by Tom Webster, Edison VP
I spent last Saturday at PodCasterCon 2006 right near my home in Chapel Hill, hoping to make some sense out of this nascent tool and the community that it has inspired. My first goal was to get a good, clear definition of what Podcasting is, since Edison is currently fielding our 2006 Internet and Multimedia Study with Arbitron, and we were struggling with a good way to define it for the masses that wouldn’t require knowledge of acronyms or jargon. Clearly there is an element to Podcasting that implies automatically downloading audio content to be listened to at the audience’s convenience–this is what separates Podcasting from just posting an audio file on a website.
There were other voices, however, that were more strident about what Podcasting is: “Homegrown,” “Non-Commercial,” etc. Podcasting does democratize content creation, true, but I bet a lot of the people claiming that true Podcasting has to be non-commercial also hid all their Coldplay records after they went Platinum. If Podcasting is to thrive (and not just survive), it will have to live in the great big middle, and not just exclusively in the fringes. Indeed, there are loads of broadcast radio stations, both commercial and non-commerical, already distributing Podcasts. This is not a bad thing. By making Podcasts available to their listeners, radio stations are simultaneously respecting the wishes of their listeners to access their favorite content more conveniently (a la TiVo) and also extending the station’ s brand off the dial, which is absolutely crucial as radio continues to lose mind share and listeners to new technologies and on-demand content.
Still, the folks who were adamant about Podcasting being reserved for non-commercial, “alternative viewpoints” do have some compelling arguments about the need for Podcasting. It is true that it is very difficult to hear truly local content on commercial radio. If your station is a music station with a syndicated morning show, the only “local” content you offer consistently might be the weather forecast and a few specialty shows. Running a show like SNL’s “Perspectives” at “five forty-six in the A – M” on Sunday is one thing, but running it during drive-time is not only commercial suicide, it is demonstrably not providing the majority of your listeners with what they want.
So, this got me thinking. How much public affairs programming does your station really offer? Chances are–be honest–it is the bare minimum required by the FCC, and it is probably played while I am asleep (or should be.) Podcasting, though, represents a tremendous opportunity to actually do some good and strengthen your brand at the same time. Think about this–what would be the downside of offering 10, 20 or even 40 hours of additional public affairs or local content as Podcasts on your site that your audience could subscribe to?
Chances are, there is no shortage of people in your market who could provide “homegrown” public affairs programming, and some of it is quite compelling. You might even make some studio space available to local interest groups late at night (like McDonald’s entry into breakfast, you might as well keep the grills running all day, since you already paid for them.)
Public affairs programming could then be offered for subscription on your station’s website for automatic download and delivery at the listener’s convenience. You don’t have to confine yourselves to strictly “public affairs” content, either. Got a minor-league hockey team, or a professional lacrosse team in your market? If there are a thousand people that go to the game, that is an audience of potentially a thousand people who might love you if you had a two-hour weekly podcast about the team and league.
The possibilities here are endless–and they can all be branded with your call letters. Why not be known as the local station with the most local Podcasts?. Maybe 200 people will listen to the town council podcast, maybe 500 will listen to the local high school girls basketball game–but add them all up, and your station could be known as the local outlet for the community–all without breaking format.
Now, some of the blogueristas I have spoken with might bristle against this idea as a cynical commercialization of Podcasting. Honestly, though, what is the goal of any Podcaster? To be heard. As long as a Podcaster is free to create whatever content they want (within reason–the content should appeal to an audience beyond the podcaster’s immediate family), what could possibly be wrong with increased distribution? The radio station gets to credibly compete for the “most local” image while still presenting a mass-appeal, shared experience over the air.
Podcasting is a wonderful opportunity to aggregate micro-communities and incorporate them in to one big, welcoming local tent with your name proudly emblazoned at the top. The key here is to think way outside the box and don’t worry about how esoteric or niched the content may be–if makes some micro-section of your target demographic love you, it is well worth creating a podcast for.