Forrester Kills Podcasting

    April 6, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

With their research showing podcast adoption in about one percent of online households, Forrester Research managed to trigger some commentary disputing that figure.

Charlene Li, well-known Forrester analyst and blogger, provided a tantalizing glimpse at one of her company’s recent research reports. This report, called “Podcasting Hits The Charts,” evidently contains results of a survey that show a mere 1 percent of households online regularly download and listen to podcasts.

Given the responses from some quarters today, one would expect to have found grainy video footage of Li stalking bloody-handed from the now-lifeless firms that have attempted to capitalize on podcasting. founder John Furrier blasted Li’s post as being “wrong big time”:

I don’t know what planet Charlene is on these days but her report on podcast adoption is way off base. I don’t know why she would come out with these low numbers. My only guess is that it’s typical old school research method – take a handful of people off the street and ask them if they know about podcasting that might make her report justified.

Publisher Rex Hammock blogged that the concept of “macro-myopia” had come into play:

Today, just 18 months into the era of podcasting, a Forrester research report suggesting that only 1% of people actually listen to podcasts is being treated as if such statistics mean something. They mean absolutely nothing.

There will surely be a “bust” of financial expectations related to podcasting (such is the law of macro-myopia), however, there is no way that 18 months after the word “podcasts” returned only 24 results on Google, that anyone’s research about its “acceptance” means anything about the longterm impact of those “notions” and “platforms” that combine to form the metaphor of podcasting.

Some people managed to get Li’s main point about podcasting – the interest in original programs, as opposed to timeshifting something they know like The Bob and Tom Show or Dan Patrick’s Show on ESPNRadio, just isn’t there. That could be a matter of awareness; people simply don’t know that an original podcast aligned with their interests exist.

The issue could be something more fundamental, though: time. With increasingly hectic schedules, few people have the time to dedicate to listening to podcasts. Commuting tends to be routine, and the start of the workday coupled with the usual pressing issues at home cause people to fall into a pattern of listening to the same news or sports or talk or music stations on the radio.

Other than that commuting time, most people probably do not have the opportunity to sit back and passively listen to a podcast. For many people, reading blogs offers a better experience because lots of them can be read in the time it takes to listen to a podcast, as Microsoft’s Don Dodge observed:

I would be interested to see similar statistics for web video cast usage. My guess is that it is very low. Blog usage on the other hand is exploding. Why? Speed. I can easily plow through 100 blog posts in an hour or so. That is just not possible with audio or video.

I am a speed reader…and writer. The scroll wheel on my mouse is one of the best tools ever. I want to be able to scan through a post and quickly absorb the key take away points. Most Internet users have become very skilled at speed reading.

Dodge makes a good point here. Even if someone has the time to devote to audio or video podcasts, they may choose not to do so.

A parallel can be found in sports. Once, baseball enjoyed tremendous popularity. But the game has slowed down, and the world has grown busier. A lot of fans who used to follow baseball just don’t have the three-plus hours to do so.

The NFL and Nascar now enjoy that massive popularity. It’s easy to follow a team or a driver; during their seasons, they compete once a week and usually on weekends, schedules and bye weeks notwithstanding.

This all seems to represent that shift of people wanting control of their entertainment experience. Setting three hours aside on Sunday to watch the Giants crush the Cowboys offers a semblance of control. There’s no difficulty level or learning curve to flipping on the television at 1 PM.

Both Nascar and the NFL have something podcasts do not, and that’s well-oiled, slick marketing machines. Even the most distant observer tends to know when Daytona is being run or the Super Bowl is being played. Finding podcasts requires some work; getting them to a player is easy enough, thanks to iTunes and other companies.

But until podcasts receive a substantial push, and maybe it will be an entity like the NFL that does it, Li’s one percent may remain in place for a while.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.