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.



Is the web going mobile at last?

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website

Nokia N73 X-Series phone, using MSN messenger

Microsoft’s messenger is now always on, and on your mobile

At long last the web has become truly mobile, promises 3G network operator 3 with its new X-Series of mobile phones. But is this yet more hype or a consumer dream come true?

Boring meeting, endless wait for the train? Whip out your mobile phone and watch a film that’s coming in on your Freeview or Sky box at home – or even one that’s on the hard drive of your personal video recorder.

Want to listen to good music, or show off pictures of your last holiday? Take your mobile and download a podcast or check out everything that’s on your computer at home.

Never miss a beat on eBay auctions any more – just bid on the move. Oh, and don’t bother with pub quizzes. The guys at the next table may use an X-Series telephone to access Google or Yahoo at broadband speed.

The holy grail?

Has mobile operator 3, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, discovered the holy grail of the mobile phone industry?

Until now the billions of pounds and euros spent on expensive 3G licences – which allow mobile phone companies to offer services at broadband speed – have failed to pay off.

Sony W950 X-Series phone using Ebay

Never miss a bid on eBay

Most people are still perfectly happy to use their phones for just a few things: making calls, for example, or sending text messages.

Neither music downloads nor camera phones made the 3G cash registers ring.

But if 3 is right, the search for a killer application was pointless.

Instead, the secret of 3G could be old-fashioned marketing – and a pricing plan that’s nicked from the fixed-line internet.

It’s not new – but it’s packaged

For its X-Series of mobile phones, 3 has lined up impressive partners: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Orb, Sling Media, plus Skype and its parent company eBay.

X-Series services

Skype internet telephony

Microsoft Messenger


Unlimited internet access

Google search

Yahoo Go services

Sling television access

Orb access to home PC

Podcast downloads on the move

The underlying technologies are not particularly new or cutting edge.

The special thing about 3’s offering is that it provides all these applications bundled, user-friendly and ready to go – even Sling’s access to your home TV set and Orb’s connection to your own PC.

No hotspot, no laptop, no data card required.

Until now only people with smartphones and a lot of know-how could modify their devices to make them do what an X-Series phone does out of the box.

Little wonder that Nokia’s executive vice president Kai Oistamo does not use the word “phone” once. Nokia’s N73 X-Series is a “multimedia computer”.

The killer

But here comes the real killer: customers will pay a flat rate for all their data transfers.

Nokia N73 X-Series phone, using Slingbox to watch BBC Two

Watch television without paying for a subscription twice

No counting of clicks or minutes or messages or megabytes of downloads (although “fair use” limits will apply, just as with many fixed-line broadband deals).

All you have to pay is a single monthly charge on top of your 3 subscription.

“Moving to flat rate charging is the key to unlocking the value of the mobile internet,” says Miles Flint, the president of Sony Ericsson.

Frank Sixt, group finance director at Hutchison Whampoa, describes it simply as “the end of rationing”.

Mr Sixt is cagey about the exact cost. All will be revealed at the beginning of December, although he promises that the service will cost less than fixed-line broadband.

It is this new charging model that will strike fear into the heart’s of 3’s competitors.

If 3’s price hits the sweet spot – say at just a tad over £10 a month – which customer with a hunger for mobile excitement would keep paying by the megabyte?

A mobile revolution

Nokia N73 X-Series phone, using Skype

Now you can Skype on your mobile phone

The economics of the mobile web are simple. “About one billion people use PCs to access the internet,” says Yahoo boss Terry Semel. “But three billion people use mobile devices.”

Until now, says Niklas Zennstrom, the chief executive and co-founder of Skype, “we thought 3G was not real broadband, but it has now arrived”.

Bringing the two together is a mass market opportunity.

Meg Whitman, who runs eBay, calls 3’s X-Series a “key milestone” in the development of the internet.

No wonder then that 3’s mobile web revolution persuades the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to happily share a stage.

Who pays?

The proposed flat rate may pay some of 3’s networks costs, but the real business model is advertising.

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all become experts in online advertising. Now they hope to transfer these skills to the mobile space.

Yahoo, for example, offers its content for free, but shares with 3 the revenue from display and search-driven advertising on X-Series phones, explains Geraldine Wilson, who is in charge of Yahoo’s mobile offering in Europe.

