April 10, 2006

Podcasts suffering to find an audience

Posted in Technology at 9:53 am by antonello

This analysis does not surprise me. Podcasting is an excellent idea, but no one has yet made it easy enough for the casual computer user to subscribe.

In this regard, content producers, NPR for example, are far ahead of the curve. The adoption of MP3 over Real Audio provided an actual file that can be played to a user – that is a significant upgrade. Automatically updating a subscription is fantastic, but the subscription via iTunes is simply not reliable enough. I have several podcasts that don’t refresh properly; that means I need to go to the site, and download it. Any steps that get in the way of acquiring the podcast means that the podcast lose users. Casual users will have an even more dramatic drop-off.

Podcasts tend to be very long by internet standards. People online are fickle. They scan articles, and move extremely quickly from one site to another. Podcasts require an investment of time. My hypothesis is that podcasts are most often listened to when people are doing something else. You may listen to at work in the background. That’s what I do, at least. I ain’t hip with the ‘pod, but I imagine generally people who listen to podcasts on their iPod will listen while exercising, shopping or something similar. This may impact loyalty.

Another issue is the quality of podcasts.  Sometimes this is content, sometimes it is presentation.  A blogger who happens to podcast his or her thoughts is unappealing to me. Just because I like what a person writes does not mean he or she will translate to audio nor give me anything beyond text does.
I agree with Li that podcasts will find a niche for things like language instruction, quarterly analysis, earnings calls, etc. These are places where periodically updated audio makes a lot of sense. I frequently miss shows on WNYC that I would like listen to, and podcasts allow me to catch up on my own time. Audio blogs have introduced me to a wealth of new music I would have never been exposed to otherwise. And nothing quite like finding an audio kin out in the wilds of cyberspace.

Compare the predominance of online video like youtube and google video versus relative success of podcasts. Videos are easy to play, pretty short, and easy to send to friends if you like it. You don’t need to figure out how to subscribe. Videos seem to quickly becoming the equivalent of forwards in 1999. With the added juice of broadband and big media players coming on board quickly, video will continue to dominate over podcasts.

btw, thank you to the hip-hopping Federated Media for making it even easier to keep up with all the fun technology trends out there. I smell blogroll!

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