Mainstream Media Is Tuning In to 'Podcasting'

"Broadcasting" with Apple's iPod gave rise to the word "podcasting." (Bill O'leary - Twp)
By Anjali Athavaley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005

It started out as a hobby: host your own laid-back audio show out of the basement "Wayne's World"-style, and then make it available to Internet users for listening on their digital media players. All you needed was a cheap microphone, something to say and time to kill.

But last month, the grass-roots phenomenon known as "podcasting" went mainstream. Apple Computer Inc. made the talk or music shows, known as "podcasts," easier to find and download on its iTunes online music store. The site went from zero podcast subscriptions to more than a million in just two days.

Corporate media moved quickly to stake out podcasting as an avenue for reaching new listeners. While early podcasters offered talk radio-style shows with quirky titles such as "The Frat Pack Tribute" and "The Rock and Roll Geek Show," big companies have elbowed in with condensed versions of popular broadcasts. Now, it's "Queer Eye Hip Tips" and "ABC News" that dominate as the most popular podcasts on iTunes, making the one-person, in-house shows harder to spot in a sea of media logos.

The result demonstrates how a new technology can remain part of an underground culture only for so long before corporations adopt it. Indie podcasters say Apple's decision has brought them new listeners, but they complain that the iTunes Web site heavily promotes big-name podcasts while leaving out their homegrown shows.

"We invented podcasting," said Todd Cochrane, who hosts his own podcast known as "Geek News Central" out of his home in Honolulu. "The people who are coming in now are jumping over the fence and joining the party. It's funny how Apple is so focused on the commercial shows and how little they are emphasizing the grass-roots side of podcasting."

Podcasting, coined by joining the word "broadcasting" with the Apple iPod digital music player, is generally credited to former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer, who created some of the key software and popularized the idea beginning last year. Subscriptions to podcasts are free to listeners.

The concept works like this: Anyone who wants to rant or discuss a topic can record and post an audio file on the Internet. Listeners can use software to subscribe to the show, getting an automatic update every time a new installment is recorded. Then they carry the show around on a portable music player -- an iPod or a similar device -- and can listen to it while running or driving to work, or whatever.

Now, with Apple's newest release of its software, those who download podcasts from the iTunes Web site can more easily transfer the audio files directly to their iPods.

The move widens the range of listening content available on the Web site and allows Apple to further promote the iPod as the king of digital media players.

It's logical for Apple to emphasize corporate media podcasts over just any amateur with a show because big names are more credible to listeners who are new to the phenomenon, said Alex Nesbitt, who runs Digital Podcast, an online directory of 2,100 podcasts.

"Getting people to try the media is the first step," he said.

More people are trying podcasts, even the indie ones. Cochrane's technology talk show drew 7,000 to 8,000 listeners per podcast before it became available on iTunes. Now, about 10,000 people tune in to the show twice a week, he said.

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