A Closer Look

As Podcasts Spread, Advertisers Sniff Money

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 23, 2006

The podcast is heading for the mainstream.

A report released by Nielsen Analytics last week found that podcasts -- online broadcasts downloaded from the Internet for playback on portable devices -- are attracting a growing number of listeners, a shift that media companies and advertisers have noted.

According to the study, more than 9 million Internet users in the United States downloaded podcasts to computers and mobile devices last month. Ten percent of the study's 1,700 respondents said they download eight or more podcasts a week. And of the podcast users, 38 percent said they listen to the radio less because they're listening to podcasts.

More than 75 percent of all podcast listeners are male.

The number of podcast listeners is still small compared with the audiences of traditional media outlets, but technology analysts said the study illustrates the impact that podcasts might have.

"For a technology that's relatively new, it's a good number that indicates growth," said Michael Gartenberg, a vice president of the market analysis firm Jupiter Research. "It's gone beyond something that's only of interest to technology enthusiasts."

The most popular podcasts -- mostly news and entertainment -- have prompted large media companies, including traditional radio stations, to experiment with online programming. "Advertisers go wherever there are ears and eyes, especially when you get people who are highly engaged like podcast users," said Larry Gerbrandt, senior vice president of Nielsen Analytics. "So many businesses are adopting it for different types of communications because it's an extremely adaptable format."

A recent study by Forrester Research Inc. found that one-quarter of online consumers are interested in podcasts because it allows them to listen to audio and video programs at any time and place. Internet radio stations, broadcast radio shows and radio news programs are the most popular types of podcast content.

The Forrester study predicts that radio station podcasts that complement over-the-air broadcasts will continue to develop, as will unique content that will create niche markets.

And the popularity of podcasts will continue grow as people become more familiar with the technology, said Tim Bourquin, chief executive of TNC New Media Inc., an online media company that produces several podcasts.

For commuters, the car stereo is the likely to be the first device replaced by podcasts, he said.

"We're going to start to see devices that bypass the computer entirely when pulling in podcasts, which will make them easier to get," Bourquin said. "When getting a podcast is as easy as tuning into your favorite FM station, that's when it's going to take off."

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