Podcasting: Flavor of the Month

This industry continually latches on to the next great thing, sensationalizing it until it’s larger than life. No doubt podcasting has crossed your radar. If you’re on the agency side, you’re probably on your third POV document; if you’re a marketer, you’ve at least considered including podcasting as a line item on the 2006 flowchart.

But what is podcasting? And why are people gaga over it?

The origins of the term “podcast” are subject to debate, although most agree it was the combination of “broadcast” and “iPod.” Any MP3 player can play podcast content. More recently, industry pundits have suggested retrofitting the name podcasting to represent “personal, on-demand” content. The jury is still out on whether the definition will stick.

According to Webopedia:

Podcasting is similar in nature to RSS, which allows subscribers to subscribe to a set of feeds to view syndicated Web site content. With podcasting, however, you have a set of subscriptions that are checked regularly for updates and instead of reading the feeds on your computer screen, you listen to the new content on your iPod (or like device).

The same way DVRs allow us to shift the time and place we watch video content, podcasting allows us to shift the time and place we listen to audio content. Unlike traditional broadcast transmissions, podcasting is a pull medium, requiring consumers to subscribe to a feed to receive content. As such, podcasts tend to be created around niche content that appeals to a highly targeted audience.

Research has also shown podcast users tend to be younger and more affluent and are more likely to be influencers than the Web audience as a whole. As many marketers are on the innovation trail and are looking to tap into the trendsetter alpha community, no wonder podcasting has gotten the marketing world abuzz with its opportunities.

What’s a marketer to do in this space?

For starters, check out a couple key spots on the Web to familiarize yourself with the market. Podcastalley.com, indiepodder.org, engadget.com, and PodShow.com are just a few leaders. Additionally, if you use iTunes 4.9, you will notice the podcast section, which allows easy subscription to podcasts.

Marketers have a host of opportunities to get involved with more mainstream (and typically commercially funded) podcasts. Many employ very similar tactics to those used in traditional radio: product placement, show sponsorship, and traditional (:15) audio ads are the lead vehicles. Though many marketers bristle at the thought of only including a :15 message, podcasts’ nature allows consumers to easily rewind and replay a message if it’s relevant and interesting to them. Also, the simplicity with which podcasts can be shared from one person to another makes its viral nature appealing.

More progressive marketers are experimenting with producing original informational or entertainment-focused programming to distribute through traditional podcast channels. Podcasting challenges are similar to video-on-demand’s. What does a brand have to say to consumers on an ongoing basis beyond a buy-me-now message? Brand as content producer is a trend that’s not likely to abate any time soon.

Though podcasting is a relatively new phenomenon, the industry is already on to the next great thing: videocasting. Before long, we’ll be hearing about the quick, easy dissemination of video content across a variety of devices, including PCs, cell phones, and personal video players. As wireless networks get quicker and more powerful and devices become more multimedia friendly, shuttling video content from one device to another will become more of a reality.

Ah, what the heck. I’ll buy into the hype, a little. Make mine large, with rainbow sprinkles.

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