Podcast Audience Small But Growing…Enough?

    by Mark Glaser
    December 1, 2006

    i-b45e10b8da4932f6cad93259238394dd-Podcast image.JPG
    You could call it the Headline Conundrum. Or maybe Sound-Bite Logic. Whatever the term, there’s a regular problem with journalism related to the brevity of space to explain a complex issue or finding. A recent survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 12% of Internet users have downloaded a podcast, up from 7% who said they did the same thing in a similar survey six months before. But as for people who download podcasts on a daily basis, the number was a tiny 1%.

    In summation, you could say that a large number of people have now downloaded a podcast — about 17 million people as of August 2006 — but that only about 1.4 million people download as a regular habit. It’s a classic case of good news and bad news, but how do you convey that in a headline that can only have a limited number of words? A quick glance at Google News shows the wide range of conclusions drawn by stories covering the survey results. Here are some headlines culled from that search, listed in order of positivity to negativity:

    34 Million Ears Perked for Podcasts from eMarketer


    Pew: Podcast Audience Doubles from MediaPost

    What Podcasting Revolution? from BusinessWeek

    Podcasting’s 15 Minutes Almost Up from MarketingShift blog


    Podcasting Falls on Deaf Ears from PC Authority

    My attempt at a headline on the topic isn’t exactly stellar either: “Podcast Audience Small But Growing…Enough?” But you can’t make this a headline: “Pew Survey Shows that More People Download Podcasts But Not Many Do It Regularly and We Don’t Even Know If They’re Listening To Them.” This survey is as deficient as most other surveys on the subject of podcasting, leaving us with more questions than answers.

    OK, millions of people are downloading podcasts, but do they eventually listen to or watch them? How often? And do they listen to podcasts online with streaming audio instead of downloading them? And do they listen to the whole thing or just bits and pieces? It seems like every piece of data we get about podcast usage spawns more questions.

    i-c58b309a4ac3242e593d00abbbdf228a-Mary Madden.jpg
    I emailed Mary Madden (pictured here), the Pew researcher who put together the podcast report, and she said one of the problems is that the survey sample size is so small that they couldn’t delve down into more detailed questions, though that will change in the future.

    “One of the challenges in this particular research area is that much of the work that’s being done is not publicly available to your average aspiring podcaster,” she said. “And while individual podcasters often have a pretty good sense of how many users subscribe to and receive their podcasts regularly, it’s more difficult to know how many of their users actually follow through and listen to or watch the shows they are subscribing to.

    “There’s also more interesting research to be done that would identify how often people are listening to podcasts at their PC versus moving them to portable players. I would personally also like to know more about the afterlife of podcasted files. Do users view the shows as ephemeral content that should be deleted once it’s viewed, or are users saving most of what they acquire? Are some users wary of subscribing to podcasts because it feels like just another onslaught of digital information for them to manage in their daily life?”

    As for the wide range of interpretations the media has made of the Pew numbers, Madden notes that the audience for podcast downloads is still relatively small compared to other online activies such as getting news (68% of Net users do this) or downloading computer programs (39%). So there’s some truth to the negative viewpoints. But, the podcast audience is certainly growing, and Madden attributes that to the growth in the number of portable audio players — from 11% of adults in January 2005 to 20% in April 2006.

    Part of the problem with Sound-Bite Logic is that the media has a tendency to latch on to tech trends as the Next Big Thing, and breathlessly report that the radio world will be transformed overnight by podcasting. Just like the hype that accompanied the dot-com boom — “the Internet will make all old media obsolete!” — this new round of hype around podcasting did not come to pass right away, though things could change over a period of years.

    My gut feeling is that podcasting still has a lot of potential, but that the entire process for subscribing, uploading and managing podcast content needs to be streamlined and simplified to gain more mainstream usage. Madden also brings up the possibility that podcasting has many other media to compete with, and that there’s some confusion among the public about podcasting being tied exclusively to iPods (something Apple probably doesn’t mind).

