Wanted: Hip, New Advertising Method

Wanted: New advertising method that’s part radio, part blog. Must appeal to consumers with varied interests. Should provide access to target audience at virtually all times.

If this is your idea of an attractive interactive media candidate, I’d like to introduce you to podcasting.

Podcasting (define) is the newest trend resulting from Apple’s popular iPod, though there’s no association between it and the Apple brand.

Quite simply, podcasting is a method of delivering audio content from the Web to consumers’ iPods around the world. The medium was spearheaded by an unlikely character: former MTV VJ Adam Curry. With the help of RSS (define) inventor Dave Winer, Curry launched the media aggregator software used to distribute podcasts, called iPodder, in August 2004.

Via RSS, podcasting allows Internet users to download original audio programs, homemade radio shows some call “audio blogs,” even some newscasts and public radio broadcasts. These audio files are posted on blog-type sites that also house overviews of podcast content. Though it’s possible to listen via PC, most podcast subscribers prefer to use iPods or other MP3 players as the playback device. This gives them complete freedom to listen wherever they are, whenever they like.

Although it’s only been available to the public for a few months, podcasting is well on its way to becoming a mainstream communications channel. There are an estimated 2,500 active podcasts to date, with more popping up each day. There’s something for everyone, from computer programmers to cat lovers (one Canadian podcast is recorded from the family feline’s perspective). Sites such as PodcastAlley.com make it easy to find a podcast that’s just your cup of tea.

As with blogs, audiences are still rather small. The larger podcasts have subscribers in the low thousands. Although it took interactive advertisers years to clue in to blogs’ promotional potential, it appears podcasting won’t have to wait. Already, a few plucky marketers are testing the medium. Most are tech-related companies chasing after Internet-savvy early adopters.

Those podcasts able to attract advertisers generally charge a flat fee. Sponsorships typically involve a short audio ad imbedded in the podcast content, along with a button or banner on the associated site, or a link included in online podcast entries. Marketers may soon take a cue from corporate bloggers and publishing their own podcasts. Currently, podcasts are free, yet there’s plenty of potential to develop podcasts featuring specialized content and charge for the feeds.

An advantage podcasts have over blogs is users can listen at their convenience, so advertising can’t be deemed overly intrusive. The shortcoming is marketers may not know how to categorize it. It’s certainly interactive, but is the channel considered online or off-?

However advertisers interpret podcasting, its foundation is as solid as they come. At the recent San Francisco Macworld Conference & Expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed the company has sold over 10 million iPods to date. Over 8 million of these were sold in 2004 alone. This figure certainly doesn’t include the countless other brands of MP3 players that flew off the shelves in recent months.

In an increasingly mobile society, there’s no telling how far podcasting can go. Keep an eye on this space for more about the medium as it develops. And don’t forget to share your thoughts.

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