The drawbacks

With its offering 3 has stolen a march on all its mobile competitors.

When I tried it the service worked without a hitch, even though all around me dozens of journalists were also busily trying out new X-series phones.

However 3 – with 14 million subscribers globally – is present in only a few countries. Any move into new markets would be prohibitively expensive.

And there are other drawbacks.

The X-Series has launched with just two phones, Nokia’s N73, and Sony Ericsson’s W950.

Both are great, but not perfect – although more models are promised for 2007.

But using them reminded me how slow 3G actually is – ISDN speed at best.


The mobile phone is just an appendage in an already saturated communications market

Chris Garrett, Hove

Send us your views

What would have been blistering speed five years ago has a snail’s pace feeling in todays’ gigabyte world.

Soon 3 will upgrade its network to the faster HSDPA standard. But to use it, customers have to upgrade to even newer phones.

And there is another worry that must be keeping network operators up at night: Are there really enough people out there, who want to fill their “dead time” with mobile access to the web?

4 October 2006


Only 20% of online Brits own an iPod, says a survey

Britons are increasingly tech-savvy but are still bamboozled by tech jargon.According to research from Nielsen/NetRatings, people are buying cutting-edge technology but often don’t understand the terms that describe what their device actually does.

So while 40% of online Britons receive news feeds, 67% did not know that the official term for this service was Really Simple Syndication.

Terms such as podcasting and wikis are still meaningless to many.

“In the relentless quest for the next big thing when it comes to new forms of digital consumption, there is a significant tendency for the industry to over-estimate consumer’s knowledge and understanding of the seemingly limitless new terms and products out there,” said Alex Burmaster, internet analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings.

Knowledge snobbery


VOD – video-on-demand

Wikis – Collaborative technology for editing websites

IPTV – internet protocol television

RSS – Really Simple Syndication alias automated news feeds

PVR – personal video recorder

Web 2.0 – user-generated content phase of internet

Triple-play – internet, TV and phone in one subscription

VoIP – voice over internet protocol

IM – instant messaging

Blogging – frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts on the web

Podcasting – internet broadcasting for playback on MP3 players

Acronyms in particular foxed users. 75% of online Britons did not know that VOD stands for video-on-demand, while 68% were unaware that personal video recorders were more commonly referred to as PVRs.

Millions of people keep in touch via instant messaging but some 57% of online Brits said they did not know that the acronym for it was IM.

“The technology industry is perhaps the most guilty of all industries when it comes to love of acronyms,” said Mr Burmaster.

“There is a certain level of knowledge snobbery in so far as if you talk in acronyms you sound like you really know what you are talking about and if others don’t understand then they are seen in some way as inferior,” he said.

Terms such as blogging and podcasting have achieved a high enough level of exposure to have made it into dictionaries but there are still plenty of people who don’t understand the terms.

35% of online Brits had heard the term podcasting but didn’t know what it meant and a quarter had never heard of it. Similarly with blogging, 34% said they had heard of it but weren’t sure what it meant.

Rejecting iPods


PC – 85%

WAP-enabled mobile phone – 57%

Games console – 53%

MP3 player (not iPod) – 48%

Laptop – 47%

3G-enabled mobile phone – 30%

iPod – 20%

High Definition TV – 15%

PDA – 13%

“Some of the figures surprised us,” said Mr Burmaster. “It is important to remember that this is a survey of people who are already online so the numbers among the general population will be even higher.”

Regular surfers are, according to the survey, gadget-hungry. Interestingly, although 68% of those interviewed possessed an MP3 player, only 20% owned iPods – the biggest selling digital music player.

The iPod may be less popular with surfers because there are fewer online music stores from which music can be purchased, said Mr Burmaster.

“The whole ethos behind the internet is about open access and for people already online, being able to access music from a variety of sources is important,” he said.


29 September 2006

Scottish Executive podcast page

One podcast was downloaded just eight times

Attempts by ministers to tap into the online generation with downloads to mp3 players have been criticised by an MSP.Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives showed eight people downloaded a podcast of a recent sports summit at Stirling University.

Tory MSP Derek Brownlee questioned the amount spent on creating the downloads when “the figures are so poor”.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said the service had only recently started and he expected it to grow in popularity.

