in the past I'm in the "entire ecosystem" camp, where we not only make the content available but we enable it's creation and include the web experience. If we are going to take on the task of helping define what makes a good mobilcast I think it's our responsibility to be involved across the board.

A mobilcast is an extension of the online podcast world. It's a unique experience. We need to treat is as both as we work towards defining the what and the how.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Podcasting Conferences

First, I've made a change and am (hopefully) blogging under my real name. Someone said "mobile podcast" was too impersonal. And I'm nothing if not personable.

Spent time today with a group of guys debating podcasting conferences. We're involved in a very cool one (announcement to come) and were meeting with the organizers. Spirited debate about what a podcasting conference should be. Main topic was around whether the podcasting world is ready for something akin to a Comdex, or if the most successful conferences would be more grass roots oriented.

Look at Portable Media Expo, happening next month (and where Melodeo will be). It looks like a great show, but feels more like Comdex than a grass roots show. Not finding fault with it, and maybe the time for that is now while this stuff is evolving. I do wonder how much room there is for more than 1 conference like that a year.

The conference we're working to co-sponsor will have a more grass roots vibe to it. We'll have more info as it develops.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mobilcast Affiliates

When we, Melodeo, announced Mobilcast in August we talked about Mobilcast affiliates. The reception was good, not great. Time for us to kick it in the tail.

A Mobilcast affiliate is a podcast producer, provider, or aggregator you can become an affiliate. It's easy. Podcasters, shoot us a mail at mobilcast@melodeo.com and tell us your podcast name, RSS location and web page or blog URL. If you have a graphic send it as well. We'll get your podcast into the Mobilcast catalog, we'll post you on our web site. In exchange we'll send you a graphic and link to the Mobilcast download page and ask that you post it on your site or blog. We'll also send you an MP3 file you can use if you want to tell people your podcast is available on your phone.

Producers and aggregators, same thing. But instead of sending us specific podcast info let's talk about your catalog and making it available to your listeners on the phone.

So, what's in it for you? More listeners, and an easier way for listeners to get your podcast when they want it.

You'll hear more about this in the coming days. Meantime we know the mobile phone is the thing that will help get podcasts out there to more people. We want to do this with you.

Let us know what you think.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Did VCs Learn Lessons During the Bubble?

The Seattle PI published an interesting article saying that there are concerns that VCs didn't learn any lessons from the dot-com bubble days. While a couple guys quoted in the article said that the enthusiasm isn't at fever pitch like it was during the bubble, there is some concern that the consumer space is "overheating."

Most interesting quote is from Bill Gurley at Benchmark Capital:

"You have to be careful," said Gurley, an early investor in OpenTable, Shopping.com and Jamdat. "I see what I would suggest are features being funded as companies right now."

Lots of risk of that in the mobile space and the podcasting space I think. I also tend to think that in new spaces markets fragment then consolidate. The consolidation is going to be very interesting to watch in our space. Personally, as you know from a couple of the posts here, I'm a fan of consolidation as long as it's good for consumers.

And to Gurley's point--if you're a startup pitching a feature as a product and you get funding, more power to you. I'd think any smart VC would do lots of diligence before making an investment like that.

No Love for the ROKR

Mobilcast makes the ROKR behave more like a real mobile media device. But it's apparently not enough. Bloomberg reports that sales of the ROKR are disappointing, and returns are higher than expected.

Not surprising.

We use ROKRs here to show off Mobilcast, and it does a good job of highlighting the product. It even has easy access to one of our favorite features--Tell a Friend, which allows me to SMS the link to the client between phones. But as a music device the ROKR is poor execution of a great idea. Counting the missteps:

1. Hard coded limit at 100 songs. That's quite a few, but far less than a comparably priced iPod.
2. No over the air download. Mobile music means over the air download. No way Apple is going to allow that because they haven't figure out how to monetize it yet.

Let's stop there.

Looking at this I think the blame is more with Apple than Motorola. Apple is trying to protect its iPod turf. In fact a well placed source of our's said that Apple views the ROKR as the low end device, followed by the Shuffle, Nano, and iPod. No way the ROKR can win when it's being nitched behind the shuffle.

There's a bright side for us in that every time someone sees a ROKR then sees our platform we win hearts and minds. But it's disappointing that the industries first big, visible music phone push falls well short of expectations and promise.

Monday, October 24, 2005

University of Washington Podcasts Lectures

News from the University of Washington, where they are starting to offer lectures as podcasts. Not intended to substitute for attending class, but as a way to let students review the course material.

