Podcasts can be downloaded to a computer or portable MP3 player

The number of US internet users who have experimented with downloading a podcast continues to grow but few remain hooked, research suggests.The survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found 12% of US people online had downloaded a podcast.

Earlier this year, a survey by the same research group found that just 7% of online Americans had downloaded a show.

But despite the growth, just 1% of respondents said that they would download a podcast on a typical day.

This figure remains unchanged from the February survey.

Research firm Nielsen NetRatings estimates that there are 207,161,706 internet users in the US.

Sound explosion

Podcasts are sound files, often made up of speech and music that can be downloaded and listened to on a computer, or transferred to a mobile MP3 player.

Increasingly they are automatically delivered using software.

They were originally the preserve of a small number of tech-savvy people who put them together on laptops and posted them to the internet. Topics varied from the sensible to the bizarre.

We are at a crossroads of a major transition in the way media content is delivered and consumed

Mary Madden
Pew Internet research

Cutting through podcast hype

But now in addition to these homegrown shows, media organisations like National Public Radio in the US and the BBC in the UK use podcasting as an alternative way to distribute their content.

As a result podcasting has exploded.

Podcast Alley, a website that acts as a directory of shows, listed just 1,000 podcasts in November 2004. Today, it lists more than 26,000 different podcasts with more than one million episodes.

“While podcast downloading is still an emerging activity primarily enjoyed by early adopters, the range of content now available speaks to both mainstream and niche audiences,” said Mary Madden, senior research specialist at Pew.

“We are at a crossroads of a major transition in the way media content is delivered and consumed.”

Dubious measure

However, there are large discrepancies between forecasts of how the podcast market will take off.

Man wearing headphones next to a computer

Podcasts are still the preseve of young, tech-savvy males

Last year, a forecast by research firm The Diffusion Group suggested that podcasts could have a US audience of 56 million by 2010.

Conversely a report by Forrester Research in May forecast an audience of just 12 million.

The difference in the two figures shows the difficulty of measuring and forecasting podcast numbers.

Charlene Li, one of the authors of the Forrester report admitted on her blog at the time of the report that “measurement is still really hard to do”.

In particular she said that “counting podcast downloads is a dubious way to measure usage”.

However, some findings do match-up.

In particular both the Forrester report and the new Pew Internet findings show that podcasts are the preserve of tech-savvy males.

15% of online men say they have downloaded a podcast compared to just 8% of online women, the Pew research reports.