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Listeners eat up podcasts so pubradio adds lots more

Originally published in Current, Feb. 21, 2006
By Mike Janssen

NPR launched the third phase of its podcast project Feb. 7 [2006], expanding a broad collaborative effort that regularly puts pubradio titles among the most popular offerings on Apple’s iTunes, the dominant podcast portal.

The network added eight new podcasts to its online directory — NPR.org/podcasts — bringing its total titles to 271. An on-demand download of Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me! quickly became one of the most popular listed. NPR has counted 13 million cumulative downloads of all podcasts since launching the project less than six months ago.

The podcasts come from 74 producers, including NPR, stations, independent producers and public radio’s major national producers and distributors. NPR gives server capacity without charge to about half of the contributors.

The network launched the project Aug. 31 in collaboration with Public Radio International, American Public Media, the Public Radio Exchange and seven stations. Participants acknowledged they were rushing into unfamiliar territory but felt an urgent need to claim places in the podcasting free-for-all.

The project’s most popular daily podcast has been Story of the Day, a 5-minute offering selected by NPR editors from its newsmagazines and other programmings. All Songs Considered, a podcast version of NPR’s web-only music show, is the most downloaded weekly podcast.

Are the audio files being heard or gathering digital dust on iPods? Downloaders responding to a December NPR survey confirmed that indeed, they’re listening, often in addition to their regular diet of broadcast public radio. The average respondent was male, professional and in his early 30s, the typical early adopter of technology.

NPR should continue studying and responding to the podcast audience to compete with the scads of independent podcast producers, says Mark Glaser, a new-media watcher and editor of the MediaShift blog at PBS.org. He adds that NPR could hook even more listeners by publicizing the service on air and on websites to educate its older-skewing audience about podcasts.

Overall, “NPR has done a fantastic job of making a name for themselves in podcasting,” Glaser says. “Though they were a bit slow getting out of the starting gate, they have jumped in with gusto.”

The podcasts contain underwriting spots from four sponsors — HBO, Acura, Intel and Vanguard — and other companies are interested, says Maria Thomas, NPR’s v.p. of digital media (formerly v.p. of NPR Online). The burgeoning collection of podcasts could soon allow NPR to sell underwriting on themed packages of podcasts, she says.

Underwriting sales have more than paid for the bandwidth and staff costs sustaining the project, she says. The founding collaborators will receive shares of the gross proceeds, though in the future NPR may recoup costs before dividing the money.

Thomas sees benefits to the podcast project beyond the immediate gains in money and audience. It shows the benefits of approaching a new distribution model as a team, which public radio notably failed to do in the Web’s early days. As a result, today “we’d be hard-pressed to say that, as a system, we have a successful Internet strategy,” Thomas says.

Consultants working with NPR will report on the project’s trajectory at this week’s Integrated Media Conference in Seattle.

Web page posted Feb. 18, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee

EARLIER ARTICLES

Public radio stations and nets team up for popcast push, August 2005.

About pubradio podcasts, consultant Paul Marszalek asks: free or not for free?

LINKS

Podcast directory at NPR.org.

Apple's iTunes Music Store, the major podcast portal. Download free iTunes software to use.

Current's page of podcasting resources.

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