Sunday, November 13, 2005

The first majorpodcasting convention to be held in the US

Podcasts are changing the content of radio

Hundreds of podcasters from 22 countries have gathered at the Portable MediaExpo and Podcasting Conference in Ontario, California, for the first majorpodcasting convention to be held in the US.It is a mark of how mainstream podcasting is becoming world-wide that one ofthe attendees from the UK, Ewan Spence, is nominated for a Scottish Baftafor his series of podcasts from the Edinburgh festival.But does podcasting spell the death of radio?The answer that seems to be emerging from this conference is that it dependson the type of radio in question.Adam Curry, widely credited as the "podfather" for his part in thedevelopment of podcasting, has attracted millions of dollars in venturecapital funding for his Podshow and Podsafe Music Network businesses.But he is convinced there remains space for traditional radio, particularlyin the sphere of news."If we find Osama Bin Laden, don't go running to the iPod - you'll beseverely disappointed," Mr Curry told the BBC.News radio is somewhat insulated from the effect of podcasting by the needto cover major events live. But many feel podcasting is challengingcomplacent broadcasters, who have allowed quality and audiences to decline.Leo Laporte, a talk radio host in Los Angeles and the creator of the hitpodcast This Week in Tech, thinks podcasters are changing radio for thebetter."Radio has been moribund for a couple decades, podcasting is reviving thisart of radio - it's a complete renaissance."One aspect of this renaissance is "narrowcasting" or "microcasting" -broadcasts targeted at niche audiences.It is radio that focuses on particular interest groups. Examples include"The Mommycast: a podcast for mommies everywhere", or "The Good Beer Show",which offers reviews of micro-brewed beer hosted from a tavern in Indiana."We're talking about a million different niches," said JD Lassica, a pioneerin the field of citizen-produced media.Many at the conference predict the greatest effect of podcasting ontraditional radio will be in music broadcasting.Given copyright restrictions, podcast music shows are limited to so-called"podsafe music", where the musicians publish under licences that allowinternet downloading.Most bands that produce "podsafe music" are unsigned bands, independent ofthe major record labels.Mr Curry, a former MTV presenter, believes that is bad news for the majorrecord labels."The end result will be that podcast music is going to route around theentire [music] industry," he said."The music business itself is heading for a meltdown because all the toolsare available for any artist to sell directly to the consumer."But there are signs that traditional broadcasters are waking up to podsafemusic.At the recent Pod Con UK conference held in London, Virgin Radio announcedthat it would be including podsafe music in some of its podcasts.As podcasting changes the content of radio, the way we listen to radio ischanging too.Tech-geeks like to speak of "convergence", of the coming together of thedifferent ways to listen to radio as broadband and wireless technologybecome more prevalent.There are already mobile phones that enable you to download podcasts - ineffect, turning your phone into a radio tuner - that has the money-meninterested."We think there's a huge a market, that will allow podcasting to be extendedto the 2bn wireless phones across the world today," Adrian Smith of VentureCapital firm Ignition Partners said."In a pretty short number of years ring-tones have become a hugemulti-billion dollar market and that suggests podcasting could be a verylarge market indeed."Despite the emphasis on new technologies and ways of making money frompodcasts, there is broad agreement that the key to success in podcasting andin traditional radio is the same.As Mr Curry says, however clever the technology, "you need this wonderful piece in the middle which is the guy talking about something he's passionateabout". [By Chris VallanceBBC News, Ontario, California]