What’s the latest and the greatest technology? Podcasting. Unfortunately, it really shouldn’t be the latest and the greatest for the television broadcasting community.
Broadcast station and regional cable news podcasts are starting to pop up. What I want to know is why?
First, understand that podcasting is just an automated way for a computer to download a specific audio file (like an mp3) so that the file is waiting for the user. It moves downloading from a pull model where a user would have to actively download a file, to a push model where podcasting applications (such as iTunes) look to see if there’s a new episode of a specific podcast and automatically download it, delivering it to the user. Podcasting applications also make it easy to transfer those files to portable devices such as iPods or other mp3 players.
Now let’s look at the podcast business model from the perspective of a TV or cable station. Sure, podcasting is technically easy (heck, we even do it—our Two-Minute Drill is available as both an mp3 download and podcast). Podcasting is cool, hip, savvy. But where’s the money?
If you’re looking at podcasting as anything more than a promotional tool for your newscast or public affairs programs, keep looking. There’s no business here. Podcasting is just a trend... the technology flavor of the month.
Now you’re thinking I’m crazy. Fair enough. You know you can sell advertising and sponsorships to your podcast. Sure you could, there’s always someone who’ll buy anything because it’s cool.
But who’s listening? Let’s use a midsize market station as an example. For a local newscast podcast (and keep in mind that most local news is not that relevant to an individual’s life), you’ll probably get a few hundred podcast subscribers. So where’s the value? What are you going to charge to reach these hundreds of people?
The bigger question is how will you justify it. If a station’s lowest performing program can reach 20,000 to 30,000 people for $50, how do you justify a few hundred for anything more than a couple of bucks?
Of course there are exceptions. The podcast audience is technically savvy. They might be attractive to a high-end electronics store where podcast sponsorship could give them some clout. But is it worth it?
But if you must, use podcasting as a promotional tool. Use them to promote your newscast. Maybe add in free podcast sponsorship as a value added to a client who spends a few hundred thousand dollars a year (nothing says “thank you” like something free). But there are even better promotional news tie-ins. What about simulcasting your newscasts (morning, noon and night) on local news radio as a barter deal... with a sponsorship announcement? Want a bigger value added “thank you” for those big spending advertisers? Give them the sponsorships for free and promote the simulcast in every newscast with a sponsorship announcement.
If you really must sell your podcasts, there is some good news... if you think accurate ratings are good news. Arbitron has said that its Portable People Meter (PPM) encoding technology works for podcasts. So one day you’ll be able to get ratings for all your hard work.
Remember, just because a technology is out there, doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Michael Silbergleid is the editor and associate publisher of Television Broadcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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