    “Even though finding, sampling and subscribing to podcasts has become much easier for the average user in recent years, and there’s much more content being offered via podcasts, podcasters are competing with a wide array of other compelling ways to time-shift media consumption,” she told me. “TiVo, YouTube, and satellite radio recorders are all, on the one hand, contributing to consumer demand for flexibility, but they’re also taking some time and attention away from consumers that might otherwise be interested in seeking out podcasted material.

    “I also suspect that there’s still some hesitancy on the part of consumers who might assume that having an iPod is a prerequisite to listening to or viewing podcasts. With so many DRM restrictions on digital content today, and so many interoperability problems with audio files in particular, some potential podcast consumers may not yet realize just how much content is available to them for free.”

    What do you think? Do you see a glass half full or half empty in the realm of podcasts? Have they failed to live up to their promise, or will podcasts catch on more broadly in the long term? Are you a loyal podcast downloader, or do you think it’s all a waste of time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Owens’ comment below, I’ve updated my headline to question whether the podcast audience is really growing enough. I think that’s the key question, and worth putting up top. It could well be a long slow road to something else, perhaps something easier than what exists today…

    Tagged: podcasting survey
    • Small but growing … but growing enough?

      We’re, what, two or three years into the podcast revolution, and these are as good as the numbers get?

      It seems to me that the adoption rate is way to slow to say podcasts have legs.

      My prediction — podcasts will evolve into something else. Podcasts as we know them today are doomed, but they are a step toward something … when you figure out what that something is, please tell me, and I’ll do it.

    • I think the most important statistic is actually this one: “number of portable audio players from 11% of adults in January 2005 to 20% in April 2006”. I’ll bet that for most podcasters, it feels like “everyone they know” has a portable audio player. But that appears to be off by a factor of 5.

      My prediction: podcasting will grow by at least a factor of 5. (Is that “enough”?)

      An independent note: target commuters. Anything that can push podcasting in the direction of being as easy as flipping on the car radio is going to be a big win.

    • Pews research into the uptake of podcasts has, as Mark Glaser points out on his MediaShift blog (link in my blogroll on the left), permitted journalists to interpret the data according to their own preferred agenda.

      In response to Marks post, Howard Owens comments that podcasts will evolve into something else. Podcasts as we know them today are doomed, but they are a step toward something. When you figure out what that something is, please tell me, and I’ll do it.

      Well, in my view Howard will be waiting for a long, long time and I imagine Mark will agree. Theres not going to be a new something, a new behemoth with the clout, import and stability that good ol mainstream media enjoyed for about half a century.

      Podcasts, and any other form of media, will shapeshift in a constant evolution from one ephemeral construct to the next. Is it a podcast if its an audiofile embedded on the page of an digital magazine? (I hesitate to use the term eZine which, I think, applies strictly to newsletters distributed by email. Or am I being too pedantic?)

      The growth of digital magazines fascinates me at the moment. Im waiting for the first blog to incorporate page-flip display rather than scrolling! (In fact, anything is better than scrolling, which is a haptic contradiction at a time when monitor screens are increasingly used both in lean-back and lean-forward modes. But the page-flip command is nicely analogous to the channel change.)

      It seems to me that the first uses of page-flip applications were in the B2B sector. Frankly I find publications which, when digitized, require the use of a zoom tool to read any article annoying. And they demand scrolling in both axes.

      But there are more and more examples of digital publications which are conceived as roughly A3-format double-page spreads with text legible without any need to scroll.

      And some are even gaining credibility with advertisers (NylonMagazine) although possibly this is only achieved by publications which are also distributed in dead tree versions.

      BoardsMagazine is for readers involved in the production of television commercials. Almost every second page includes a video embed. Audiofiles play automatically. Hyperlinks are self-evident. SpoonFork from Germany uses the available tools brilliantly, as does CastleMagazine (which will be migrating from PDF to dynamic digital publishing very soon, if my sources are accurate).

      So Howard Owens is invited to use the tools which are available now to do what he wants to do now, to the extent that he has the skills now or is prepared to acquire them.

      Ah, the skills!

