Podcasting: Amateur Hour Almost Over

Driving back home from Brantford this weekend, I was listening to an AM station somewhere near Peterborough, and they were talking about their upcoming podcast. They’re going to take the radio show that they’re already doing every day, and turn it into a podcast.

This is happening all over radio.

To me, these aren’t really podcasts, they’re timeshifted radio.

Wikipedia defines podcasting as “making audio files (most commonly in MP3 format) available online in a way that allows software to automatically download the files for listening at the user's convenience� and this would include timeshifted radio, but there’s a big difference between radio and podcasting.

The excitement about podcasting came from it being a new format, and a new set of content. New voices. That was the promise of podcasting – wresting radio out of the hands of the big guys. But take a look at the state of podcasting today.

The most popular podcast receiver is iTunes. The iTunes Music Store lists the top podcasts. Of the current top 10, 6 of them are professional broadcasters – the guys we’re supposed to be supplanting with this new technology. Two of them seem to be part of a podcast network - basically companies created to commercialize podcasting – and only two of them seem to be genuine independent content.

Anyone can podcast, but there are some high barriers to entry. Making a professional podcast requires resources that the average joe in his basement doesn’t have.

Meanwhile, the job of radio is to find people that would be entertaining to listen to, and get them on radio. There’s a lot of great talent out there, and only so many hours a day you can spend listening.

What’s happening is the professional broadcasters are becoming the most popular podcasts. Podcasting is turning into a timeshifted radio. This isn’t the revolution we were looking for.

The only place where it seems like there’s an opportunity in podcasting for something that isn’t already provided by the mainstream is in niche content. My podcast, for example, is specifically about coding. There aren’t any mainstream radio shows on coding, as far as I’m aware…

There’s also the tech aspect - getting podcasts into the hands of listeners without the podcasters going broke. But iTunes being the dominant client, this problem is now theirs to fix.

What’s going to happen when a podcast becomes popular? The mainstream guys are going to pick it up and syndicate it. This leaves podcasting (as I defined it) as the minor leagues for independent broadcasters.

Did I miss anything? Where are the opportunities in podcasting?