By GREG SANDOVAL, AP Technology Writer
The runaway popularity of blogging, which has turned everyday people
into online news outlets, caught the media establishment off
guard. The industry is trying not to make the same mistake with
podcasting -- which lets nearly anyone "broadcast" on the Internet.
Everyone from Disney to Newsweek to National Public Radio is now
offering podcasts, and Apple Computer, Inc. last month made it a whole
lot easier to find them and download them to iPods.
While profits remain elusive, there's a bigger prize out there -- the
company that manages to become the go-to Web site for podcasts could
gain enough leverage to strike favorable deals with proven content
providers, and generate cash by charging for subscriptions and
Podcasts are recorded audio files, distributed via Internet
download. They can be stored on computers or digital music players and
played back whenever the listener chooses. Like bloggers, podcasters
can sound off on whatever they please -- from politics and religion to
gladiolas and glass-blowing.
For now, podcasts are mostly talk -- the complexities of the
music-licensing business make it exceedingly difficult to legally
include songs in the audio files. Podcasting isn't likely to explode
in popularity until companies figure out how to guarantee that music
owners get paid.
But as tens of thousands of podcasters seek audiences, a growing
number of companies are trying to make sense of what's out there and
become magnets for the best of it. They include not just Apple but
also Podcastalley.com, Podcast.net and as of last weekend, another
startup -- Odeo.com.
In Odeo's newly renovated loft across the street from the Giants'
ballpark, Evan Williams and his first nine employees have hustled to
launch the beta version, which creates directories of podcasts for
downloading and provides studio-quality sound tools for podcasters to
Odeo encourages podcasters to upload their shows on its
site. Recognizing that one of the main complaints about podcasting is
the difficulty of finding them, Odeo organizes the shows by
genre. Odeo's headings includes arts, food, religion, sex, and
technology. There is even a one called "weird."
To help listeners discover new shows, Odeo employees scour the site
for the best and display their recommendations on the "Featured
Williams, who co-founded Blogger.com before selling it off to Google
three years ago, is enough of a believer in podcasts to bankroll Odeo
out of his own pocket. And while he won't say exactly how he plans to
make a profit, he says charging for premium content or for access to
digital recording tools is a possibility.
Gaining legal access to popular music may be what's needed for
podcasting to become profitable. Without music, skeptics doubt there
is any money in it.
"There is no easy way to license music legally for podcasts," says
Fred von Lohmann, an attorney for the online civil liberties group
Electronic Frontier Foundation. "You have to clear the rights one song
at a time from record labels and artists and that's a painful
Williams, however, is optimistic: "If podcasting finds a large enough
audience, the money will come."
Already, some podcasters are willing to pay for superior tools,
according to Matt Galligan, who hosts a podcast called "The Spotlight"
that promotes music from unsigned and little-known artists.
"If you don't have good audio quality, people won't listen to you," he
Podcast Alley is a typical Internet bootstrap operation, prized by
fans of Internet "narrowcasting" not just for its podcast selection
but also for free tools and tips.
Launched in November and featuring 4,100 podcasts, it has just one
employee: founder Chris McIntyre, a 26-year-old programmer from
McIntyre says the number of podcasts has tripled in the past three
months on his site and he's already begun selling enough ads to cover
"Podcasts appeal to niche markets that can help advertisers zero in on
their target audience," he said, adding that a podcast dedicated to
endurance sports has received money from Gatorade for plugging the
sports drink during the show.
In another sign that podcasting is attracting advertisers, Toyota has
agreed to underwrite all the podcasts for Los Angeles-based radio
station KCRW for six months in exchange for a 10-second mention in
each of the shows, said Ruth Seymour, KCRW's general manager.
If anyone is positioned to win big on podcasting, it's Apple, which
added an iPod directory that features more than 3,000 podcasts to the
company's iTunes music-download site on June 28. Apple said more than
a million podcasts were downloaded in the first two days the service
With its marketing muscle and customer base - 16 million iPods sold -
Apple has the clout and connections to strike deals to obtain music
rights and collect licensing fees from podcasters wishing to become
Web disc jockeys.
But it had better act fast.
NPR is negotiating with the music industry for podcasting rights as
are other media companies, according to Seymour, whose station
receives some of its programming from NPR.
She is eager for such a deal. Without one, KCRW is prevented from recording
podcasts for shows that include music. That means fans of the popular
"Morning Becomes Eclectic" must wait until music rights are obtained.
"The explosion for podcasting hasn't happened yet," said Seymour. "It
takes off the second that someone gets the music rights."
On the Net:
Podcast Alley: http://www.podcastalley.com/
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new