By TIM LAI
Toronto Globe and Mail
July 20, 2005
Since emerging last summer, podcasts have allowed practically anybody to host shows on any subject - from betting on sports to wine reviews or rants about university professors. Like weblogs, podcasts have allowed individuals to post their thoughts on-line for the digital world; and as more people discover this new medium, companies are realizing it offers another way to reach consumers.
"I think that you're going to see companies start to really figure out that a podcast, done correctly, is an amazing opportunity," said Michael Geoghegan, who founded of Willnick Productions, producer of three podcasts.
While only a few dozen companies reach consumers' ears at the moment, hundreds are looking into the medium and many of these will be using it within a year, said Doug Kaye, executive producer of IT Conversations, an on-line tech and podcast community based just north of San Francisco.
Walt Disney Co. was one of the first companies to use podcasts. TV Guide, Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and even NASA are among companies producing regular podcasts.
Geoghegan's Orange County, Calif.-based firm produced a series of podcasts for Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebrations in May. The shows gave listeners a behind-the-scenes look at the theme park's events and attractions while interviewing celebrities at the festivities.
Duncan Wardle, vice-president of press and publicity for Disney, said responses from listeners have been resounding, with tens of thousands of downloads. He said the company is going to produce more podcasts for future events, and may even integrate them into the theme park's experience.
"Just imagine a podcast that people want to listen to that's 45 minutes long, that does nothing but talk about your product or business. I don't know how you value what that is, but compared to a 60-second ad, that's got to be compelling," Geoghegan said.
In April, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 22 million Americans own an MP3 player and 29 percent of those had downloaded a podcast. Some researchers have suggested that 56 million people will be listening to podcasts by 2010.
While the hardware - microphones, mixers and computers - has been around for years, a delivery system known as Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and media aggregators that find and deliver audio files to subscribers has made it more convenient for listeners to obtain these files in the past year.
But with Apple Computer's recent integration of podcast subscriptions into the newest version of its popular digital jukebox, iTunes, the medium has perhaps the most powerful avenue to listeners' ears: Apple said more than one million people subscribed to the service within the first two days it was available. This development is accelerating a phenomenon that is growing at what Geoghegan describes as break-neck speeds.
Because the medium is so new, Disney didn't have an in-house producer, so it went to an established independent podcaster in Geoghegan, who sold his wholesale insurance company to become a full-time podcaster.
Tom Parish, a business development consultant for Austin, Texas-based http://www.4webresults.com, said companies looking to step into the podcasting world should adopt this strategy and hire people who already have a reputation for producing good shows.
And companies have a limited time to strike while the podcast iron is hot, Kaye said.
"That's only going to last for about six months," he said. "You can get a lot of mileage just being associated with something that's cool and hip," whether it's setting up a podcast or simply sponsoring an existing show. (Podcasters frown on the term advertising.)
Part of the podcast's appeal to companies is the choice consumers make when downloading the shows.
"You have an opportunity to hit touch points, from a marketing point of view, to touch a person when they're not being bombarded with the usual radio and TV crap that you have to deal with," Parish said.
He added that companies can get their points across when consumers are most open because they choose to download and listen, instead of ignoring the ads or hitting the skip button on TV.
However, nearly all parties involved in podcasting agree consumers are savvy and content-driven, and won't be fooled by a new form of infomercial.
"I think the greatest challenge will be control versus credibility," Wardle said. "I believe podcasts have to come from independent sources (instead of corporate spokespeople)."
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