Shane Dawson produces videos for YouTube, where his homegrown productions have received more than 2 billion views. With a huge online audience devouring his every video move, what’s he doing dabbling in audio?
“I love podcasts, so I thought I’d try one,” says Dawson of his recently launched hour-long Shane & Friends. “I wasn’t sure my audience would be up for it, but shockingly, they really love it. It proves the next generation is excited about long-form content.”
Dawson isn’t the only video star to give online audio a try. The land of podcasting, once an esoteric outpost devoted to heavily tech-oriented chats, is booming. Actor Alec Baldwin, Extra‘s Maria Menounos and comedians Joan Rivers, Jeff Garlin and Tom Green all recently threw their hats into the podcasting ring alongside CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, which now offer audio versions of many of their TV news shows.
Apple just surpassed 1 billion subscriptions for podcasts via its iTunes app, which is a major milestone for a category that had been considered an also-ran.
Many top podcasts — such as the Nerdist, NPR’s This American Life and Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy, see millions of downloads.
Not that you need that many listeners to make a podcast viable, says Chris Hardwick, who has built his Nerdist podcast into a power base that has seen him expand to a YouTube channel and hosting gigs for TV’s AMC channel.
“Our culture is so niche-oriented now, you don’t need 3 million people to listen to your podcast,” says Hardwick. “If 10,000 people listen, which isn’t a hard number to achieve, then 10,000 people listen to your podcast. You can do something with that, you can build a community, and literally change the world, just recording into a recorder.”
Podcasts began as an outgrowth of the Apple iPod, as a tool to bring original programming to the once hugely popular MP3 device. But it was cumbersome to get the shows. Most were housed at the iTunes Music Store and you had to download the show to your computer, plug in your iPod, then transfer it.
The rise in smartphones and the ability to access podcasts without wires has changed that, and greatly expanded the audience. Additionally, new apps to listen to podcasts directly beyond iTunes — including TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, Stitcher and iHeartRadio — “gave podcasts an entirely new audience,” says Allen Weiner, an analyst with Gartner.
Many new cars have Bluetooth connections, which play audio from a smartphone directly through car speakers without having to be plugged in.
That podcasts had the potential to chip away at traditional radio listening was clearly noticed at Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio broadcaster. In July, it added podcasts to its iHeartRadio service.
Podcasting is still a “small portion of overall listening, but we need to invest in it,” says Brian Lakamp, Clear Channel’s president of digital. “We need to be wherever consumers are.”
As part of the new initiative, Clear Channel struck a deal with start-up Spreaker to let consumers record their own podcasts from home and submit them to iHeart alongside professionally produced shows from ABC News, National Public Radio and Ryan Seacrest.
Start-up BlogTalkRadio has a similar feature, offering free Web tools to let anyone record a show, using their telephones as microphones, and a Web platform to bring on guests and callers.
BlogTalk CEO Alan Levy says he’s attracting 40 million listeners monthly — but not all at his site. He shares his stuff out to iTunes, TuneIn Radio and other platforms — many listeners come from Facebook and Twitter.
“There are many more outlets for distribution, and that’s really helping,” he says.
The most popular categories for podcasts are news, politics and sports. But in terms of bulk, comedy rules. Many comedians have their own podcasts, and they say the shows are paying big dividends:
• Tyler’s Girl on Guy podcast has long been a labor of love for the co-host of CBS’s The Talk. Now, a book based on Guy, Self-Inflicted Wounds, released in July, has been a best-seller.
• Comedian Marc Maron, who turned to podcasting in his Los Angeles garage as a last-ditch effort to revive his career, did just that with his WTF podcast. A top 10 staple in iTunes, WTF spawned a sitcom, Maron, about a comedian who just happens to tape a podcast in his garage.
Podcasting, for most comedians, is a marketing tool to help fill seats at comedy clubs, and more important, it “connects them to the digital world,” says Alexander Ali, president of the Society Group, a publicity agency that works with podcasters.
When Todd Pringle started as a vice president at Stitcher two years ago, his company had some 5,000 podcasts available to distribute. Today, it’s 18,000, and he expects it to hit 20,000 by the end of the summer.
The challenge for Stitcher, iTunes, SoundCloud and the like is helping folks navigate through the thousands of possibilities to find stuff people they want to hear.
“We’re working on our recommendation algorithm to help expose people to more shows,” he says. “But this is a challenge.”
Meanwhile, iTunes, where podcasts began, is about to get a new cousin in the fall, iTunes Radio, which is billed as a way to get personalized radio — such as Pandora and Slacker — to Apple consumers.
It’s not a new idea, and it’s not novel for Apple mobile device owners, either. They’ve had easy access to music services for some time.
But it’s the first big addition to iTunes in several years, and Apple will be promoting it hard, which it has not done for podcasts since launching them in 2005.
Could iTunes Radio rub off on podcasts?
“It will help create even more awareness for iTunes and podcasting, even if music is what’s being sold,” says Levy. “I’m excited.”
Courtesy of USA Today