Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why Podcasting Is Here To Stay

There Be Dragons!
Originally uploaded by ispivey.
Jeff Jarvis blogs about the future of public broadcasting. I think Jeff's a very smart guy, and while I don't agree with all of his prescriptions for the news industry, I find him making sense more often than not.

Part of the reinvention of public broadcasting is going to be online distribution of radio shows (podcasting, sure), which renders local affiliates redundant. Why spend tens or hundreds of thousands running a local radio station that's just going to rebroadcast "All Things Considered", "On The Media", "Morning Edition", and other shows that can be distributed nationwide online at much lower cost? Just compare the cost of distributing "ATC" nationwide on the 'net (pennies per listener) versus running 800 local affiliates for one hour each! A quick Google search suggests running an NPR station might cost ~$200 per hour. Times 800 stations, that's $165,000 to distribute one hour of "All Things Considered". Using Amazon's S3 distribution service, and assuming "ATC" is the same size as "On The Media" (21MB per hour), you could distribute 39 million copies for that price online. And that's more than listen to NPR; the local affiliates are adding significant cost by sitting in the middle.

The survival of local affiliates is going to be in bottoms-up local content (one of Jeff's favorite contentions, that local content is the way to keep local news providers alive, is one I very much believe in). And the beauty of the 'net as a distribution platform is that that local content will be accessible anywhere in the US, broadening the potential listenership of every local station far beyond what it was before. They'll be able to put advertisements in their content, too; what pirate is going to bother taking a few thirty-second ads out of a fifteen-minute investigative piece from Tampa, FL? Local stations should focus on where they actually add value instead of taking it away through inefficient nationwide distribution of popular shows.

That's why podcasts are here to stay -- it's just a silly new word to describe distributing serial audio content on the Internet. And the Internet is a far more efficient distribution medium than nationwide syndication and FM re-broadcast.

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