Podcasting threat to broadcast radio

In podcasting you subscribe to audio programs on the net and they download automatically to your iPod/MP3 player. The momentum being generated about this by US techies is significant (zero to 190,000 Google hits in three months) and there is no doubt in my mind it will have a major impact on broadcast radio. Here’s why.

1. Anyone with a PC and a microphone can produce content. Broadcasting’s control over the provision of content will be eroded over time.

2. Podcast content is uncensored (because you subscribe to what you want to hear) and will be significantly broader than conventional media (because broadcasters must adhere to a “format” to target an audience whereas podcasters can do whatever they want).

3. Splintering. For copyright/royalty reasons podcasting cannot use record company content. That might sound like a limitation but in the long term it will work to the detriment of radio and record companies. They rely on being able to generate a mainstream impact but podcasting will steer the mainstream away from big bands owned by record companies and into other (free and legal) styles. Podcasting is a splintering of media in the same way that the internet offers more diversity than television. You might say “the television business model has survived the internet” and that’s true but its ability to reach young people in particular has been damaged. Only reality TV has helped support youth HUTs (number of homes using television). It’s a temporary fix.

4. Podcasting will be most attractive to youth (radio’s strength) and tech literate people (highly sought after demographic). It is also the first intrusion into radio’s prime advertising space; the car. You can plug your iPod into the car radio and bring your overnight downloads with you on the way to work.

5. Properly implemented, the podcasting listening model is more attractive than broadcast radio. The only thing it lacks is on-the-hour news bulletins. Is that such a big deal when people get their primary news from the television anyway? Don’t know. The system is more attractive because you can put together your own content. I like the way Richard Giles does the weather. I like the way Karen Cheng and her mates talk about football. I like the way Graeme Sutherland sings in the shower. YOU get to choose the presenters and the music style and YOU get to customise the micro-content. Then you can “re-podcast” it to all your mates.

6. You’re not a slave to the program’s broadcast timeslot. Listen to it when you want.

What can broadcast radio do to thwart this? Well the normal tactic for established media in the face of new technology is to avoid it for as long as possible for fear of talking it up and that’s not a bad strategy. But there are alternative strategies for Austereo, Southern Cross and other broadcasters interested in adopting a lead position. They involve a fundamental re-think about what business they’re actually in; broadcast radio or youth entertainment? The challenge then is to establish a revenue-generating model. That will require some risk and therefore courage.

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