Is Podcasting Dead? - InformationWeek
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1/13/2008
08:03 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Is Podcasting Dead?

Podcasting was famously born in 2000, with Tristan Louis, Dave Winer, and former MTV veejay and legend in his own mind Adam Curry variously crystallizing the concept and creating a market for audio files encapsulated in RSS feeds. Now, it's 2008 and time to admit that the actual uptake of podcasts by users hasn't, and never will, come close to the hype.

Podcasting was famously born in 2000, with Tristan Louis, Dave Winer, and former MTV veejay and legend in his own mind Adam Curry variously crystallizing the concept and creating a market for audio files encapsulated in RSS feeds. Now, it's 2008 and time to admit that the actual uptake of podcasts by users hasn't, and never will, come close to the hype.Hence the question in my headline, "Is Podcasting Dead?" More correctly, the question should really be whether podcasting isn't on artificial life support. Because, as best as I can see, there's a lot more money and effort being spent on creating 'casts than there is interest and dollars headed back to content creators from consumers.

Heck, if you check out the iTunes podcasting directory, you'd think this stuff is more popular than Monday Night Football. (OK, MFN isn't what it once was.) Yet the most recent study I could find forecasts that the number of regular podcast listeners in the United States will reach 7.5 million this year. This compares with 200 million from radio. (I know, radio really stinks, so if it can snare 200 million listeners, why can't podcasts do better?)

Perhaps my problem is that I'm looking at podcasts through my tech prism. I expected to find Diggnation and Leo Laporte's The Tech Guys as the top audience grabbers. Instead, I see it's stuff like Dan Savage's Savage Love Podcast, YOGAmazing, and Ask A Ninja.

Actually, I suspect that the most widely listened to audio files aren't strictly podcasts at all. (MP3 files posted on a Web site, if they're not embedded in an RSS feed, aren't technically podcasts, they're just MP3 files, as the RTFM crowd delights in reminding everyone.) I can't prove it, but the most popular non-cast casts are probably archives of popular talk-radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. (I should add, though, that a quick investigation shows that most of the top talk-radio people don't do 'casts, and the aforementioned Ms. Ingraham only offers short clips for free; you have to pay for full shows.)

So why haven't podcasts connected, after nearly a decade, which is pretty much half an eternity in Internet years. (Or, two booms and a bust.) As minds more original than mine have pointed out, it's probably because there's no easy way to sample podcasts without an excessive and irretrievable investment of time.

Approaching it from the other angle, the expectation that brand-name podcasts would emerge, and that they'd make random sampling irrelevant (i.e., you'd simply subscribe to several big-name 'casts), hasn't become the modus operandi either.

Most problematically, the push to build podcasting into a big tech business has fizzled. The poster child here is PodTech, where über-famous blogger Robert Scoble signed on amid major hype in June, 2006, and now is quietly leaving (as of Jan. 14). (PodTech itself is reportedly having, er, growing pains.)

The upshot is, right now it sometimes seems that there are more creators of podcasting content than there are committed listeners. Worse than that, in the early days, one could commit to producing content in the expectation that one would be serving a rapidly growing audience. Today, I know of no one who says, "We just gotta get into podcasting." These days, the rush is to video. (I know, there are video podcasts. However, video doesn't live and die according to whether it's part of an RSS feed. Witness YouTube. Without the podcast model, though, audio files are pretty much dead in the water.)

All of which brings me back to my original question: Is podcasting dead? My answer is, yes, I think it is.

P.S. As negative as I am on podcasting, I'm a lover of all things radio and audio. Indeed, my musings on podcasting were inspired by a wonderful new book I picked up recently, and which I heartily recommend. It's called "Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Audio and Video Podcasting," by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass. You can read excerpts on Google Books, here.

P.P.S. For a guy who's not big on podcasts, I've done some of my own. (Perhaps they prove my point.) This post contains links to my talk with Intel Fellow Mark Bohr on 45-nm chip fabrication technology and my podcast with AMD VP Randy Allen, who talks about Barcelona.

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