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The lure of the podcast

The lure of the podcast

Podcasting represents a new wave of online media. Supporters say the technology offers fresh communications opportunities for business. But how prevalent is its use in New Zealand and what does it realistically offer?

"If anyone is looking for the next Rush Limbaugh, I am right here baby," comments Kiwi podcaster Tom Paine. Or if you prefer Don Brash on-demand, instant John Cleese or rapper 50 Cent to enliven your ear lobes, you might turn to The Press newspaper in Christchurch.

On the other hand, you can use your iPod or MP3 player to keep abreast of events at Auckland's Point England School.

Podcasting is typically described as a way of pushing audio or video sound for listening on mobile devices or personal computers - a kind of anytime, anywhere radio, without the radio. The word is derived from 'iPod' and 'broadcasting'.

The MP3 or iPod devices, known as podcatchers, use XML-based RSS syndication to aggregate programs from multiple sources and can be downloaded when wanted.

"Streaming" files" from the internet also remove the time restrictions for listeners, but the devices must still be connected to the internet while playing the files. iPods and similar storage devices can operate while disconnected from the net.

While podcasting seems commonplace in the United States, both as an outlet for music or corporate communications, its use in New Zealand is still limited.

BC Radio in Australia podcasts many broadcasts offering on-demand service, but Radio New Zealand has yet to go down this route, claiming podcasting presents them with copyright issues. However, it does stream some programs online.

Some music podcasts are also available from Kiwi sites such as theset.co.nz though again the range of music podcasts here is limited compared to overseas.

The possibilities are endless

In both Australia and New Zealand, Fairfax uses streaming media of major events, either to add something extra to the websites of the Sydney Morning Herald, or Stuff in New Zealand. It also posts video messages on the company intranet, such as one from new chairman David Kirk, so he can communicate with company staff.

Sydney-based Fairfax chief technology officer Robin Jowett says Fairfax is looking at ways, such as podcasting, to broaden its multi-media services and maximise the availability of its products to the wider public.

However, while streaming video needs high speed internet to work, the impending arrival of video iPods and faster broadband could soon make video podcasting a possibility.

In Christchurch, prior to the September 2005 election, The Press newspaper, also owned by Fairfax, was looking at expanding its website and moving into multi-media.

Internet editor Sinead Boucher says broadcasting company The Voice Booth approached them about turning interviews into podcasts, which are then placed on the Voice Booth or The Press website.

The 'most interesting' interviews are posted, along with a series of readings called "Summer Fiction".

Boucher says the podcasts have been well-received by Press readers, letting them see something in print before listening to a full-length version online.

"It also gives an insight into how we formulated our written story. It also allows our readers to choose how they want their information delivered," she continues.

Boucher, who is also the paper's assistant editor, says there is convergence in the media and increasing choice either in getting something on demand and its format of delivery.

"The possibilities are endless - market roundups from the business team, sports round-ups and interviews. It's still so new and we are still exploring what it means and what the benefits are."

"The challenge is to work out not only what customers want but how to deliver it while staying true to your essential brand offering.

"The ideal is to be a one-stop-shop for everything the reader wants from an internet news site - news, community, entertainment, services. We'll keep striving to provide this."

Not so Silent Running

Much podcasting overseas grew out of the blogging community and this seems to be the case in New Zealand.

The first podcasting offspring could be Shire Network News, though the Green Party also occasionally posts their MPs' speeches in podcast format on its website. SNN, a humorous current affairs show, was created by professional broadcaster Tom Paine who also contributes to the 'Anglosphere' blog Silent Running (www.silentrunning.tv).

Paine had been blogging for three years when he thought he could use his broadcasting experience gained from a major Australian network to create his weekly program.

He wanted to use "synergies" between his blog and podcast, using audiences from one service, to drive up audiences at the other. By interviewing many bloggers for his podcast, they would also link to both Silent Running and SNN and further boost their audience share.

"I blog for ideological motives. Podcasting is another string to my bow. It's a way to do an end run around the gatekeepers of the mainstream media," says Paine.

