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Patience with Podcasting: The Medium around the Corner

  • By Spencer Kobren
  • Monday April 09, 2012
Filed Under:
Podcasting, Audio Broadcasting

When television first came out as a commercial medium, broadcasters complained that advertisers were trying to judge commercials by the standards set for print advertising, and it took years before the two groups could reconcile their strategies. We are now seeing the same pattern with podcasting, but it seems that, in some groups, the lessons of history have not been remembered. With podcasting representing a new and exciting medium that combines the ease of digital with the visuals of video, advertisers and sponsors need to learn to give it time to produce substantial results. Even some of the smartest podcasters, such as The New York Times, forget that running new business like old business never works.

Besides its accessibility, podcasting also offers a unique opportunity to develop a relationship with consumers. Turning on the television to watch a mainstream commercial broadcast can, at times,  make you feel like a couch potato, but sitting down and logging on to a site for a regular podcast makes people feel more connected, like being a member of a secret society. Messages are more personal and a relationship develops. You can almost imagine this is what television felt like in its infancy.

Several of the largest media corporations, including the Boston Globe, have decided that podcasting is too much work for too little return and have all but abandoned the medium. Even the forward looking New York Times, which usually stays at the forefront of all things technical, has reduced its share of regular podcasts to a scant two. Because these hefty conglomerates have failed to realize the full potential of podcasting, media soothsayers have predicted the end of podcasting as a powerful medium. After all, if the New York Times can't make a go of it, how could anyone else?

The chief difficulty is that, for these large companies, getting a few thousand downloads a week, or even ten or twenty thousand, isn’t enough to make it economically viable, at least in their minds. If it is not instantly big, it’s not worth doing. For national media outlets, results have to be in the millions. Since podcasting itself is a new media accessible only to the Internet savvy, it can’t possibly reach the same audience as those turning on a television or rustling a newspaper. But anyone who has paid attention to the Internet in the last ten years knows that trend will rapidly change.  Cheap high-speed Internet, affordable web-enabled phones, plentiful wireless connections, and internet access in our vehicles will ensure it.

Unfortunately, even those who embrace podcasting think anything less than a home run is a failure. Comedian Adam Corolla’s podcast received almost sixty million downloads in two years, but considering anything less than millions of dowloads a failure is a huge mistake. That’s an example of the short-sighted thinking going on right now. It’s like firing a baseball player because he only bats .380 instead of .400.  What companies and independents need to do is recognize and judge podcasting as a medium in itself and for its own potential. After all, what would have happened if television commercials tried to judge their results like newspaper ads?

No matter what the the great media minds might predict, considering podcasting anything less than the powerful broadcasting medium that it is poised to be is a mistake, and one that will be seen as downright foolish within the next five or so years.  Getting involved and staying involved while the medium is still fresh would be like investing in I Love Lucy in the infancy of television. Who wouldn’t want to go back and do that?

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Spencer Kobren is an American radio personality, international Best-Selling author, and internet entrepreneur, best known for his nationally syndicated weekly radio show, "Spencer Kobren’s The Bald Truth” (1998-2009) Kobren’s uniquely powerful approach to the promotion of smart consumerism and industry education has earned him critical acclaim from media outlets around the globe, and is, to this day, considered one of the most successful independent weekly broadcasters in radio.

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