iPod Kill Radio

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Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies Copyright © 2006 Sage Publications London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi 1354-8565 Vol 12(2): 143–162 DOI: 10.1177/1354856506066522 http://cvg.sagepub.com ARTICLE Will the iPod Kill the Radio Star? Profiling Podcasting as Radio Richard Berry University of Sunderland, UK Abstract / The Apple iPod has not only become a ‘must have’ style accessory for the ‘wirefree’ generation but has also revolutionized the way we consume
  Will the iPod Kill theRadio Star? Profiling Podcasting as RadioRichard Berry University of Sunderland, UK  Abstract  / The Apple iPod has not only become a ‘must have’ style accessory for the ‘wirefree’generation but has also revolutionized the way we consume music. At the time of writing,(November 2005) the revolution has already started in the audio world, and has been going forthe last 18 months. ‘Podcasting’ allows anyone with a PC to create a ‘radio’ programme and distrib-ute it freely, through the internet to the portable MP3 players of subscribers around the world.Podcasting not only removes global barriers to reception but, at a stroke, removes key factorsimpeding the growth of internet radio: its portability, its intimacy and its accessibility. This is ascenario where audiences are producers, where the technology we already have assumes new rolesand where audiences, cut off from traditional media, rediscover their voices. Key Words  / commercial Podcasting / converged media / digital radio / education Podcasts / iPod / music Podcasting / Podcasting / ‘wirefree’ generation When a ‘new’ medium arrives and is named one often wonders where the title camefrom. In the case of Podcasting the srcins can be traced back to early 2004 when the Guardian  journalist Ben Hammersley observed: With the benefit of hindsight, it all seems quite obvious. MP3 players, like Apple’s iPod in many  pockets, audio production software cheap or free, and weblogging an established part of theinternet; all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia? (Hammersley, 2004) Hammersley was reporting on the growth of audio content created in an MP3 formatthat users could download and play back on the expanding range of MP3 players. Hepointed to the audio interviews of Christopher Lydon, a Law Fellow at Harvard University,and to ‘Audible.com’ a speech-led website offering a variety of speech-based content tofee-paying subscribers. Both offered listeners a new opportunity to find commercial-freecontent to listen to when and where they wanted. In the case of Lydon’s work those Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media TechnologiesCopyright © 2006 Sage PublicationsLondon, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi 1354-8565 Vol 12(2): 143–162DOI: 10.1177/1354856506066522http://cvg.sagepub.com ARTICLE  listeners can talk back to the producer and establish a dialogue unheard of in traditionaltop-down vertical media. Neither of these forerunners of the Podcast revolution had anynotion of what was to follow, nor did they use the term. Nevertheless they opened thedoor to new opportunities.Within a year of Hammersley’s article being published the word he employed sotentatively was in regular use as a label for a new media platform. This article seeks toexamine the medium that became Podcasting and attempts to provide a ‘snapshot’ ofwhere it is and where it might be going and provide a discussion of its characteristics andimplications for traditional media like broadcast radio.Whilst the reader may not have listened to a Podcast one cannot fail to have beensuddenly aware that the new medium exists. It has been adopted by broadcasters aroundthe globe and has been widely discussed in media and technology pages since its birthin 2004. At that time a Google search for the word ‘Podcast’ would return somewherein the order of 6000 hits (Terdiman, 2004): today (November 2005) the same searchreturns over 61 million hits, such is the increasing use of the term and the medium. Afurther testament is the decision in August 2005 to include the word ‘Podcast’ in theOxford English American Dictionary (Miles, 2005).Podcasting is not only a converged medium (bringing together audio, the web andportable media devices) but also a disruptive technology and one that has already forcedsome in the radio business to reconsider some established practices and preconceptionsabout audiences, consumption, production and distribution. Whilst Audible was estab-lished to provide speech content for these devices, the automation, free access and theradio-like nature of