Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is Podcasting Broken? Is Next Step Mobile?

I am sorry to agree with this, but based on podcasting research just released by Edison. Podcasting as it stands today is "broken" and "flat" in the area of listener growth. Edison Media Research reported that while 37% of Americans have "heard of podcasting" but only 13% have heard a podcast and that is only up 2% from the 2006 study.

I believe that it is flat because of the overwhelming dependence the podcasting industry and everyone involved has placed on the iPod.

While this blog is about non-iPod podcasting, this confirms it for me that everyone needs to expand the thinking and potential of user-controlled digital media "podcasting" to include other listening devices besides the iPod. Hey, how about giving a little more attention to the potential of mobile phones and other mobile wireless devices that add to the accessability of portable digital media.

Tom Webster, researcher at Edison blog posted about how the mobile phone could be part of the solution to podcasting flatline and said;

"Certainly, the mobile phone may be to podcasting what cars are to radio--when it comes installed, standard, on every phone you buy, folks will start to "get it". Better yet, when all of our radios are equipped with wifi access and RSS readers, few may even realize that they are listening to time-shifted content instead of live radio. That will not happen overnight, this year or even next. But it will happen.

Consumer-controlled content is clearly the future for both audio and video, and podcasting, by whatever name you choose to call it, is the precursor to that vision of the future. But realizing that vision takes vision--and persistence."

Even broadcaster, podcaster and journalist Frank Barnako of MarketWatch "Internet Daily" podcast says;

"Even the most rabid podcast producer will concede that downloading shows is too complicated for most people. On the other hand, they will argue that while people have heard of the word "podcast," they often don't know that they are listening to one when they click a "play" button on a Web page. As a podcaster, I hope what we have here is a failure to communicate."

I think we most certainly have a failure to communicate that downloaded audio and video content is not centered around the iPod exclusively. The "Podcasting" term craze around the iPod has clouded the listeners view on the content they may want if they can easily understand and get access to the content they may not even know they want. I know you may be thinking that I am just anti-iPod and Apple in all ways, but that is just not true. I want this new digital media medium to succeed as I have been seeing it grow since the late 1999.

I just want to expand the discussion and understanding around downloadable and streaming portable digital media. I know we need a term to build awareness around and it may be too late to not use the term podcast with over 37% awareness. It may take a very long time now to expand the awareness beyond the tight association between portable digital media and the iPod with listeners.

Rob Greenlee


  1. I guess you're one of the "half empty" Tom Webster of Edison Media Research talked about in him blog posting about this report ;)

    Tom also mentioned in his report that despite the seemingly small growth "...this is 13% of America we are talking about--and while I am liberty to release the percentage of Americans this year who subscribe to Satellite Radio, it is pretty close." That's very impressive when you consider the millions of dollars the satellite radio companies have spent to market their product.

    Our view is very optimistic. On our pre-loaded retail devices we've seen a 91% activation rate (people trying podcasting) and a 40% subscriber rate (people to stay with podcasting). With nearly 10M devices stated to ship in 2007, and the new cellular technologies and plans coming out, we're very excited about the growth of podcasting this year.

    I suspect that by this time next year we will all be talking about the unbelievable year 2007 has been for mobilcasting/podcasting.

  2. Russell, It may seem like I am a glass half empty guy, but I want to be real about where we are today. I am also very optimistic about the future of portable digital media and am working everyday to move this portable media ball forward on mobile phones. We are finding growing success in that effort, but the past year has felt slow for mobile. I hope you are right about 2007 being the year for alternative distribution platforms for portable digital media.

    I do agree that podcasting/downloadable digital media has grown very quickly over the past 5 years.

    I also feel that 13% of of America is a very big number and we should be happy with that number.

    The question for both of us is are we satisfied with a 2% annual new listener adoption rate. To obtain a faster growth rate, we need to change the discussion more towards other distribution platforms and build on the Apple iTunes + iPod and not exclude other forms from the discussion.

    Many content providers are only linking to iTunes as a source of their content and that is a BIG long-term problem that needs to be corrected fast. Rob Greenlee

  3. You are absolutely correct. Content providers need to start recognizing and utilizing other avenues of distribution. The great thing is, they know that. One of theVP's from ABC gave a keynote at the Streaming Media East conference last year and basically said that they are focused on that very thing - his entire presentation waslittered with images of devices and not one of they was an iPod.

    It's almost a 'chicken and egg' thing though. The media companies was other distribution options that will enable them to reach the rest of the world: the 217M MP3 players that will be sold this year, the cell phones, the desktops, etc. They won't however get involved until the network is in place. At least this is the challenge that we've faced.

    Its an education process. Its going to take more time. But I'm jazzed at the current level of penetration that podcasts have because I know that our efforts are only going to drive that higher.

  4. Anonymous11:41 PM

    Can someone clarify the methodology used by edison research?

    Did it quantify the number of users that shared their downloaded stuff?

    I think in print media, it is what they call the pass on readership. So with podcast being downloadable, it is also going to be shared to other content consumers. So my expectation is, that this pass-on consumer may be the below the 'tip' of the we only see those that are actually going to our sites and downloading the stuff.

    We may fail to measure the number of people that have been sharing the downloaded stuff. The pass on consumer may also be signficant, perhaps?