Streaming Could Cure Podcasting Blues

    November 28, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Those figures from Pew about podcast listenership told a grim tale, with only one percent of those surveyed actually downloading one each day; the cure could be in the form of streaming, which your elders might call ‘broadcasting’ since it works the same way.

I heard from Bryan Hance over the weekend, who you may recall as the guy who tried to make heads or tails of how many people actively use MySpace on a regular basis. He’s from Cleveland, works as a sysadmin, and describes himself as a web geek.

He and some other folks are trying an experiment in making podcasts, for lack of a better term, more mainstream through streaming.

“I’m running a new online experiment – I’m taking podcasts and using them as content for a streaming radio station – the idea being that podcasts are already nicely packaged, well-produced chunks of interesting content, but – as Pew pointed out – their audience isn’t too ‘sticky’,” Bryan said.

“Streaming radio has the opposite problem – lots of listeners, but a serious lack of engaging content. So I’m going to see if the two can’t somehow compliment one another, and putting out a request for comments and participants.”

Why Stream Podcasts?
“I don’t see why one method of distribution cannot somehow complement the other – especially if part of the goal is to hook new listeners…”

Thus, “Broadcast Your Podcast with Reagent Radio” was born.

Bryan and his helpers are going with a three month trial to see if the idea catches on with podcasters. The site is not hosting the podcasts, which is why Bryan asks podcasters who wish to participate to include a ‘bumper’ to direct the listener to the podcaster’s site.

There is no ulterior financial motive here, as Bryan is running this as a proof of concept, with no ads and no sponsorship. He’s going to come out a little behind financially as he’s paid for the bandwidth. It’s a geek love of code project.

Bryan asked if I would put some questions to him about the project, and I was happy to oblige. Our discussion follows, including frightening references to Swedish Death Metal.

“I’m probably not a typical iPodder – I’m at the computer about 10-11 (or 12 or 13…) hours per day, so I don’t usually have a commute or any other large chunk of my time where I’m stuck only with an iPod,” Bryan said of his personal listenership. “So my listening habits lean more towards streaming audio then they do towards podcasts, hence the idea to mash-up the two.”

WebProNews: When do you find yourself able to listen to them?

Bryan Hance: “When I’m *only* able to use the iPod, it’s during long commutes.”

WPN: How many podcasts are in your experiment?

Bryan: “Just over a dozen at the moment. Some of them have back catalogs of 50+ ‘episodes’ though – just hours and hours and hours of content. And that’s another small facet of this experiment, to see if rebroadcasting/repurposing some of this content can breathe life into programs that may be considered ‘old’ by podcasting standards – but content that is still well produced, something that somebody out there who hasn’t heard it yet would find it interesting.”

WPN: Where do you see the greater benefit in broadcasting these podcasts: increasing the number of people listening or increasing the amount of content listeners hear?

Bryan: “I’ll lean towards increasing the number of people listening, but in reality I’m hoping both hold true. If I can cheat and offer a 3rd choice, it would be something along the lines of “to see if using the ‘traditional radio model’ to introduce people to shows they normally wouldn’t have found in the first place.”

“I’m working on a theory that goes something like this: The person who seeks out and downloads a podcast is a very specific type of listener. Some of the Pew studies point out the demographics, but you probably get the gist – they’re tech savvy, they’re very attuned to their interests, they have lots of online experience, time to front-load shows onto their iPod before hitting the gym, etc. They are users who “seek-out” their content.

“Meanwhile, someone who listens to streaming audio is also a very specific kind of user, but more ‘passive’ – they lack the laser-targeted, content-seeking focus of the podcast downloaders. They’re much more comfortable tuning in to various channels and passively listening to what comes along. For a lack of a better metaphor, this is the person who opens up their AOL account and clicks “Listen To The Radio” while they’re stuck at a 9-5 job all day long.

“The main argument I’ve heard from people about this idea is “you are completely missing the point of podcasting, which is that you can a) pick and choose to your liking, and b) take it with you.” While this certainly holds true to a certain extent, I don’t see why one method of distribution cannot somehow complement the other – especially if part of the goal is to hook new listeners, which according to the Pew study, is something podcasts are failing to do.

“The other big issue, in my opinion is that where most streaming radio stations falters is *exactly* where this army of podcasters excel. Most stations have great music collections, but no personality, organization, or direction – so you end up with a huge ‘jukebox’ of Swedish Death Metal (as an example) but no production or direction or voiceovers or anything in the way of what a good DJ provides. It ends up just being a huge playlist.

“Podcasters, though: they’re obsessively churning out very tightly-focused, well-produced, high quality, neatly-packaged content. Some of these are people are building soundproof studios in their basement and dropping $5k in pro-audio gear so they can record better podcasts. And thus their shows are often better produced than anything going out over your average streaming radio station.”

Yes, It’s Legit
“Some people have emailed me, trying to figure out what the ‘catch’ is, and it’s hard to get the message across – it’s hard to say, look, I’m sitting on top of this huge free streaming audio setup until March, I just want to a) load the thing up with your shows…”

WPN: What plans do you have to monetize this experiment, should it prove fruitful? Would you consider paid placement, or drop-in contextual audio ads, or a combination of those?

Bryan: “I’m 99.9% certain there’s no money in it, because to reach the kind of numbers that would draw advertising revenue from streaming audio you almost end up paying more in bandwidth. So it’s kind of a no-win.

“There will, indeed, be ‘advertising’ running – but the ‘ads’ are promos for the podcasts themselves, audio “bumpers” that the podcasters send in with their shows to drive people back to the URL. To continue with the same example, if I’m broadcasting a Swedish Death Metal podcast, there will be a pre- and post- (and possibly -during) “ad” that the podcaster has given me to introduce people to the concept and read out his URL for people who have tuned in and want to hear more.

Full disclosure on this: This experiment (as you probably noted if you hopped around the URL a bit) started out as part of a stress test for some streaming server code I wrote with some other hackers here in town… So there is indeed some custom stuff on the back-end that we’re using to schedule the shows by day and hour and genre, and to target when the promo “ads” the podcasters have given us will run.

“I’ve been kicking the podcasts-as-radio idea around for months, though, so I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone on this one – test out the podcasting theory while I continue to stress test the server. We’re currently using, like, 1% of our upstream pipe, so I’m kind of telling these podcasters, look, this is open season on free bandwidth until March, as far as I’m concerned, so I don’t care if your podcast is three hours long. Just send it. If it sounds good, I’ll run it.

“Some people have emailed me, trying to figure out what the ‘catch’ is, and it’s hard to get the message across – it’s hard to say, look, I’m sitting on top of this huge free streaming audio setup until March, I just want to a) load the thing up with your shows b) do some neat genre-style programming and scheduling with the code I wrote and c) analyze the results and do a short writeup like I did with the Myspace thing.

“They’re all naturally suspicious, which is probably just the sign of people who are very emotionally invested in their content. Which is probably part of why their content is better in the first place.”


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