Podcasts contribute to the disruptive nature of the new medium. Itis an application of technology that was not developed, planned or marketed and yet itsarrival does challenge established practices in a way that is not only unprecedented butalso unpredictable. Converging technologies are not unique to Podcasting and there arelessons that can be learnt from experiences elsewhere. For media businesses to join in ispotentially a risk as ‘it requires companies to rethink old assumptions ... If old consumerswere predictable and stationary, then new consumers are migratory, showing a decliningloyalty to networks or even media’ (Jenkins, 2004). This is the real challenge for radiowhen attempting to communicate with the ‘wirefree’ generation in the converged age.It is time to rethink not only established practices but also our notions of what audiencesreally want.Therearesomeissuesoverthename‘Podcasting’itself.ItsuggestsexclusivitytoAppleandthatcompany’siPodmediaplayerand,althoughtheyareinextricablylinkedtothedevelopmentofPodcasting,Podcastscanbeplayedonavarietyofgenericmediadevicesandcomputers.Theterm‘Podcast’isusedasanover-archingtermforanyaudio-contentdownloadedfromtheinterneteithermanuallyfromawebsiteorautomaticallyviasoftwareapplications.Thelattermethodofdistributionisthemostpotentiallyrevolutionary,themostdisruptiveandrepresentsanewmediumworthyofanewterminology.However,listenerswillinevitablynotseetheboundariesandwill treatallcontentthesame,giventhatnomatterhowtheyreceiveittheircon-sumptionofthatcontentwillbethesame.Forthepurposesofthisresearcharticle,IdefinePodcastingas‘mediacontentdeliveredautomaticallytoasubscriberviatheInternet’. 144 CONVERGENCE VOL. 12 NO. 2  The New Medium To grasp the core concept of Podcasting, one should look to consumer experiences ofother media, and the most appropriate analogy is print media. We could buy our favouriteperiodical over the counter by physically visiting our local newsagent or we couldsubscribe direct with the publisher and have it sent to our home. By subscribing we donot need to do anything to get the content we want: it arrives shortly after it is issued.Podcasting works like a subscription except it is audio files delivered to the home or officecomputer rather than printed matter dropping through the door. The audio is (usually)recorded in the MP3 audio format, a generic format used by portable audio devices, suchas the Apple iPod. 1 Podcaster and author of one of the many ‘how to’ books on the topic, ToddCochrane, describes Podcasting as ‘Walkaway Content’ which is a neat and vivid way ofdescribing it (Cochrane, 2004). Users download a simple piece of software, such as‘iPodder’, 2 to their home or office computer; they then add the details of the Podcast(s)they wish to subscribe to either by browsing the inbuilt directory or by adding detailsmanually. The software will then monitor the RSS 3 feeds users have subscribed to and,when a new item is available, it will be downloaded to the users’ hard disks and then, ifthey choose, transferred to their media player. Once on a player, listeners can mix variousPodcasts with their own music to create their own playlist of content. The listener is nowin charge of the broadcast schedule choosing what to listen to, when, in what order and– perhaps most significantly – where. Effectively there is a move in power from program-mers to listeners. Although the producers still maintain control over content the listenersmake decisions over scheduling and the listening environment and that is a fundamentalchange for producers of radio content.Anyone can create a Podcast: you don’t need a licence (although music royalties aredue) and you definitely don’t need a radio studio. ‘To many Podcasters, it is about reclaim-ing the radio and using the powerful and easy technology many now have, to do whatthey want’ (Twist, 2005). It is a convergence of technologies that already existed and, inmany cases, that users already owned. Portable media devices, such as the Apple iPod,are now commonly seen in use on commuter trains, buses and in the high street andeach user is hungry for content. What Podcasting does is to combine these devices withonline audio content (such as the material already offered by Audible) and RSS feeds asa distribution system.The impetus for Podcasting came from two internet pioneers who were musing overhow they could share and download their favourite content. Internet developer (and RSScreator) Dave Winer and the internet entrepreneur and broadcaster Adam Curry beganto discuss how these technologies could grab content from the web automatically. Currynoted, ‘I liked the fact that people were starting to blog