Get ready. Podcasting is fast hitting the mainstream, attracting the attention of media, advertisers and entrepreneurs looking to cash in on a new medium. Now that Apple has added thousands of podcasts to its iTunes directory, the once uncharted domain is more accessible to the masses, building the popularity of audio bloggers like rural Midwestern couple Dawn Miceli and Drew Domkus, who are now trying to forge a profitable business model in a discipline that doesn't normally come with a paycheck.
The stars of "The Dawn and Drew Show" are finalizing negotiations to begin paid podcasting employment via D&D Productions, "a multimedia company" under which they will become employees of Adam Curry's PodShow Network on Sirius satellite radio. The Podshow Network, which just got $9 million in venture capital, plans to help both advertisers and podcasters by offering advertising choices to marketers and free hosting to podcasters who will accept ads.
There are no reliable estimates of podcasting's advertising potential or even how many people are listening to podcasts. There are 22 million iPod owners and 29% of them have downloaded podcasts, according to Pew Internet and American Life. But those numbers were calculated before Apple opened up the floodgates.
So now less than a year after they started their show from Wayne, Wisconsin, Dawn, 29 and Drew, 33, teeter on the verge of self-defined success.
"If we can live by just doing this, that's what I would consider success," said Drew, whose real job is being the "IT department of one" at a design firm. "We've actually built an audience for more than just our `stupid' show."
Their audience, (it numbered around 100,000 before Apple iTunes offered easy podcast downloading, they think it could have doubled by now) is an intensely loyal one. Since podcasting isn't free-audio bloggers pay for bandwidth and costs spike when listeners download-their audience has at times offered to help them out.
One fan started a fund to help them buy a new Apple G5 computer ($1,000 so far), others are donating funds to buy the couple a new Honda Element, and even more listeners picked up on their comments about their old farmhouse needing a makeover, and offered to help.
They come off like regular folk (Dawn, with Midwestern aplomb: "We're not fancy") with a bit of quaint naivete despite the often NC-17 commentary of their show. However, while they often get lumped in with the porn-podcasting crowd, their schtick is more comparable to eavesdropping on a very frank "girls night out" discussion.
Sex is a constant topic, but usually not personal, although they once pretended to have sex on the show. More often the chatter is about who's hot (Drew Barrymore) or why strip clubs and porn are great, or some kind of raunchy barnyard type jokes. (They are in rural Wisconsin, after all.)
If it seems odd that two headliners in the podcasting world are an average young couple-albeit a funny and slightly risque one, who live in America's heartland with their four dogs-consider the reason why they believe podcasts are becoming so popular. "It's the voice you never get to hear," Dawn said. "My favorite part of the news is when they mess up, to see how they handle it or what they do next."
They are passionate about the power of podcasting, as you might guess, and they, along with many of their 6,000-plus fellow podcasters, believe the medium is poised for growth that will change the media world-a world they say will pass by marketers who still don't seem to get it.
Dawn and Drew have had some experience with advertising, paid by SSL International in March to talk about its Durex condoms over 10 shows. They decided to experiment with flavors, even getting their dogs involved. Listeners loved it; so much so, the couple got a flood of email vying for the dog-licked banana-flavored condom featured on one show. Even better for SSL, hits to the Durex Web site tripled.
But trying to get marketers to understand how to treat paid ads on podcasts may be hard work. Dawn and Drew tell what they think is a cautionary story for marketers. Michael Butler of "The Rock and Roll Geek Show" used to talk about his love of Heineken beer. Then Adam Curry interceded on his behalf and talked to Heineken about a possible sponsorship, and the company decided it could start its own podcast, but it never took off. Heineken not only lost at least one loyal drinker, it ticked off many in the podcast world.
"Now he still drinks beer, not theirs, and rips on Heineken on his show," Drew said. "Had they just given the guy a case of beer, we would have talked about how great they are."
Podcasters, of course, can't live by beer alone. But they believe the money will come when marketers realize they can get a lot of buzz for just a fraction of their budgets. "Advertising companies don't realize if they offered $1,000 or so for like 25 shows, people would say `sold,"' said Dawn.