In other places in this blog we've commented on the roll of podcasts in education. This is further proof that there is a great fit between podcasting and education. Hats off to the UW for quickly jumping on the bandwagon. And to those professors who have the foresight to try the technology.

Download v. Streaming

First, a shout out to the Seattle Times for pointing to our blog in today's business section. Thanks, Tricia.

Spend part of the weekend playing with a streaming solution for mobile podcasts. Interesting experience, and while I tried to keep an open mind and not think like a competitor I found it hard to think that streaming is the better way to listen to a podcast on a phone. At the same time streaming has some differences that consumers might find preferable.

Streaming allows more handset coverage because, at least this solution, uses WAP. Because it uses WAP it pushes consumers to a web page for customization, which is more familiar. Because there's no file download there's no podcast size restriction.

On the other hand, the streaming solution forces the consumer to make some choices they may not understand. Before I could play a podcast I had to select my preferred codec. OK for me, not for my mom. To play a podcast I have to enter the WAP address in my phone browser, and I have to do this every time I want a podcast. Cumbersome process made harder based on the phone.

We did some user testing with Mobilcast this past week. Other than the headache of entering the download address into the phone browser the user experience was pretty good. Consumers had no problem finding and launching the app, searching for a podcast, and downloading it to the phone. Gave us confidence that we were making the right choices.

I think the next step is to find some consumers and have a shoot out with the streaming solution to determine which one provides the most user friendly solution, and to continue to understand consumer expectations so we can exceed them.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Podcasting's Role

Healthy debate yesterday about mobile podcasting, how consumers will consume podcasts, and podcasting's overall role in Web 2.0. There wasn't clear agreement, in particular around the notion of how consumers will consume the material.

I'm a believer in the power of the mobile phone and its role in podcasting. That's why we're doing Mobilcast afterall. And the response has been great. But the phone has some practical limitations, which means that nobody should expect it to become the device for consuming podcasts. Consumers will want the mobile phone to be part of the podcast ecosystem, a complement to the PC world.

More importantly we need to fully consider podcasting's role in Web 2.0. At the risk of oversimplification, Web 2.0 is about connecting and creating. Web pages, blogs, Wikis, and podcasts are all complementary components of this world. Mobilcasting needs to fit into this world, extending podcasting's reach while not isolating the PC experience. We do that, consumers win. Consumers win, we win.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Phone, Cable Operator and the Internet

The Wall Street Journal published an intereting article about how phone and cable operators are trying to throttle network usage. Things like BitTorrent, Skype, Vonage and network intensive services are chewing up bandwidth. The cable and phone guys contend this has a negative impact on "normal" or lighter use customers. Placing throttles on heavy use technologies is customer friendly, they contend.

Right. Sure, there is some truth to this. But the reality is that these companies have based their rate plans on an average number of bytes per user per day. Bandwidth intensive apps blow the numbers away, and ultimately, if enough customers chew up more bandwidth than forecast, the companies leave money on the table.

I can't blame the phone and cable companies for wanting to maximize revenue. As a business guy I get it and appreciate it. As a consumer I can sort of get it because I want a fast network. But the reality is that many of these guys are a monopoly. So if they throttle my IP phone network (or worse, turn it off entirely) I am forced to use their higher price service. I don't have any choice. Kind of flies in the face of the "we're only trying to help our customers" argument.

Feels like there should be an opportunity here for the cable and phone guys to use the heavy usage models to understand how to improve their networks. I'm not holding my breath. But imagine if the network operators really figured out how to improve network throughput such that all the services--today's and those that are coming--could co-exist. That would be customer friendly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

iPods and Podcasting in Schools

This article from the Washington Post is an interesting read. An elementary school in Arlington, VA is integrating iPods and podcasting into the curriculum. The teachers are working with students to download podcasts and discuss them in class. Makes sense--most of these kids are addicted to their iPods and bring them to school. May as well use them constructively.

The potential here is obvious--podcasting is ready made for education. Remote learning, tutorials (the guys at 5th Digit in Europe do language lessons), lectures for later replay, thesis presentations...the list is large. Adoption will be slow and niche oriented, but when it tips it'll tip big.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Convergence

Sat on a panel this evening in Seattle, hosted by WSA (Washington Software Association), discussing the topic of "convergence" . Sitting next to me was Chris Pirillo. I won't need caffeine for a few days!

