Webster: Future of Podcasting Lies In Original, Bite-Size Content

May 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Podcasting, The New Media Update

Tom Webster of Edison Research has a thought-provoking piece on the future of podcasting.

At his blog, The Infinite Dial, Webster qualifies the cup-is-half-empty findings of the Zenith Optimedia report (as detailed by eMarketer). To review, Zenith sees the future of podcasting as rosy and profitable only for the lucky few, and podcasting ad revenue will remain a small piece of the total online advertising pie.

Webster, on the other hand, points out (with some fun “Terminator” references) that an alternate future is possible for podcasting. He says that podcasting today, in his view, falls into the niche, “indie” camp, or into the big bin of repurposed content from “mainstream producers.” Most niche content, being niche, won’t attract a huge audience (or huge revenues). Repurposed old-media content won’t yield new audiences or drive income growth, in Webster’s view.

So, how to make the best use of “unique attributes of the [podcast] medium” and spark growth in both the audience size and the market for downloadable media? Webster says to think PODCASTING:

P: Portable. More than two-thirds of podcast consumers continue to report listening more to podcasts tethered to their computer (where they compete with everything) than they do on portable devices–where new listening opportunities for broadcast content abound. Location-specific, activity-specific and context-specific content opens up all kinds of creative programming and revenue opportunities.

O: Original. Content that you can’t get anywhere else, like the unaired “fourth hour” of your morning show, local music features, or local public affairs programming–basically, anything you can think of that won’t fly as broadcast, mass-appeal content that nevertheless has a place with passionate sub-groups of your audience.

D: Discrete. Think “Song,” not necessarily “Show.” Bite-sized, easily digestible content chunks allow the podcast listener/viewer to create their own ‘playlist’ of content. I rarely miss Jon Gordon’s “Future Tense” or my friend Chris MacDonald’s IndieFeed podcasts because they are both around five minutes long, and I can easily stick them in the same playlist for my morning run.

C: Compelling. Goes without saying.

ASTING: I got nothin’. OK, you really only need to tackle the first four.

The suggestions are sensible, and content producers should take many of these ideas to heart. But the arguments overlook or exclude some of the best things about podcasting as the medium stands today.

For example, “This American Life” is, essentially, just a podcast edition of its weekly public radio program. But while the radio audience for the show has levelled at (a respectable) 1.8 million, the podcast of the show has gained a half a milliion listeners who otherwise would not be listening to the show. And the show ignores the “bite size” caveat, weighing in at an hour per episode.

What do you see as the podcasting “success stories” of today? What “rules” would you lay down to assure that the downloadable media industry thrives and grows?

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8 Responses to “Webster: Future of Podcasting Lies In Original, Bite-Size Content”

  1. Rob Greenlee says:

    I think that full length episodic video and audio do well in podcasting too. I do not always think that bite sized content give the value that most want. Some of the most successful podcasts are hour-long full episode programs. I think that this research is biased to some early conceived notions about what we have seen with YouTube around short 5 minutes or less video. I agree that podcasting can extend and grow the overall size of a broadcast/webcast streaming audience. The research needs to look at video podcasts more. I agree that if the bias is towards audio or radio for this research then the numbers are limited, but most research is always just looking at audio/radio. Video podcasts are real and growing very fast. I run the Zune Podcast content area and I am seeing very fast growth around video podcasts, but none of these research companies are focusing on it as a significant growth area.

    Rob Greenlee
    Zune

  2. Tom Webster says:

    Our research (which is not presented in this blog post, so I am unclear which study Rob is referring to) specifically includes both audio AND video as separate categories with separate questions. I don’t think anyone is arguing about the success of video, or even the *popularity* of specific podcasts relative to their length. What is demonstrably clear, however, is that podcasting has yet to get its fair share of advertising revenue, so everything depends on what your definition of success is!

    I hope you will sign up for the Association for Downloadable Media’s free presentation on Thursday, May 21st of our 2009 podcast numbers; I think you’ll find lots of data on video podcasting. Sign up here: http://budurl.com/wsdt . Thanks for covering this, Elisabeth!

  3. Nashville says:

    Bite-sized is not the way to go. Too much trouble for me, as a user, to find, sample, cue up as I’m driving, etc … What I like is long format content that deals with niches that I am interested in. Bertone Beatles Bonanza comes to mind. Frequently an hour long, rambling, obviously not professionally produced, but fascinating and compelling with the attention to obscure fan-fodder that you can’t find in mainstream content. The differential advantage of podcasting over broadcasting is this “long tail” effect; the fact that someone, somewhere, shares your passion, no matter how obscure, and is willing to be a conduit for information and entertainment related to it.

  4. [...] Webster: Future of Podcasting Lies In Original, Bite-Size Content – Podcasting News – [...]

  5. Rob Greenlee says:

    Tom, I am glad to hear that your 2009 study included video podcasts. Thanks for doing this study. I am referring to many of the past podcast research that has focused on audio/radio, that has been done by many other research companies. The reason for this is that the radio industry was scared of podcasting and they wanted to understand it and paid for many of the studies. We have run past just audio with podcasting and into video now. I am seeing more full episode TV show video podcasts from major networks become very popular on Zune. The other interesting fact is that Zune’s Top 10 Most Subscribed podcast list is 80% video podcasts and iTunes Top 10 most subscribed list is currently showing 80% audio podcasts and only 20% video podcasts. The Zune devices all have larger device screens and most of the ipods sold are not really good video devices with large screens. This is changing fast even for Apple for sure.

  6. Tom, do you think would it be valuable to run a research on enterprise podcasting, what happens with this technology within corporations?

    I also sense that one monetization opportunity for podcasters is to sell their expertise in consulting with organizations that need technical / production skills.

  7. Chris Knowles says:

    Surely, one of the great advantages of podcasting is that it effectively brings time-shifting to radio enabling those half million consumers to listen to ‘This American Life’ at a convenient time?

    The repurposed content is extremely important in legitimising the medium – given that it’s mostly the public broadcasters (PBS, BBC, CBC, ABC here in Australia) who produce the quality shows that people want to listen to. They create the demand and the acceptance that in turn creates the opportunities for the niche content.

  8. James Lewin says:

    Creating lots of bite-size content can be an effective strategy for making your work discoverable.

    It’s difficult for current search engines “understand” what’s in a podcast or video podcast, so long-form media can be a bit of a black hole for search.

    You can see the value of producing bite-sized content on YouTube, where the most successful indie producers tend to be people that produce daily short-form content about buzzing topics.

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