This research looks at podcasting; the practice of creating, producing and distributing, in the most, audio content in the form of programs. Programs include but aren’t limited to news, sport, documentary, education, dramatization, review, preview and comedy. The goal is to show how important podcasting has become in relation to mainstream media and its impact on audiences as an alternative to, or enhancement of, contemporary radio broadcasting. This has been done by examining research from the Pew Research Centre for Journalism, Edison Research and others. Through analysing, interpreting and reviewing existing material this research highlights how podcasting has moved from a perceived threat to radio to the greatest supporter of modern radio medium.
The Briefest of Histories
Born ostensibly in 2005, podcasting (2005 US Oxford Dictionary ‘Word of the Year’) promised to give a voice to anyone with an opinion and an internet connection as blogging had done for anyone with the ability to type, and an internet connection. The primary output to begin with was confusion; podcasters didn’t know what they were doing, audiences couldn’t find what they wanted and radio stations were scared their business model was under attack.
However, in most countries the airwaves were and still are administered by governments. Many of which issued, for large fees and with heavy regulation, licences for radio broadcasters to use a specific band of the radio spectrum. Radio stations believed podcasters would steal their audiences and associated advertising revenue. Podcasters believed they were offering audiences unbiased, niche content without the intrusion of advertising in its many forms. Neither saw the benefits of the other until the BBC started offering the majority of their programs as podcasts. ‘Timeshifting’ as it became know was the ability for an audience to listen to a program when they wanted instead of being locked into having to listen when the program was broadcast. From a radio audience’s perspective, timeshifting became the single most important feature of podcasting; being able to listen to their favourite programs when and where they wanted.
The BBC is widely acknowledged as being at the forefront of the podcasting revolution insofar as seeing the advantages it offered its audiences. Rather than being a threat to their terrestrial programming, Simon Nelson, Controller of BBC Radio and Music Interactive said, “These technologies can transform the value we deliver to audiences and make our programmes more accessible for both new and existing audiences.” (Nelson, 2005, Speaking at Music Radio 2005).
The Big Spike
As with may technologies the fanfare around the launch often outshines the actual promise. This is true too of podcasting. In 2005 it seemed everyone wanted to be a podcaster and know more about podcasting. The graph above is a Google Trend of the word podcasting over the past ten years. The most interesting element of this graph is not the sudden rise or steady decline after the initial excitement but the ‘long tail’ that continues to now. This long tail of steady interest indicates the ongoing support of podcasting. In comparison, if Google data was available for radio in Marconi’s time we would see a similar shaped graph with interest peaking around launch but being more modest over the past ten (or even 100) years.
While this graph represents Google search requests, Eddison Research analysed the various audio based channels available to audiences and which ones are being listened to the most. They discovered that on average individual users listen to content for 6 hours and 8 minutes per day. Of this, 30% was dedicated to listening to podcasts, 21% to AM/FM broadcast radio, 23% to the user’s own library of music, 12% to the new streaming audio providers, 9% to TV music channels and 5% to satellite radio. To be clear this research was based on surveys of podcast listeners defined by anyone who had listened to a podcast within 24 hours prior to being surveyed. The immediate highlight of this research is the passion of podcast listeners for podcasts; “if you listen to podcasts, you listen to a lot of podcasts.” (Webster, 2015, Share of Ear, para. 1).
From Little Things Big Things Grow
The most recent data from The World Bank suggests that in 2006, 17.6% of the worlds population had internet access (2014, WorldBank.org, Internet Users/100 People). Fast forward to 2014 and that number has more than doubled to 40.6%. With regard to the growth in podcasting, Nancy Vogt of the Pew Research Center for Journalism states, “The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008, from 9% to 17% by January of 2015. The percentage listening in 2015 was up two points over 2014 levels (15%).” (Vogt, 2015, Podcasting: Fact Sheet, para. 3). When taken into consideration with the vast increase people with access to the internet as TWB data shows, these small increases in podcast listening percentage points equates to massive real increase in actual audience numbers. As Andy Bowers, executive producer of podcasting for Slate.com put it; “A big reason for all the attention, of course, is the wild success of ‘Serial’…” (Bowers, 2014, Podcasting at 10). Created by the producers of This American Life, ‘Serial’ is a 12-episode audio play, set pre-9/11 about the murder of a young Asian-American school girl and the cold-case investigation into her Arab-American boyfriend. For podcasting ‘Serial’ is considered a game changer although others contend it to be a heart starter or maybe just a return to the halcyon days of the radio play; without the ads or sponsors. ‘Serial’ was also broadcast as regular programming on This American Life and will be available from Nov 24th, 2015 on the Pandora streaming service.
The End of the Beginning
While in the early days of podcasting the hype and buzz were so loud, so focussed and so threatening, it would have been supremely ignorant of radio industry to see the technology as anything but threatening. However, after the shouting and noise gave way to rational thought those who had kept their heads could see the synergistic opportunities that podcasting offered radio. As the table below shows, the various channels offer both pros and cons to producers and users. When a program is made available across more than one channel then a win/win situation is created and more listeners are created for better content.
|PRODUCERS||PROS||Low entry $ point||No extra cost when audience grows||Potentially lucrative business|
|CONS||Gaining market share||Competition||High marketing costs|
|USERS||PROS||Timeshifting & program choice||Familiarity||Niche choice|
|CONS||Download expenses||Broad (un)appeal||Expensive|
As the ‘Serial’ distribution model demonstrates, multiple delivery channels could well be the future model for radio programming which indeed some of the more forward thinking television networks have recently engaged; terrestrial, on demand, download, mobile, streaming and partnerships with other distribution channels. Rather than fighting each other for audience ear or eye time, modern programming looks to engage with consumers and deliver the content they want in the mode they need at the time they desire.
So it seems Gil Scott-Heron was only partly correct when he sang, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it will most likely be streamed, downloaded, shared and podcast.
Allison, 2015, ‘Transom.org’, Advertising, Podcasting and Public Radio
Pike, 2013, ‘AllenPike.com’, The Fall and Rise of Podcasting
Stevenson, 2014, ‘Slate.com’, Don’t Count AM/FM Radio Out Just Yet
Thompson, 2005, ‘BBC.co.uk’, Podcasting Could Be a Revolution
Valance, 2005, ‘BBC.co.uk’, Podcasts Send Mixed Signals to Radio
Vogt, 2015, Pew Research Center, ‘State of the News Media’, Podcasting: Fact Sheet
Webster, 2015, ‘EddisonResearch.com’, Share of Ear Study Shows Dramatic Increase in Podcasting Consumption
Weiner, 2014, ‘Slate.com’, The Voices: Towards a Critical Theory of Podcasting