Finance Minister Tom McCabe revealed the figures in an answer to a parliamentary question.

Handheld device

The figures also showed 16 downloads for a recent schools junk food event and 32 for the Athletes Commission for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The first audio podcast of First Minister’s Questions was made available on 7 September and the second on 14 September.

Over these eight days, there were 580 downloads.

Mr Brownlee said that after registering his query on 14 September, the number of downloads for the Stirling event, attended by sports minister Patricia Ferguson, jumped from eight to 90.

This included one download by the executive’s web team.

Mr Brownlee, the Tory finance spokesman, said: “In the four days after I submitted my questions the number of downloads of Patricia Ferguson’s Sport Summit increased eleven-fold.

“Were civil servants and party workers ordered home to top up the original embarrassing answer of eight?”

Mr Brownlee added: “It is concerning that the figures are so poor and, as of yet, we do not know how much money has been spent on the project.”


Handheld devices are used to make the downloads

Podcasts – web-based broadcasts which can be downloaded to a mobile or handheld device such as an iPod – were first posted on the executive website on 8 September.

Mr Brownlee has requested information about the cost of the scheme from ministers.

An executive spokesman said the service had been developed in-house at no additional cost.

“To suggest that executive staff have been ordered to download ministerial podcasts to boost numbers is complete nonsense,” he said.

“We make no apology for trying to engage with different audiences through modern technology.”


Friday, 26 May 2006

A lecturer at a West Yorkshire university has abolished traditional lectures in favour of podcasts. Dr Bill Ashraf, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Bradford University, says the move will free up time for more small group teaching.

He told The Times Higher Education Supplement that first year biochemistry students would watch or listen to virtual lectures in their own time.

Students will access the podcasts via their MP3 player, phone or computer.

Text questions

Students will ask questions about lectures via text message, which will be answered in Dr Ashraf’s blog.

The lecturer has also been putting his appointment times online so students can check if he is available or book a meeting without coming into the university.

Dr Ashraf said the move would better suit the needs of distance learners, part-time students and those balancing studies with family and work.

He said: “Some lecture classes have 250 students, so I question the effectiveness of a didactic lecture for an hour.”


Editor’s week

We may not have the experience of the BBC, but we have the talent

Emily Bell
Saturday June 3, 2006
The Guardian

There was an interesting piece in the BBC’s in-house magazine, Ariel, this week, by Andrew Brown (blogger, broadcaster and contributor to Guardian Unlimited) about podcasting.In a nutshell, Andrew expressed the opinion that newspaper podcasts were in general inferior to those put together by professional broadcasters: “Practically anyone who can rattle two keys after each other is being dragged in front of a microphone and made to talk to readers.” His point is not necessarily wrong: that podcasts – bits of audio that are put into downloadable sound files – are more popular as extensions of existing audio brands, such as the BBC, than they are as extensions for other media. But it is not the whole picture by any means.

We had a robust discussion about his views on our own daily newsdesk podcast last week – which was produced by a former senior BBC producer and correspondent, Tim Maby, who is working with us on some of our shows. We have a foam-lined cupboard at the end of the corridor (“the pod”) where we now produce nine weekly podcasts and we are about to go into production with a daily World Cup podcast, anchored by our own columnist and broadcaster James Richardson (have a listen and try some of our other output at intention is that every day of the tournament we will have a show uploaded and ready to listen to from the wee small hours – if you like robust humour coupled with high-end international football analysis then this will be required listening. In fact it already is. Checking Andrew Brown’s thesis against the podcast charts on iTunes is an interesting exercise. In the sports category, for instance, you have Baddiel and Skinner at the top – who are reviving the decommissioned television fantasy football format for audio. Next you have Nike’s videocast, then you have the Guardian’s World Cup preview podcast, next the Beautiful Game’s independent football podcast and then finally Five Live’s podcast. So – four of the top five sports podcasts in the week before the World Cup are not in fact from traditional broadcasting outlets although some of them do feature professional broadcasters.

The truth is that established brands, media or otherwise, do have an advantage when it comes to persuading people to try their output – and the bigger your brand reach the more likely it is you will succeed in drawing an audience. The relentless podcasting and advertising by the BBC is in fact doing a service to the whole market by attracting a larger audience to the new medium.