I was pleased to hear Chris agree with me that the mobile phone is the ultimate convergence platform, though he did offer some pointed remarks about how the wireless operators are doing their best to prevent subscribers from having ready access to the wealth of digital content available on the planet. (Actually, Chris's comments were a few shades more pointed than my summary - he doesn't pull any punches)


Content creators, from the solo blogger/podcaster to the Hollywood-slick production houses, all want nothing more than to freely offer their stuff to mobile consumers. Wireless carriers need to rationalize their mobile data plans, and demolish the "walled garden" mindset that inhibits true convergence. Set my content free!!

Monday, October 17, 2005

60 Million podcast users in 5 years?

The Diffusion Group (TDG) projects 60 million podcast users in the US within 5 years (http://www.tdgresearch.com/press044.htm). Will all of these people be using an iPod to download/transport their podcasts? Steve Jobs would like us all to think so, but I'll hazard a bet that the most ubiquitous mobile computing device on the planet - the mobile phone - will be the dominant platform for downloading and sharing podcasts. By 2010, annual shipments of mobile phones will be well over 1 Billion, the overwhelming majority of which will have gigabytes of memory, persistent broadband connectivity to the Web (and Bluetooth connectivity to each other), powerful processors, etc. In short, a perfect marriage between device and creative content.

Podcasts Exclusively for the ROKR

Motorola is going to start doing music podcasts just for the ROKR. Hey, podcasts on a mobile phone...welcome to the party.

Unfortunately you can only get these podcasts by going through iTunes, then tethering your ROKR to your computer. Which begs the question of how this is unique or different than the experience you have with an iPod. The Moto quote says "[w]e feel like we're helping to shape the future of podcasting...." Not exactly. To shape the future you need to offer something unique, not another sideloading solution.

Will give Moto credit for helping drive the visibility of podcasting. That's a good thing and we're glad to have them on board. But they stop far short of offering a true mobile experience. Guess if you want that for your ROKR you're going to have to download Mobilcast.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mobilcast Available on RAZR, More Phones

In September Melodeo announced it would have a version of Mobilcast availalble for the Motorola RAZR and ROKR.

That software is ready for free download from our web site. But wait, there's more. The software runs on 5 more phones in addition to the RAZR and ROKR. That's 7 phones in all!

We are really excited about this because it means that more of you can download Mobilcast and start downloading and listening to podcasts using your mobile phone.

And we are going to keep cranking out updates that have been tested on more phones, so stay tuned because it's only a matter of time before we have a version for you phone.

Apple--Lots of Mouths to Feed

Read in yesterday's Seattle Times that the unions representing the screenwriters and such who create those TV shows Apple is selling on iTunes--"Lost" and Desperate Housewives"--are demanding they receive a cut of any money made selling the shows via iTunes. This is in addition to the studios, Apple, plus any other publishing fees.

And we thought there were a lot of mouths to feed in the music business.

Interesting precedent here. What if you sell a movie on iTunes? Do you have to pay everyone involved like you might with a studio release? How will it impact music videos? We'll be watching this one with some interest.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Big Media votes on podcasting

Acres of print this past week on major media companies and their embrace of podcasting - both online and mobile. Some might view this as unwelcome encroachment on the "people's new media" by corporate types. I find that for the most part they "get" the distinct flavor of podcasting vs broadcasting, and are producing pretty entertaining stuff; digital hors d'oeuvres that whet my appetite for more. Mobile is as different from the Web as a publishing medium as the Web is different from print; smart podcast creators that get this distinction will thrive. I've always enjoyed a well-crafted short story more than a ponderous 600-page novel, and look forward to hearing digital gems created for the mobile phone.

3G Comes to the US

The good folks at Cingular are rolling out their 3G network in selected US cities in November. Endgadget has some more details.

Great news for Mobilcast and mobile podcasting overall. Not only does Cingular have the largest US subscriber base, but also a number of phones that do and will run the Java version of Mobilcast. This means a much larger audinece, which is all good for the podcasters who are getting their stuff out there for phones. Add that Cingular seems to have a pretty good all you can eat data plan, meaning you can download all the podcasts you want without running up excessive charges.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yahoo Making Podcasting Easier

Spent more time on the Yahoo podcast site this morning. They have a cool how to section that explains how to podcast in a way that takes the intimidation factor out. They even suggest topics. So while Apple is making it easy to find podcasts, Yahoo is making it easy to find and create them. Very smart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Podcasts and Music, Continued

Ran across this article on TechWeb: http://www.techweb.com/wire/ebiz/172300219

Podcasts are a clear way around using the major labels for distribution. And the major labels know it, which is why we're starting to hear about their wanting to jump into the mix. Their challenge will be changing the way they think about the business. Distributing music via podcast is more like the original peer-to-peer approach--viral distribution--than any of the current models. The labels will need to acknowledge that and embrace it in order to take advantage of podcasting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Music and Podcasts

The intersection of music and podcasting continues to grow. The guys at Rabble just announced that a number of indies have jumped on board and begun to publish their music via podcast. Our friend Alex Williams of Podcast Hotel (www.podcasthotel.com) always tells us that music will be the big driver of podcasts. This seems to support his claim.

