Saturday, April 08, 2006

Podcasting: Hype Versus Reality

For an industry that prides itself on bringing rational discussion to every topic or idea there sure is a lot of unnecessary hype about the threat of podcasting to public radio. The most recent exercise in excess is found in this article in Wired magazine.

There's no question that, someday, podcasting will affect public radio's audience and business model. Changes are necessary. But reports of public radio's pending death by podcasting are greatly exaggerated.

Lots of folks are impressed by the more than 18 million NPR podcast downloads since August 2005, including me. That's a lot of downloads in the podcasting world. But it represents a tiny amount of public radio listening.

All those downloads came over a period of about 32 weeks -- August through March. Over that same period, listeners tuned to public radio stations 6 billion times. (27,000,000 weekly listeners * 7 tune-ins per week * 32 weeks)

Podcasting downloads represent 0.3 percent of all public radio tune-ins.

It's a mighty big assumption that all of those downloads are actually heard and that they are replacing current listening. For all we know, those downloads are enhancements to the users' current public radio listening. Some of those downloads are likely to be from listeners not in the weekly Cume.

Even at 10 times the current number of downloads, podcasting will have a minimal effect on the size of the traditional public radio audience. The more immediate issue facing public radio is the long-term collective effect of podcasting, satellite radio, and soon, wireless broadband.

If public radio stations are going to lose a meaningful amount of listening (and money) to programming on new delivery platforms, the first hit is going to come from listeners' combined use of podcasting, satellite radio, and wireless broadband.

While it is important to have a strong presence on each of these platforms, that's not the first line of defense. The single most important action we can take to protect current audiences is strengthening the current programming on individual stations. For even 10 years down the road, radio will account for the most significant portion of our audience and revenues.

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