Pundits have differed greatly on the future of podcasting, the technology that distributes audio files through downloading for later listening or streamed immediately on the Web.
Promoters say podcasting is on the high-speed highway to success. Detractors say podcasting’s shortcomings are leading it into a dead end.
Neither prediction seems to be correct. Instead, the use of podcasting for education, motivation, PR and marketing has increased slowly over the past few years. Last February, Edison Research reported that 17 percent of Americans had listened to one podcast in the previous month. That was a small increase since 2012 when Edison found that 14 percent of Americans had heard one.
Detractors continue to believe that podcasting will not gain traction as a favored communications technology. Inherent shortcomings are that podcasts can’t be scanned as text articles can, they aren’t searched and indexed by Google and other search engines, and they don’t produce adequate viewership and demographic data.
Podcast adherents are again predicting, however, that the format will soon accelerate. This time emerging technologies and changing consumer behaviors may prove them correct.
Solving Podcasts’ Innate Disadvantages
Producers of podcasts can use speech-to-text technology to include transcripts on the podcast webpage. Text transcripts largely solve the problems many listeners have with podcasts, enabling them to scan the content. It also solves problems of podcast producers, making each program searchable so that the content can be included in search engine results.
A new podcast hosting service in Spain, Smab Audio, is aiming to solve the problem that listeners cannot skip to the section they desire and must listen to the entire audio from beginning to end. The company’s technology generates text files from the audio, explains Observer Innovation. The new technology adds some bells and whistles. Because the transcript and the text are synced, listeners will be able to go to a point in the podcast by clicking on a word in the transcript. The company is working on raising investor capital so it can refine the embryonic product.
Another podcast challenge is that potential advertisers cannot accurately measure who is listening. However, as more listeners stream audio content over the Internet rather than downloading files, advertisers can more easily insert ads into podcasts and target audiences based on their location. New companies like Acast from Sweden and Audiometric in Australia are introducing tools to help companies dynamically insert ads into podcasts, according to the International Business Times.
“The ad market for podcasts is evolving very fast,” Måns Ulvestam, Acast’s co-founder and CEO told IBT.
Because search engines do not crawl and index podcasts, consumers cannot uncover information that podcasts reveal. Companies such as Pop Up Archive are making it easier to index and archive podcast content. Pop Up Archive transcribes shows, adds tags and keywords in order to make podcasts searchable.
What Will Drive Podcast Growth
The increase of cars with Internet connections and voice recognition command systems integrated with smartphones creates opportunity for podcasting. The prevalence of smartphones and increased bandwidth has already paved the way for podcast listening while driving.
“It’s all about advertising and a captive audience,” said Roger Lanctot, at Strategy Analytic, a consulting firm, according to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. “People are seat-belted in, they have to listen. The only way a person in a car can fight back is to pick and choose what has superior quality and user experience.”
Lanctot estimated that about 20 percent of the cars in the U.S. are already connected to the Internet. More drivers will gain Internet access as new vehicles replace old ones. New cars represent five percent of all cars each year.
In automobiles, producers of podcasts compete with other in-car entertainment, especially radio broadcasts. To compete effectively, podcasts must meet the professional standards for “talk” radio in terms of both substance and entertainment.
Should PR and Marketing Pros Embrace Podcasts?
Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream, cites the growth in podcast listeners as one reason why PR and marketers should adopt the technology. The number of unique monthly podcast listeners tripled to 75 million from 25 million five years ago, Kim wrote in an article for Inc.
Kim cites other PR and marketing advantages of podcasts.
Listeners are engaged. When listeners subscribe to a podcast, they automatically receive the downloads. Marketers don’t need to continually strive for their attention as they do on Facebook, Twitter or email.
Barriers to entry are low. Podcasting software is inexpensive. Anyone can do it. Slick scripts are not needed; listeners actually prefer a conversational tone.
It’s effective. Listeners are influenced by what they hear. An Internal Midroll survey of 300,000 listeners found that 63% bought something they heard advertised on a podcast. Unlike radio programs, podcasts are not constrained by federal advertising regulations.
They complement other marketing channels. PR and marketing pros can discuss recent blog posts, promote their social media accounts, and build email lists through podcasting. Podcasts are also an effective mobile marketing tool because fans can hear them on the go.
Bottom Line: Podcasting may become a more effective tool for PR and marketing as podcast programs become more popular. New technologies are beginning to resolve many of podcasts’ inherent drawbacks and, as quality of podcast programs improve, more people will listen to the programs on Internet-connected vehicles.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.