Re-in­vent­ing ra­dio

Pod­cast­ing opens the way for new voices

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BENE­DICT KELLY

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. get­pod­cast­ 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

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