Listen to drive-time at any time
Podcasting allows listeners to shape the future of radio, writes Elaine Edwards.
Oh joy: the morning commute is no longer the hell it was thanks to podcasting, a simple technology that allows people to choose what they listen to and when, in their cars or on their music players. Podcasting is creating a minor revolution for radio listeners and probably causing alarm among those who use ear-splitting radio ads at 10-minute intervals to sell products and services.
There’s nothing especially new about the technology – essentially podcasts are just audio files with a fancy name. But downloading to a computer or a personal music player means you can tailor your listening to your lifestyle.
While not all podcasts are radio broadcasts, the majority of those that appear consistently in the top 10 downloads are. Other podcasts are diary-style offerings produced by individuals for online consumption. Even some newspapers and magazines such as the Washington Post and Newsweek offer podcasts.
In a way, podcasts are doing for broadcasting what the web did for information a decade ago – they’ve created a new broadcasting democracy, providing a platform for anyone with a microphone and a computer. But they’ve also opened a brave new world to purveyors of piffle, from the pointless through to weird, alarming and, potentially, illegal – as well as personal podcasts with stuff for geeks and specialists of every sort.
The most popular podcasts, according to Apple’s iTunes daily “chart”, are radio programmes or edited highlights of popular shows. This week’s top 25 podcasts included four of Dublin-based Newstalk 106’s programmes, two Today FM shows, two RTÉ shows and one each from the Dublin independent stations FM104 and 98FM.
JP Coakley, head of operations radio at RTÉ, believes there are exciting possibilities in podcasting, which can exist alongside traditional radio. At present, RTÉ offers about eight podcasts and he estimates the number of downloads to be in the thousands, rather than in the tens of thousands in which the station measures those who listen online to “streamed” audio of shows such as Morning Ireland.
“We are talking about a changing market over the next five years, but not a situation where on-demand overtakes day-to-day radio listening. “If you look at the markets, the box in the corner where sound is instant still has enormous appeal,” says Coakley. He cites the popularity of Joe Duffy’s Liveline show, which allows listeners to ring or text the show to give their tuppence worth on the hot issue of the day. “Radio still has that connection with the imagination and with the mind. But the technologies are there and we are competing for listeners and we have to rethink how we do things.”
The BBC, which doesn’t face the same commercial pressures as other broadcasters, offers an extensive range of radio podcasts and plans to increase the available downloads and podcasts to 50. Some 35 million programmes were downloaded from the BBC in the last quarter of 2005. According to Simon Nelson, controller of BBC radio and music interactive: “Podcasting enables us, if someone requests a programme, to send them that programme every time we broadcast it so we can keep that relationship going and that person can ensure they never miss an episode of their favourite programme. Of course, there are huge rights implications, technology implications and distribution implications for the BBC so we want to tread very carefully.
“. . . What we’d like to do is make a much wider range of content available but we recognise that if we’re going to do that, the current model where people can basically keep this stuff isn’t necessarily going to be one that’s very attractive to our rights partners. There are different models you can use to restrict them from being shared between people. But you can also create files that expire at the end of seven days,” says Nelson who, like Coakley, believes the new technologies will complement the radio industry: “I don’t believe they are going to cannibalise and destroy it,” he says.
© The Irish Times