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Podcasting’s Limits

When everyone you know is cool, you think everyone is cool.

And when everyone you know downloads podcasts you think everyone does.

Forrester Research recently released a study which says, among other things, that “1% of online households in the US regularly download and listen to podcasts.”

My own research (which we haven’t yet published) shows that 85% of all online households NEVER listen to a podcast. And those who listen to them OFTEN tend to be early adopters of technology and teens.

As tech expert Rob Greenlee accurately comments: “[iTunes is] only surfacing the same limited list of podcasts from mostly the same podcasts week after week” (Greenlee also has some interesting thoughts about the future of podcasting – which sound a lot like…radio).

That, of course, is because these are the “hits.” And as I predicted from the very beginning of the podcasting phenomenon, the “hits” will swamp the “indies.”

When it comes to audio entertainment and information, nobody knows how to showcase “hits” like radio. And if – or when – the legalities regarding the podcasting of music can be worked out, that tiny 1% will grow many-fold (whether or not they get it from radio broadcasters is, of course, another story).

But until then, podcasting will be an interesting niche, like many other interesting niches. For radio’s purposes, it can promote and extend your brand significantly, because you can drive your audience to your podcasts and that will boomerang them back to your station. And you can do it cheap.

It will also provide a portable, on-demand vehicle to spread the word about (for example) the funny things your morning show is doing. This is buzz-making 101, and podcasting is a huge component of it.

Major media brands know this, of course, which is why they invest their efforts in podcasting. And why their “hits” own the upper ranks of podcast downloads.

“Hits” have a way of self-perpetuating.

And “cults” have a way of staying cultish.

My favorite example, as ever, is the podcast series of Ricky Gervais. A super-popular free series of 12 begat a subscription-based series of six which, in turn, will produce a book later this fall. In this case, the podcast was part of a staged plan (accidental or not) for the distribution of hilarious entertainment and, no doubt, money will be made by all.

Not bad for 1%, huh?

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