The Podcasting Revolution will not be televised

More than a year ago I appeared at various podcasting conventions and on various high profile podcast interview programs essentially defending radio from what was widely considered (in those circles) to be the death of radio: podcasting.

I made three major points. First, that abundance of podcasts was not the same as interest in podcasts. Second, an unfair proportion of the most popular podcasts – the “hits” if you will – will be from the same big media players that podcasting was supposed to put six feet under. Third, podcasting was radio’s friend, not its enemy.

For at least two of these arguments I was roundly criticized.

Today we have a new study from the PEW Internet and American Life Project which indicates:

Some 12% of internet users say they have downloaded a podcast so they can listen to it or view it at a later time. However, few internet users are downloading podcasts with great frequency; just 1% report downloading a podcast on a typical day.

Compare that to the number who watch TV or listen to the radio on a given day. And keep in mind that there are estimated to be between 30,000 and 60,000 podcasts available today.

Further, says a terrific article in Business Week,

About half of iTunes’ top 100 podcasts are from existing media companies. That’s in spite of the fact that the vast majority of podcasts are produced by independent podcasters, says [PodTrac co-founder Mark] McCrery. “In comparison to the overall podcasting universe, there is a disproportionate number of podcasts produced by existing media companies in the top 100.”

Are there niche programs with loyal and regular followings? You bet there are. There are even “hit niches.” But there are radio stations with tiny but passionate audiences, too, any one of which is as big or bigger than these niche hits. And it never makes a news release.

The fact is that people don’t consume audio the way they consume video. Audio is not “grazed” the way video is. It takes a thousand words to equal one picture and a lot of time for that audio “picture” to be rendered. And time means trade-offs between the time-consuming task and the tasks which take less time but promise a quicker hit of entertainment. Just ask yourself how many viral videos you’ve seen. Now, how many viral audios have you heard?

This is not to suggest that podcasting is “bad.” I happen to think podcasting is terrific. In fact, I’m in that scarce 1%. But so what? The bulk of the audience is not.

For radio this means what it always has meant. Podcasting is a terrific way to promote program highlights, introduce listeners to shows they haven’t heard yet, and facilitate time-shifting for fans crazed enough to value it.

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