Podcasting opens the way for new voices
WHEN TIME magazine decided at yearend 2006 to award its person of the year title to “you” it was the clearest indication yet that the shift from the traditional way – creating content in all its forms – was truly on course.
While blogs (Internet-based journals or newsletters) are currently the biggest form of alternative content, the podcast isn’t far behind. A mixture of iPod and broadcasting, a podcast is typically an audio recording (though video podcasts are increasingly common) that Internet users can subscribe to and automatically download.
The practice was initiated in the US in late 2004 but only gained prominence outside geek circles in mid-2005, when Apple added a podcast section to its iTunes Store, making access to podcasts as simple as clicking on the subscribe button in the iTunes software.
Because podcasts are almost all free, the podcasting section of the iTunes Store is the one that has content accessible from anywhere worldwide. Because of that and the massive popularity of the iPod and the popularity of podcasts in North America and Europe, the amount of content has soared, with thousands of podcasts available.
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says podcasting in SA is still very much in its infancy. “In fact, podcasting internationally is still in its infancy – but SA is even further behind that. While there hasn’t been any research done into the number of podcasters in SA, I don’t think it goes beyond a few dozen. Compare that to the few hundred active local blogs – another medium that’s still finding its feet in SA.”
Goldstuck says there are two main groups of podcasters: traditional media houses (such as Talk Radio 702, the Mail & Guardian and Finweek), which are taking their traditional content and repackaging it to fit the podcast format, and independent podcasters that are creating new content on a variety of subjects, including audio journals, commentary on technology issues, business commentary and criticism and political commentary.
The main reason for the low uptake of this technology is not, for once, the lack of bandwidth in SA, though that’s a factor. Goldstuck says that South Africans are simply unaware of podcasts as a potential source of information.
Glen Verran, producer and co-host (with his wife Bridgitte) of one of SA’s earliest and longest running podcasts – “The ZA Show” – says that education of the SA consumer is vital to the growth of the market. “With the amount of iPods and other MP3 players out there it’s clear that there are more than enough potential listeners. But we as a podcasting community need to be able to tap into that market more effectively.”
Verran says he noticed the podcasting move early on but it was only when he obtained access to better bandwidth that he decided to try his hand at it.
While The ZA Show uses equipment that’s been built up over time, Apple IMC’s Steven Davis says it’s possible to make a podcast with a minimum of equipment. “All you really need is a computer, an Internet connection and a decent quality microphone.” Apple is trying to push podcasting in SA with the launch of a competition for podcasters and offering advice and facilities at various locations throughout the country (see www. getpodcasting.co.za for more details).
Davis adds that for potential podcasters the most important issue isn’t access to facilities but rather proper planning and an understanding of who the potential listener of the podcast will be.
Much of the success of podcasting in the US has been driven by the frustration of users with radio stations that don’t cover the kind of content they want to hear or are being stymied by strict rules covering what can and can’t be broadcast. In the world of podcasting there are very few rules and for those who want to put their opinions across, it’s the perfect medium.
While some podcasts last around five minutes, a length that wouldn’t break a local Internet user’s bank balance, many of the more popular international podcasts – such as “This Week in Tech” or “Diggnation” – can run for more than an hour, making downloading them in SA a more tedious task.
Although the move by media houses to punt their offerings will be the first step to popularising the medium, what SA needs is that one offering that seizes the imagination of the public at large and gets tongues wagging. But the likelihood of that coming from SA’s established media players is small.
Early adopters. Glen and Bridgitte Verran