      Video Nation: Agency Finds A Majority Now Create Their Own Video, But Few Post Them

      by Joe Mandese, Thursday, Nov 30, 2006

      In a finding that underscores the potential of a vast, untapped market for user-generated video, new research conducted by interactive agency Sharpe Partners indicates that more than half (54%) of adult Internet users currently create their own video offline, but only 11 percent actually upload it to the Internet. That margin, says Sharpe, represents a significant opportunity for software and system providers to help facilitate the migration of a burgeoning consumer generated video marketplace online. It also suggests an even more profound fragmentation of the video marketplace is looming than many industry experts may have predicted. One of the chief reasons for the disparity between producing and posting video is the difficulty consumers said they have with the process. The study, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive, surveyed 2,125 U.S. adults between June 29 and July 2, and found that more than two-thirds of those who create their own video found it difficult to edit their content due to the lack of consumer-friendly software.

      “Clearly, given easier solutions, consumers will be far more likely to edit their videos,” said Sharpe CEO Kathy Sharpe. “And those who edit their video are presumably more likely to share it with others, which will expand this market even further.”

      Okay, Ms Sharpe. I would guess that almost 100% of adult internet users currently possess a pen! This does not imply, however, that they have the talent to execute a brilliant drawing. And, frankly, how much simpler can editing software be than iMovie? (see todays earlier post referencing Jeff Jarvis).

      I hesitate, therefore, to concur that there is a vast, untapped market for user-generated video. There will certainly be more, much of it un-watchable. But those with the skills and creative vision will emerge and astound us with their vlogs.

      Um, or maybe theyll embed it on the pages of their mind-blowing, page-flipping magazine. Or in whatever media form the shapeshifting of progress throws up as mile-stones on the path to the ever elusive next big thing.


      A ‘page-flipping blog? Possible, perhaps, with tools like these here, or here, or here?

    • First off – I have to point out that the question is flawed, if put thus:

      “Do you download podcasts every day?”

      *No one* downloads every day. In fact, with RSS, it’s fair to say, the most people do is update or ‘prod’ their podcatcher (iTunes, usually). It’s a poorly worded question that I wouldn’t know how to answer.

      I also strongly agree with Howard in that podcasts are a transitional medium. They are one of the many converging paths leading to on-demand IP content.

      Apple’s iTV in January will likely be another step on that road.

      Matt Forsythe
      Podcast Coordinator

    • The Pew study was done in August. Those numbers don’t reflect the exponential growth of podcasts now being offered by trusted news and entertainment sources that came online in the fall.

      There is no question that this medium is exploding regardless of the confusion over it’s perceived affiliation to the iPod. if you look at the topics discussed in many of the marketing trade shows and summits, podcasting is sort of lumped into the whole web 2.0 movement (which isn’t a bad thing) as that is what is attracting the most attention by the mass media and ad/marketing industries right now.

      Contrary to the belief that mass media will take over podcasting (it will attract the majority of new users initially) I believe this will help indie producers in the long run as the general public becomes familiar with the technology itself and once comfortable, will begin exploring less familiar content sources. Word of mouth will be critical for the independent podcasters as well as more streamlined methods of subscription as Mark mentions in the article.

      The podcasting juggernaut just needs continued exposure by the media which will educate the consumer and gradually expand the adoption of audio and video podcasting worldwide.

    • Podcasting is relatively new, and in the Midwest, where I’m located, most adults haven’t even downloaded one. I believe we need to have patience and be creative in how we use podcasts. As a media relations professional for a national nonprofit, I’m using podcasts to reach students with valuable information on preparing for college. I’m also encouraging our executives to do short interviews on policy reports and email them to key targets. Do we have to call it a podcast and scare away the over 40 crowd? No, we don’t, and as more older people discover the benefits of short, informative audio segments, the more popular podcasts will become.

      On the other hand, it IS a vast wasteland out there, and anyone who does a podcast has to understand that if they don’t get to the point quickly, and if the point isn’t interesting and something I can use, I’m not going to download your podcast more than once. Content is king, good writing and delivery is crucial.

    • Divya Napa

      bla bla bla! so boring!

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