SNN, launched a year ago, aims to be professional, like a proper radio show. The podcast features blog news, what the bloggers have been saying, with "high class snark thrown in" and a feature interview from a prominent blogger or newsmaker. Thus, recent podcasts have featured bloggers from Iraq, Egypt, Canada, and following the cartoon controversy, Denmark.

Paine spends eight to nine hours a week making the show using a condenser microphone, stand, and audio editing software. The podcast aims to be 25 to 40 minutes long, suitable for train or car commuters, SNN's targeted audience.

Logging company Blogmatrix reports 500 to 600 direct downloads each week, with a further 1340 subscribers through iTunes, suggesting a weekly audience of 2000.

"It's not bad for a political podcast, better than ranting at the TV news. I am getting contributions from other bloggers, which eases the workload and I get more and more email every week, so I must be doing something right," Paine says.

"My long-term goal is to reach a different audience to blogs. Blogs can be skimmed over lightly but you have to listen to a podcast, so more attention is paid. Subscribing is a compliment, you are producing something people want to listen to."

However, while hoping SNN might leads to big bucks with some major US radio network, Paine doubts a wider business use for podcasting.

Podcasts, he says, need time to listen, so newsletters and blogs might be a better format for company communications, especially if the CEO anonymously puts out an idea and wants feedback. For something demanding more attention, then a corporate video would have more impact for little extra expense, he notes.

Podcasting pupils

For 10 years now, Point England School in Glen Innes, Auckland, has made its own TV programs (the latter four of which have been broadcast on Triangle TV).

Then, last year ICT facilitator Dorothy Burt attended a conference in the USA and heard much about podcasting.

Initially, sceptical of its potential, when the new Apple iTunes appeared with a new podcasting functionality, allowing easy subscriptions, downloads and uploads to podcastings, she believed this gave the technology newfound user-friendliness.

Burt got a group of teachers together to see how they could use podcasting to improve children's education.

"We are using it as a hook to get the kids into learning," she explains.

Thus, the children, some as young as seven, write scripts and make the podcasts around what they have read, using Apple Macs and Garageband software.

The podcasts are then placed on the school website, often attracting listeners from countries like the UK, US and Japan.

Now, having being one of the first school podcasters in New Zealand, Point England School is now looking at using publishing video, believing it has to use 21st century technology to help children meet basic educational needs.

"Podcasting is working for our children because it encourages reading, writing, listening, speaking and social studies (through tracking the email responses) while using highly motivating and engaging technology. At the same time it also supports the essential social skills of co-operation, collaboration and gaining an understanding of what it means to have a voice in the global community," Burt adds.

The fun factor

While podcasting has had mixed reviews from the above users, naturally suppliers remain confident, pointing to greater popularity of the technology overseas.

Dave Dunlay of the Voice Booth says while New Zealand is taking longer to adopt podcasting, it does make broadcasting more fun and allows his sound production company to use his broadcasting skills.

The Voice Booth has produced a range of podcasts, including General Election interviews, recordings of major industrial conferences, particularly keynote speakers (sometimes for clients), plus a regular music show featuring national music presenter Liz Barry.

At present, the company is producing the programs to promote the technology and the business, though it hopes increased audiences will allow for sponsorship.

"We are at the cutting edge of something. It sounds nerdy but we are having fun doing it, playing at radio stations," says Dunlay.

He remains confident the technology will introduce new people to business users, suggesting a promotional role.

And, eventually, there will be video podcasts, helped by faster broadband, cheap digital cameras and better compression technologies.

Auckland-based Hyperfactory also sees potential in marketing and internal com-munications. Director Geoffrey Handley says Hyperfactory is making podcasts to help a US cereal customer and a US alcohol manufacturer promote their products.

"The cereal company is going back to the old Proctor and Gamble soap operas relevant to lifestyle. The alcohol brand is targeting young, urban males, with a quirky, sexy, fun ad," he says.

Handley says much has been done to make the ads viral and portable to aid their distribution, similar to the streaming 42 Below advertisements .

In the future, Hyperfactory also expects video podcasts, with two way interactivity, using 3G phone technology.

"Financial services analysts can make quarterly presentations. Retailers can use podcasts for shelf-stacking. A sales rep or distribution agent will be able to compare their site with the podcasts on their phone," says Handley.

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