Read the Rabble announce at http://home.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20051010005701&newsLang=en

Yahoo Podcasts

Yahoo has started aggregating podcasts, ala iPodder and iTunes. They did a nice job on their site. But I have to wonder, with so many online aggregators now out there how will they differentiate themselves? iTunes will always appeal to the iPod crowd. But the others? I supposed usability will be a key differentiator. And I'm willing to bet that exclusive content and a subscription model aren't too far behind.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Advertising revenue for mobilcasting

The rise in advertising revenue on the internet (estimated at $358B for 2004, with a growth rate of 33% and rising) is due to (1) always on connectivity, which enables (2) paid search. These two things make it possible, pleasurable, and productive to use a computer as a substitute for the yellow pages. Of course, none of this would have happened without enough compelling content (Pamella Anderson, free music) to make it worthwhile for consumers to pay their monthly access fees.

With porn and free music taken off the table by the more controlled and less anonymous nature of cell phones, podcasts represent the first examples of content compelling enough to get people to open their wallets. Will it be enough? Don't know. Will the experience be pleasurable and productive? Not at first, but it will get better as bandwidth increases. The other pieces (data plans and search technology) are in place. There is huge potential upside for those who get in early and have sufficient longevity to weather the pack of imitators.

Clipcast, Part Deux

I can't get over the phrase "clipcast" to describe podcasts to mobile phones. A quick Google search reveals that clipcast is actually the name of Windows software used to link the clipboards of 2 or more workstations together. Doesn't feel very podcast or mobile centric. I think we stick with mobilcast.

Wall Street Journal on Podcasting

Today's WSJ has a page 1 article on podcasting. Our friend Nick Wingfield was one of the authors. Good article. Confirmed a few things we've been saying:

1. People are treating podcasts as radio on demand.
2. Big media companies and content providers are jumping on board like crazy
3. These same companies do see a business here, though they can't put their arms around the specific business model
4. Advertising it top of mind for most as a way to get revenue

Article also points out that some content providers are charging for premium content. No word on how this is going.

It's interesting to read that these media companies realize that podcasting will cannibalize their radio properties, but they consider the risk worth it because it's better to cannibalize than lose a listener entirely. I think of it a little differently, though. Rather than just protecting the current listener base podcasting should be about growing that base. Radio is bound by geography. Podcasting isn't. Mobilcasting extends the podcast reach beyond the desktop/PC. Once the media companies really get this (and some do) it becomes a very interesting world that benefits listeners and companies like ours.

I was also struck by the phrase "clipcasting" to describe the delivery of podcasts to mobile phones. Haven't heard that one before. Not a very descriptive phrase, and doesn't at all relate to the mobile device or space. Call me biased, but I think mobilcasting works better as a descripter.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mobilcasting Blog on Google Search

Got pat ourselves on the back for a second. Did a search on blogsearch.google.com for "podcasting+mobile". Got this back:

Related Blogs:
Mobile Podcasting - http://mobilcasting.blogspot.com/

This has been the week for discussions around whether there's money to be made from podcasting and, if so, how to do it. Couple press interviews, some discussions with other 3rd parties. Our view is that there is money there and there are a number of ways to make it, and a number of folks who will benefit. Lot of that has been blogged already so it's not worth repeating it all here. Key point is that there is a lot of energy from all sorts of people and companies around podcasting, and the realization that mobilcasting is a great way to extend a podcast's reach is becoming clear.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Welcome to Mobile Podcasting

Welcome to the Mobilcast blog. Mobile podcasting has the potential to be huge, and we figured it was time we had a blog dedicated to it. Look forward to sharing our thoughts and progress and hearing (seeing?) what others think.

At the risk of shameless self-promotion if you want to see a little more about Mobilcast you can see http://www.melodeo.com/mobilcast If you have a Nokia phone download the Mobilcast client and play with it (and send us feedback). It's free, other than carrier data charges.