Podcasting numbers are no surprise

Rex Hammock, who writes over at rexblog.com, is a pretty sharp guy. Amid all the discussion of the report from Forrester about the uptake for podcasting – which Forrester analyst Charlene Li wrote about on her blog – there is plenty of sound and fury, signifying little. Some are outraged that podcasting is being dismissed so easily, with just 1 per cent of people saying they download or listen to podcasts.

Don Dodge says podcasts are too slow for someone who likes to consume information at high speed (I would have to agree). Others say podcasting is a fad that has already come and gone, and is only for geeks, as my friend Scott Karp argues. In a way, Scott is right. Podcasting is pretty much just for geeks – for now.

And even some geeks haven’t quite been bitten by the bug yet – I’m as geeky as anyone, and I’ve only downloaded and listened to a few, in part because there aren’t that many times in my day when I can listen to them. But I have listened to some great ones, including ones from Amber MacArthur and from Leo Laporte and the This Week in Tech crew. They have been as good as – and in most cases much better than – anything I hear on the radio.

And here’s where Rex comes in: He points out that new technologies – or rather observers of them – suffer from “macro-myopia” (a term he got from Paul Saffo), in which their short-term effects are wildly overestimated and their long-term effects are wildly underestimated. The telephone is a great example: many early forecasters assumed it would be used as a kind of broadcast device. Alexander Graham Bell himself said he could never see business being conducted using such a device (he also thought “Ahoy! Ahoy!” was the best way to answer).

As Rex puts it:

“Today, just 18 months into the era of podcasting, a Forrester research report suggesting that only 1% of people actually listen to podcasts is being treated as if such statistics mean something. They mean absolutely nothing.”

He goes on to say that it is more than likely that there will be a “bust” of financial expectations related to podcasting, but that this will also mean little. I would have to agree. Podcasting as a term has always seemed like more of a fad to me than something long term – but that doesn’t mean downloadable audio of all kinds isn’t a phenomenon that could threaten radio, just as Rocketboom and YouTube raise issues for TV (Mark Cuban has some thoughts on that topic, not surprisingly).

Are they going to kill traditional media? Not in 18 months, no. But they are sure as hell going to shake things up, and 10 years from now things will likely look substantially different. As usual, Good Morning Silicon Valley has the best headline on their post: “Podcasting is huge, it’s just the audience that’s tiny.”

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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