As millions of consumers became podcast listeners this year, veteran broadcasters such as ABC News, ESPN and National Public Radio, as well as niche b-to-b Web sites such as Cygnus Business Media's Firehouse.com and CXO Media's CMOmagazine.com, have embraced the technology.
Although podcasting has been around since 2001, it wasn't until late June of this year, with the release of Apple's iTunes 4.9 and its iTunes podcast directory, that users could easily find and subscribe to these downloadable audio files. The iTunes podcast directory went from 3,000 listings in June to more than 20,000 listings four months later.
Podcasting is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 101% through 2010, according to Diffusion Group. In June, the technology research consultancy released a report, "Podcasting: Fact, Fiction and Opportunity," that projected the number of podcast users in the U.S. will grow from fewer than 1 million last year to 4.5 million by the end of this year, ballooning to an estimated 56.8 million in 2010.
B-to-b media companies have been adding podcasting to their online portfolios for a variety of reasons: to respond to readers who find podcasting to be a convenient way to get information, to give editors a way to provide content in a different way, to show their audience that their Web sites are up to date, and, possibly, to build a new revenue-generating capability.
Forbes.com recently launched its first podcast program, weekly highlights from its "Forbes on Radio" Saturday radio program.
"We're just putting the first toe in the water," said Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com. He said Forbes.com is starting to make audio-and video-a regular feature on its site.
For instance, in the "Communicating Special Report," introduced on the site on Oct. 24, visitors could listen to more than 20 audio interviews. Later in the year, those interviews will probably be packaged as a podcast, Spanfeller said.
Spanfeller said Forbes.com will be adding podcasts at an accelerating pace, although he declined to be more specific. "Podcasting is still very new for us," he said. "We'll have to figure out how desirable these are."
At CMP Media, the future of podcasting is considered so promising that Curtis Franklin was named to the newly created position of "podcast evangelist" last month. Franklin said his new role is twofold: First, to "let staffs know the ways podcasts can enhance their mission, although I don't think that's really needed anymore"; second, to act as a facilitator to help the various CMP publications choose and use podcasting technology and get up and running quickly.
Although there is some question about the ideal length for a podcast, Franklin said he believes there is room for many lengths and numerous formats-from a seven-minute, one-on-one interview to an in-depth roundtable discussion that runs 25 minutes or more. "We know from talking to listeners and watching what people are downloading that there's a demand for a full spectrum of program types," he said.
IDG's CXO Media division is also moving rapidly and decisively into podcasting. The group's first podcast, at the end of August, consisted of an editor reading his column aloud. Since then, both CMOmagazine.com and CSOonline.com have launched "Week in Review" podcasts every Thursday; the launch of CIO.com's "Week in Review" podcast is imminent, said Art Jahnke, CXO Media's Web editorial director.
Jahnke's strategy is to create a number of regular programs, "and also to do a lot of one-offs that can later be assembled by topic and sold to advertisers as a collection," which may be an easier way to get podcast sponsorships, he said.
Publishers say podcasting lends itself well to radiolike audio advertising spots, which do not demand production values as high as broadcast radio, and to various sponsorship models.
Monetizing podcasts is not difficult, Spanfeller said. "The hard thing is developing the content people want," he said. "What are the sweet-spot topics?"
Firehouse.com launched its Radio@Firehouse.com podcasts in June with an audio version of its "Through the Smoke" column, in which print columnist Deputy Fire Chief Billy Goldfeder takes on issues in fire service, rescue and EMS. Since then, a second program, on leadership, and a third, on current issues, have debuted.
"We have 3,000 to 10,000 listeners per month per show with these three different shows," said Dave Iannone, VP-interactive publishing, Cygnus Business Media and publisher of Firehouse.com. The site itself gets 50,000 unique visitors per day and 500,000 unique visitors per month.
After giving the shows a few months to gain traction, Firehouse.com is actively selling sponsorships.
"We have proposals out right now," said Paul Andrews, VP-sales for Cygnus Online. Podcast sponsors will be named as the sponsor in all promotions related to the podcast and verbally mentioned at the beginning of each podcast, after which they will be archived on the Cygnus site for about a year. In addition, the sponsor's logo will appear next to the podcast in the archive listing.
At IEEE, Spectrum Online has just started offering podcasts. Editor in Chief Susan Hassler explained that the Spectrum team had tried to develop a syndicated radio program last year, as part of the electronic engineering association's mission to educate the public. After failing to get the initial series of six, one-hour programs picked up, the team put shorter audio segments on the Web site, which was redesigned and relaunched in September. Hassler said she is still working up an overall podcasting strategy .
"From a sales perspective, we've seen a lot of interest," said Marion Delaney, IEEE Spectrum's associate publisher-sales & advertising director. "We haven't sold any sponsorships yet, but we've had a positive response, and people are looking at proposals right now."