In a few short years, the iPod has become a ubiquitous piece of personal architecture. Apple Computers introduced the sleekly-designed, and highly efficient technology as a convenient way for consumers to have their music travel with them.
“It’s very easy to use and carry,” said Azeem Meruwani, a 22-year-old engineering graduate student at Georgia Tech. “It stores a lot of music, and it does not skip like a CD player. They’re pricy compared to other similar products but have a trendy image which makes them more marketable.”
Retail market watcher NDP reported in May 2005 that Apple commands 90 per cent of the hard drive-based player market and that more than 70 percent of all legal song downloads in the US are sold by Apple’s iTunes Music Store.
All that market share comes from Apple’s ability to seamlessly integrate form and function: iPods are easy, they eliminate the problem of scratched CDs and bulky cases by integrating a minimalist modern design with a user friendly interface and a commercial MP3 provider. The only thing missing in the iPod is radio.
Yet, the rising popularity of podcasts — a technique that lets users tune into feeds and receive files automatically onto their MP3 player — has solved that problem.
Podcasts have not only created a whole new broadcast distribution channel but also opened up resources to the public by giving ordinary people a way to produce and publish independent radio shows that can be downloaded from the internet onto any MP3 player for your listening pleasure.
“Podcasting is very TiVo like,” said John Fairley, CTO of Executive Domains. “Just as TiVo lets you watch your favorite television program or movie when you have the time, podcasting automatically downloads audio files to your computer for listening at your convenience.”
Callie Tucker, a 21-year-old Northwestern student, says she always preferred to listen to the radio. But podcasts offer her the ability to combine radio and iPods.
“I like listening to the new music coming out on the radio and I feel I might miss out on it if I were only downloading songs. If podcasts are going to give me that option then I’m open to the idea,” she said.
Podcast technology surfaced in conjunction with blogging as more people seek control of the content they are exposed to. Bloggers have also often used podcasting to summarize and syndicate content on their sites.
“Podcasts are great in the sense that they allow people, especially hobbyists, to more easily share their music with the rest of the community,” said Quarup Barreirinhas, a 22-year-old graphics software developer based out of Philadelphia. “It breaks down barriers to give ordinary people more creative leeway and control of content.”
Podcasting and Blogging are similar because they offer users the choice to read the post on the web or on another application via an RSS feed. Blogs do this through a browser or a feed reader while podcasts use a direct download. In the case of the iPod this would be iTunes which offers more than one million songs from major music companies and 600 independent record labels.
“iTunes did a good job when they incorporated file sharing with mp3 players or at least fused it into a single program,” said Barreirinhas. “It makes it easy for the everyday user.”
For the most part anyone who has bandwidth, a website, a computer with a microphone and the necessary software can be a podcaster. This has forced radio stations take a step back to evaluate the new competition. The response? Radio stations and other content providers are now making their own content available over the Internet.
“Radio stations need to stay competitive as the market changes,” said Meruwani. “A market like this one is very consumer driven and to reach an individual on a personal level for any major radio station is very hard. With something like a podcast you can find someone with similar tastes and listen to content that you would like. So in a way, you are getting a radio station tailored to your personal needs.”
In the last few months, Podcast technology made headlines when Apple Computer, Inc. released an improved version of its popular iTunes digital music management software that lets you download and play podcasts on your MP3 player.
Since then, NPR, BBC and a number of local radio stations have started to package their on-air programming into podcasts. Traditional broadcasters and programmers are beginning to realize that providing “a podcast a day” can draw listeners to their websites and introduce listeners to new music.
“The interesting thing about podcasts and TiVo is that I’m likely to be much more interested in the content than I am if I taking the effort to go and download it as opposed to just clicking a remote or channel surfacing my radio,” said Fairley. “It’s a lot more interactive.”
Podcasts are usually in a talk show format but can be music or audio clips from television programs, movies, chat groups, daily horoscopes or lectures. Most podcasts are freely available on the Internet and do not contain commercials or advertisements.
Fairley says the podcasting’s top challenge will be to figureout alternative ways to monetize the technology.
“Advertisers know that people are skipping over advertisements so it won’t be a feasible source of revenue,” said Fairley. “It takes me slightly more participant in the experience because I’m choosing what I want to listen to and it makes providers more participants because they have to figure out how to really grasp my attention if they are going to capitalize.”
Podcasting software and podcasts are widely available on the Internet. For more information visit: www.ipodder.net, www.podcaster.net, www.podcasts.org, www.ipodder.org, www.podfeeder.com and www.audible.com.
Published: Aug 5, 2005