In general the BBC dominates the podcast charts with its recut radio shows. But there is so much more scope to make the portable medium substantially different from existing radio – and at a far lower cost – that it would be foolish for other media brands to ignore it.

If non-broadcast media take the attitude that they have no business tentatively pushing their tanks on to radio’s lawn then they will miss an opportunity to connect with an audience that might not be using their publications – either online or offline – but could very well be interested in their content.

At the moment the collective terror of the music industry is putting the brakes on any podcasts that feature music with rights restrictions – which pretty much covers anything other than unsigned bands or commissioned live performances – which has allowed the speech format and particularly current affairs and comedy to flourish.

My guess is that as it becomes increasingly cheap and easy to upload both audio and video on to sites there will be increasing numbers of people podcasting and a growing audience – and if now is not the right time to experiment with these new formats, you might find that you have missed the boat completely.

· Emily Bell is editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited


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23 January 2006

By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Radio presenter Chris Moyles

Radio 1’s Chris Moyles is the BBC’s most popular podcast

Suddenly, it seems, podcasting has broken through to a new level.

The BBC’s first published podcast chart reveals that the Radio Four Today programme’s main interview was downloaded more than 400,000 times last month, second only, among BBC programmes, to Radio One’s Chris Moyles Show.

But the real change is in the way other media groups are now using podcasts to challenge broadcasters such as the BBC.

Last week, The Guardian newspaper announced that the Ricky Gervais Show had been downloaded over two million times, having already topped the Apple iTunes download charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Now other media owners are racing to get into the audio business.

After the Gervais podcast on Guardian Unlimited, the Conservative leader David Cameron popped up in the new Daily Telegraph podcast. Two days later, it was Tony Blair, podcast by The Sun, which said it was as significant a breakthrough as the first radio broadcast by a prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald in 1924.

Then last Friday, Jon Snow appeared in Channel 4’s first podcast, a documentary about cannabis and the young.

Print radio

The first sign of the potential for other media to get podcasting emerged two months ago.

We have a role in helping our audience find the best of what’s out there and we also have an opportunity to identify the rising talent emerging through podcasts

Simon Nelson, BBC Radio and Music

“What actually happened is that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant approached us to say they wanted to explore the idea of doing a show through our website” said Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited.

“I think they wanted to work in a format where they were in complete control of what they put out, but also to put it out to a wider audience.”

The Daily Telegraph has gone further, appointing its own podcast editor, Guy Ruddle. He arrived from the BBC earlier this month and says you can now listen to the Telegraph’s business news and sports reports, as an alternative to Today’s.

“We are the only newspaper that is doing anything vaguely resembling a daily news bulletin, with news and comment and analysis,” he said.

“That to me is the future – the ability to give people an audio version of the newspaper and, eventually, for them to be able to scroll through items and pick out bits they want to listen to or not.”

The Telegraph also features its own columnists, some reading out their own words, which can sound a bit stilted at the moment, something Guy Ruddle, as a professional broadcaster, will no doubt sort out.

But on Friday, it had something more exciting, the first broadcast interview with one of its columnists, the Olympic and trans-Atlantic rower James Cracknell. It caught the moment as he reached land with broadcaster Ben Fogle, who had nearly drowned when their boat capsized.

Radio role

Is the move into podcasts by rival media a threat to radio broadcasters? Simon Nelson, head of new media for BBC Radio and Music, believes not.

A new video iPod

Digital music players such as the iPod are used to listen to podcasts

He says the huge demand for podcasts, including BBC programmes such as From Our Own Correspondent and In Our Time, shows the enduring relevance of radio in the digital world, wherever it comes from.

“I think we see our role as trying to stimulate that, trying to help people find the ways to do it simply,” he said.

“We have a role in helping our audience find the best of what’s out there and we also have an opportunity to identify the rising talent emerging through podcasts.”

The Ricky Gervais Show has demonstrated the potential, and the threat, for broadcasters. Gervais and Merchant were previously on the commercial radio station XFM and have also broadcast for Radio 2.

Since they started the online show for The Guardian, has proved a runaway hit for the newspaper.

“The scale of it has certainly surprised us,” said Ms Bell, “and opens up lots of possibilities for non-traditional broadcasters to get into an area that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought about.”


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