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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pod-casting and the future of on-demand broadcasting

Recently, I noticed with interest that a Podcast directory had appeared on my Apple iTunes menu. This is a directory of all the available podcasts worldwide as well as a new gateway to subscribing to them. To the uninitiated, a Podcast is a method of publishing audio broadcasts via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed of new files (usually MP3s). It became popular in late 2004, largely due to automatic downloading of audio onto portable players or personal computers. What is remarkable about Podcasting is that it was a service developed by users and not by the service providers or manufacturers of the devices. As has become increasingly common on the Internet, technology-savvy consumers have taken advantage of available technology to provide new, unimagined applications which have rapidly caught on (the Peer-to-peer phenomenon is an example in point). In the case of the iPOD, this is referred to by some users as "pimping" your iPOD!

Podcasting is very distinct from other types of online media delivery because of its subscription model, which uses a feed (such as RSS or Atom) to deliver an enclosed file. Podcasting thus enables independent producers to create self-published, syndicated "radio shows," and give broadcast radio programmes a new distribution method.

Going through the various potential podcasts - literally thousands of subscription streams now available - very few seemed to warrant any interest from me - many being of questionable origin; that is until an e-mail popped into my mailbox unexpectedly advertising one particular new podcast. This was from Creative Screenwriting magazine - the leading Hollywood screenwriters publication - offering a free subscription to podcasts of weekly interviews with Hollywood screenwriters - an area of particular interest to this writer. Having downloaded 4 of the weekly podcasts, I can now proclaim myself to be a whole-hearted convert. The ability to get content - so specific to my interests and up till, now so difficult to obtain readily - proves again the argument in our editorial that traditional broadcasters must now see that the writing is clearly on the wall for their outmoded business models.

Listening to these amateurishly recorded -but brilliant - interviews with screenwriters, in conversation with an informed editor of a top-selling screenwriting magazine for free had a profound impact on me. It struck me that as consumers we are so often taken for granted as we must mould our viewing and listening habits around the whims of the broadcasting schedule. The recent JNLR figures reveal a steady, but channel-hopping, younger demographic which many traditional media commentators seem happy to categorise as suffering from some sort of "attention deficit disorder" that characterises their age profile. However, it seems to me now that these are just the early signs of a media-savvy, technically-literate, device agnostic young audience who are used to getting what they want, when they want on the net and on their mobile phones and are getting increasingly frustrated with the obstinacy of the traditional broadcast media.

The phenomenal and rapid emergence of services like Podcasting is part and parcel of that frustration. In a digital world, the audience now has the tools at their command to get what they want, when they want it - regardless of what the broadcaster thinks. Fragmentation of the audience is as much about competition as it is about the desire for alternative content outside of the narrow limits of public service and mainstream commercial broadcasting. Radio listeners now have a global choice of radio stations through the Internet; as more stations follow the pioneering example of the BBC, one of the most innovative public service broadcasters and our own community station, Near FM, this audience will be able to choose from a global range of free subscription Podcast content pulled from the schedules and organised by metadata. Ubiquitous broadband will mean that television broadcasters will be able to follow suit and again, the BBC are set to lead the way with their Interactive Media Player, a subscription peer-to-peer application which will eventually allow subscribers to download BBC television and radio content over the Internet to their portable media players or computers. However, use of the content will "expire" after 7 days. The imp player from the BBC At the same time Blinkx and Google Video are providing Internet users with a still limited range of searchable video content from a range of broadcasters including CNN, NBC, Fox News and the Discovery Channel. But more importantly, they are canvassing content creators to upload their own content and it is easy to see how a share of potential ad revenue could be made as an incentive in the future for these content creators. The search facility too is remarkable in that all the video is transcribed and archived through digital means allowing the user to search for words and link with pinpoint accuracy to the audio in the video file as well as taking into account the meta data descriptions of the content.

Print publishing too, which has experienced upset in the distribution chain already through the behemoth that is now Amazon.com , is now seeing the effects that digitisation of its content is having. Just recently, Google have launched their Google Print beta service which allows users to search a vast archive of published books (giving them access to key pages that contain their relevant search word items). This allows users to make informed decisions before purchasing a book. Powered on one hand by the usual Ad Click revenue, this service also points users to online booksellers if they wish to purchase the book.

All this has profound consequences for content creators,content owners, broadcasters and especially, advertisers. As content can be described with pinpoint accuracy both in terms of the audio and the visual (as well as in relation to digital rights ownership), consumers will be able to access the kind of content they want across the globe, anytime, anywhere on a range of devices. For brands wishing to advertise to their audiences - whether local or global - this gives them an unprecedented level of access and targeting information and also gives the content aggregators (like Google) an increasing level of power.

For entrepenuers , there is no doubt rich pickings among potential services and applications that will facilitate or exploit the changing broadcast landscape.

posted by Neil Leyden @ 11:47 a.m.

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