Since a very young age I’ve been enchanted with radio broadcasting – setting up my first pirate FM radio station when I was around 10 years old. That little foray into radio had a broadcasting range stopping at the end of my block. Now, thanks to new software and an enhanced XML language, comes podcasting — providing myself and throngs more with a global reach, for little more investment than a high-speed Internet connection.

Unlike the limited number of stations dotting the radio dial, you can freely subscribe to a staggering number of new podcast audio channels, from the useful to the certifiable. Combining the words broadcasting and iPod produces “podcasting” and provides an outlet for anyone with something to say, no matter how trite, to reach a new audience. The lure of having exposure to the growing number of iPod and other portable MP3 player users entices a new class of broadcasters, known popularly as podcasters.

But as podcasting departs its anyone-can roots to the mainstream, will it become the next big thing? For the initiated — the incumbent broadcast heavy weights — there’s little doubt. But for nasally-sounding Ned or Nancy in marketing or sales looking for more exposure, sticking to the day job might be the best thing.

Marketers pondering podcasting’s potential should ask if it accomplishes one of two things. Does your podcast offer an extension to a radio ad campaign that fits well with an on-demand time-shifted (not real time, played at a time convenient to the listener) format? And/or does it supply unique, riveting content that will be planned and ongoing?

Currently, top podcasts touch on niche subject matter that listeners can’t find easily elsewhere, such as tech, social or religious content. How marketers leverage these subjects and homegrown material either requires strong right-brain activity for a wider scope campaign or niche placement by subject/podcaster.

Tech podcaster IT Conversations has the occasional tech sponsor at the start and close of programming (which sounds like a barter arrangement air time for infrastructure usage). The Pepsi Max No Sugar Windup podcast campaign creatively offers the listener a laugh through comedic content in exchange for a quick Pepsi Max message.

The target audience for podcasting is niche and young. IDC Canada research shows that approximately 14 per cent of Canadian households have at least one MP3 player. Although this number is growing, a question mark remains over how many MP3 owners are interested in listening to podcasts regularly.

Remember, too, that MP3 players boasting satellite radio receivers are just around the corner. Known as SkyPods, these hybrids will be difficult for podcasters to compete with when hundreds of professionally produced 24/7 digital audio/video content outlets are accessible globally.

If you are looking to get your feet wet in podcasting or strive to be one of the very few that make it big, you’ll find that creating a podcast is quite straightforward, technically speaking. And the software to do it is free. But since the goal is not to be a one-hit-wonder, creating a lasting podcast is easier said than done.

For tuning into podcasts, podcatcher software, such as iPodder or iTunes (freely downloadable) is used. Channels of interest are selected, content downloaded automatically and dropped on to an MP3 player (an iPod mini in my case) or listened to from a computer. To find podcast channels, directory sites are springing up, such as PodCastAlley and iPodder.

Once you’ve recorded your podcast all that remains is to promote your can’t-live-without content and get listeners to subscribe to it from their podcatcher. Get listed where the listeners go on podcast directory sites cataloguing content from Agriculture and Aviation to Religion and Tequila.

What has made podcasting unique from other streaming content downloaded from the net is RSS (Really Simple Syndication). This XML language is the basis for content being found and distributed in an automated manner, levelling the playing field from a content distribution standpoint.

But no matter how accessible the technology is, I’m not quitting my day job.

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Senf is the manager of IDC Canada’s IT business enablement advisory service. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related links:

Complexity, real-time failures, and the iPOD

The MP3 Show: no actors, no host

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