Thursday, 1st February 2007
On 30 June 2005, podcasting came of age when Apple announced that in the first two days podcasts were offered on iTunes, users subscribed to more than one million of them. Although podcasting enters the lexicon as a descendent of broadcasting, it isn't limited to typical news and entertainment formats. Nor are podcasts difficult to produce: they are easy to integrate into your existing business model.
Podcasts are a means to distribute files, typically MP3s for audio content or MP4s for video content, although a podcast can carry literally any digital content.
'A podcast is not a kind of show', points out Tim Douglas, co-host and co-creator of the Boston Sports Massacre, a US-based podcast that 'aired' during 2005. 'It's a method of distribution. Content is created and then distributed through the Web'.
An RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed carries an XML file, which contains information about the podcast's name and location. Once a podcast has been subscribed to, the XML file prompts the user's web browser to download new content when it comes online. These files can later be downloaded to a portable MP3 player, such as an iPod, and listened to or watched (as the case may be) when convenient. Aggregators, such as iTunes or Juice <http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/> organise and categorise podcasts, helping users to finding the content they want.
In discussing the genesis of the Boston Sports Massacre, Douglas says, 'My partner and I knew we could talk about sports and that people around the world were somewhat rabid about sports'.
Creating a podcast for your business needn't be much more complicated than that. Douglas drew upon his local network of friends, one of whom had a home recording studio, to polish the podcast to a professional level of quality. Another found a service that would manage the organisation and creation of the podcast's XML file and RSS feed. (See <http://www.podcastingnews.com/topics/Podcast_Hosts.html> for a list of host companies). The partners purchased a web domain for $25 where the podcast could be found, and also listed the podcast on iTunes.com for free. As simple as that, with virtually no IT infrastructure, their podcast was created.
At the same time, Dr. Richard Savel, an intensive care unit physician practicing in New York City, was using his commute to contemplate the value of podcasting and its new methods for distribution. He convinced the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) to sponsor a regular podcast that would provide content of interest to its membership. 'I was blessed with a voice that sounds pretty good on radio', Savel says. With some Internet research, Savel was able to acquire all the equipment necessary to produce a podcast in his home for less than $1,000. Among the equipment Savel acquired was:
The audio interface allows the microphone to link to the computer while the audio hybrid facilitates recording phone interviews by 'cleaning' the recording's background noise. The Audacity program mixes the recording.
In the year and a half since launching his podcast, Savel has produced more than two dozen podcasts. Before SCCM conferences, Savel interviews speakers so that conference participants will have a flavour of each session before registration. He has also recorded keynote addresses for later use.
'The challenge of recording at the conference,' he says, 'is that you have to find a breakout room that's acoustically okay'. But as a podcast producer, Savel can travel light, bringing just his laptop and two microphones to the conference to record on-site interviews.
A typical 20-minute podcast takes Savel about six hours to complete, including preparation time. Savel begins by researching his topic, interviewing his guests and trimming out any 'uhms' or 'ahs' from the recording before editing it into usable product.
For Savel, part of the selling point of podcasting is that not only is the podcast available both on the SCCM website as well as iTunes.com, but even the most computer un-savvy individual can receive new programming instantly simply by hitting the 'subscribe' button at either location. The initial hurdle was not cost, technical expertise or infrastructure. Instead, Savel needed to 'explain what it was and how to do it' in order to earn key buy-in support. Once the initial podcast was complete, the segment has been essentially self-running with no ongoing costs other than Savel's time.
'It's a labour of love', he says. 'It's a lot of work, but it's important to me. It's one of the most important things I've worked on in my career'.
Building the business model
Eli Ingraham has been a producer at public broadcasting company WGBH in Boston since the podcasting explosion began.
'The hardest thing is keeping up with the open-content revolution,' she says. 'New media formats and distribution channels are evolving faster than we can develop new business models and metrics to support them'.
WGBH was the first public station in the States to make use of the new technology. While she admits that it's sometimes difficult to follow the multiplicity of offerings, she says, 'The diversification and personalisation of content is worth it. There are podcasting camps now inviting people to learn how to make podcasts at home or on the go'.
Outside of the traditional realm of the entertainment or news podcasts, businesses are incorporating this new communication distribution technology into their marketing and promotion plans. Ingraham points to a winery podcast where every week the owners discuss a different kind of wine.
'Through an informal conversation, the podcast provides information to communities of interest,' she says, noting that the podcast then directs users back to the winery's website.
Podcasters are also experimenting with advertising and sponsorships, including spots usually at the tag or tail of the program. (Savel's podcast, whilst lacking sponsorship, does include a stock tag at the beginning of each episode, noting that the opinions contained therein belong solely to the guests and not to SCCM).
'It's still in the beginning stages', Ingraham says. She says pricing is not yet as standardised as it is for traditional media buys.
When asked about the most exciting innovators in podcasting today, Ingraham points to PodZinger and dotSUB as two organisations that are moving the technology forward.
PodZinger uses voice-recognition software to create an agile search engine ideally suited to podcasting. At PodZinger.com, users can type in a keyword search and receive audio and video responses which then allow them to begin listening to the podcast from the moment the word or phrase is found.
PodZinger CEO Alex Laats says, 'Podcasting has opened doors for getting your message out, but it is all about getting your wired content found. With PodZinger, we let the audience get the most out of podcasts by giving them direct access to what interests them the most'.
Also creating excitement is dotSUB, which allows content owners to make their video podcasts available for translation into any number of languages. Once a text transcription is created for a piece of film, dotSUB's software easily allows a user to create a line-by-line translation. DotSUB allows content providers to penetrate world-wide markets by enabling native speakers to create their own translation or provide professionally hired translators with a tool that claims to require no training to use.
DotSUB's software can also be embedded onto a user's website so that translations can be kept inside a single URL. For example, a multinational company's CEO could load a training video onto the dotSUB site as an MP4. After either creating an initial text translation -- appearing as subtitles in the final product -- or after hiring dotSUB to perform the transcription, the CEO would provide the specific URL to employees in country branch offices with instructions to use the dotSUB software to create a native translation. The next morning, all of the company's employees would have access to the video either in the original language, in their native language, or in any other language in which a translation had been prepared. The video could remain available on the dotSUB website (where the owner has the ability to limit access) or the video could be embedded into the corporation's home site.
'It's a multi-level paradigm shift', Smollens says, 'but there are many CEOs out there who are not afraid of embracing it'.
At the end of the day, podcasting will make its mark by potentially making any company or employee capable of providing content. Get started putting together your own podcast by reviewing these features and resources from FreePint:
"MP3s, Podcasts and all that" By Nick Luft <http://www.freepint.com/issues/020306.htm?#feature>
Bar Discussion "Best format for podcasting?" <http://www.freepint.com/go/b37552/>
"Gleaning consumer intelligence from blogs and podcasts" By Patrice K. Curtis <http://www.freepint.com/issues/040506.htm#tips>
"How Libraries Are Applying Blogging, Podcasting and RSS Technologies" <http://www.solinet.net/emplibfile/ACF3819.pdf>
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