I was in San Francisco last week for two conferences (this one and this one). At one of the evening get togethers, the conversation turned briefly (and I do mean briefly) to podcasting. It went a little like this:
“So, how come no one talks about podcasting anymore?”
“Because it’s not new anymore. Everyone’s doing it. It’s totally mainstream.”
I guess I agree and disagree. A couple of years ago when I launched the company, I anticipated that podcast production would be a big part of the business model. With my years of experience as a video producer and director, it seemed like the next logical step in the evolution of online media creation. I was, and continue to be, a HUGE consumer of podcasts, many of them courtesy of NPR. But I was wrong about the production part being a big segment of my business. Aside from my own, we only produced a couple of others.
But back to the topic of podcasting and NPR…Tom Webster from Edison Research had some interesting stats that he presented at IMS. 43% of Americans are aware of this thing called podcasting, up from 22% just three years ago. And about 27 million Americans listened to a podcast in the last month. Chances are, a lot of them were from NPR.
While stories about the contraction of mainstream media outlets abound, an underreported story is how much NPR has grown, thanks largely to their bear hug embrace of new media. They consistently have several programs in the iTunes top 10 and traffic on NPR.org grew 78% from 2007 to 2008. There has been some internal conflict from member stations that they are essentially cannibalizing themselves. NPR member stations have to pay the mother ship for programming, but if all that programming is available online on matter which affiliate you listen to, you might be less inclined to give during pledge drive time.
Or maybe not. According to a recent article in Fast Company, the NPR audience “is perhaps more ready than most for the radical concept of paying for the content they consume… When we had to announce layoffs and cuts in December, there were comments on some of our stories: ‘How can we help? Where’s the give button?’ There’s a sense that the organization is leaving money on the table. People would like to contribute more to this service that they adore and depend on.”
Compared to traditional media, podcast audience numbers are still small. Yet, as we say over and over, it’s not about the quantity of your audience, it’s about the quality. 50,000 highly motivated listeners (or viewers) is preferable to 1 million indifferent ones.