audio files, but I didn’t want togo have look for them [sic]. I wanted a magical experience’ (Curry, 2005a). Despiteattempts to convince developers to write a program he finally taught himself how towrite a simple program and posted it on the web for ‘open source’ developers to use,borrow and improve. He says: ‘This “pied piper” approach worked better than I evercould have imagined! ... Once people started to figure out that it’s fun to host andrecord your own radio show, a community was born’ (Curry, 2005b).It is this open approach that has made Podcasting the rapidly adopted and popularmedium it has been. No one person owns the technology and so it is free to listen and BERRY: WILL THE IPOD KILL THE RADIO STAR? 145  create content, thereby departing from the traditional model of ‘gate-kept’ media andproduction tools. As word spread, people who had never thought about broadcastingwere suddenly recording their voices and posting the results online for the rest of theworld to hear. What Podcasting offers is a classic ‘horizontal’ media form: producers areconsumers and consumers become producers and engage in conversations with eachother. At a grassroots level there is no sense of a hierarchical approach, with Podcasterssupporting each other, promoting the work of others and explaining how they do whatthey do. Whilst this is true of radio on the internet as a whole it is especially the casewith Podcasting because the means to create are as accessible as the means to consume.In her discussion on the need for radio theory in the new digital age, Tacchi argues thatthe internet challenges the way radio is and opens doors to innovation. So, the buildingblocks were already in place for a revolution. Web streaming has been possible for sometime and the appetite for something new was being fuelled by narrowing playlists in theUSA and Europe (Tacchi, 2000: 294). Writing in the First Monday  online journal a groupfrom the MBA programme at Indiana State University report that: ‘In addition to provid-ing greater flexibility in when audio programming is listened to, Podcasting invariably alsooffers listeners an escape from the advertising that plagues traditional radio broadcast-ing’ (Crofts et al., 2005).Various research bodies have attempted to come up with firm figures on the rise ofPodcasting. The first from Pew Internet Research in March 2005 estimated that some 6million people in the US had downloaded audio content from the web, which theyclaimed was 29 per cent of the 11 per cent of the US population who owned an MP3player (Rainie and Madden, 2005). Figures like this suggest a takeoff rate faster than thatof DVD. 4 Whilst the small sample size meant the research was largely viewed with scep-ticism by the ‘Podcasting community’, it is not unreasonable to assume that Podcastinghas taken off in a dramatic way. OFCOM research reveals that in their ‘residential trackersurvey’ at the end of 2004, 18 per cent owned an MP3 player already and a further 5per cent intended to buy one within six months. This can be considered against a back-ground of the lowest listening levels to commercial radio in six years (OFCOM, 2005a:48). Unlike DVD or digital television, Podcasting is effectively a free technology. Ifsomeone has an MP3 player it will cost them little or nothing to go online and downloada Podcast. More recent data from Forrester Research was seen as more realistic, estimat-ing 12.3 million US households would be listening to Podcasts by 2010 (BBC, 2005c).However, research revealed at the time of writing suggests that Pew may have had itright after all: Bridge Research and Ratings projected that 8.4 million people had down-loaded a Podcast during 2005, up from 820,000 in 2004 and, of those, 20 per cent wereweekly downloaders with those figures set to rise to between 45 and 75 million users,and 18 million weekly users, by 2010 (Bridge Ratings and Research, 2005).There are, however, no data to indicate how many of the downloaded Podcasts areactually listened to by the subscribers. If the listener is using software to downloadPodcasts on their behalf the process is automatic and it is possible (and likely) that manydownloads simply stay on the user’s hard disk and are never heard, such is the volumeof content that a reasonably sized repertoire of subscriptions can generate. The previ-ously cited research by Bridge Ratings and Research in 2005 projected that only 20 percent of downloads are ever transferred to an iPod or similar device, although they takethis to mean that Podcasts are played on the host computer rather than suggesting how 146 CONVERGENCE VOL. 12 NO. 2
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