20 December 02004

Where broadcasting blurs into downloading

The coverage of this press release on the positive response to the BBC's podcasting experiment — see my November posting mentioning the experiment — shows that podcasting is still making the 'novelty' news, but some continue to confuse its implications.

This Digital-Lifestyles feature concludes, "The impact of this form of distribution will be significant. The barriers to anyone having their own radio station are removed. Of course, any form of enclosure can be catered for, including video. Beware broadcast TV, look out TiVo." I don't have a TiVo, but as I understand it podcasting offers few if any features not built into TiVos or other personal video recorders.

More significantly, podcasting does not remove the significant barriers to anyone having their own radio station, at least not if it includes music or other copyrighted material. Publishing podcasts that includes copyrighted music is equivalent to uploading it to a blog or peer-to-peer service, and subject to the same risks of legal action.

Because accessing a podcast is downloading by any other name, I'm pretty sure that the legal framework for downloads is the one that applies, not the framework for webcasting or streaming an Internet radio service (warning: I am not a legal professional — I aim to offer better value for money — so don't rely on anything I say about the law when putting your liberty or prosperity at stake).

That's why the BBC's podcasting experiment is speech-only and why coverage in Digital Music News is possibly premature. There are plenty of music podcasts available, some catering for specialist interests not widely met by other means. But they are run by enthusiasts and amateurs — occasionally by small record labels who own the rights — operating below the radar of the mainstream. As the press release notes, the BBC's podcast has been popular with "technology-savvy listeners" (read: "geeky early adopters"?). Might some of them have subscribed to the BBC service mainly out of desire to hear something professionally produced? (Or something that is reliably refreshed: many early podcasts, like blogs, have stopped after a handful of installments when their creators realised how much discipline and work was involved.)

All of this sounds like I am down on podcasting. I'm not. I'm sure the model of using a portable player as a 'petrol/gas tank' and podcasting or its descendants as a 'filling station' has a big future. But neither should anyone underestimate the obstacles to be overcome before that future can be realised on a major scale.

At the same time a series of hybrid services that combine features of broadcast and the web are also likely to emerge. The same press release says "The pulling power of U2 and Eminem also helped Radio 1 [its on-demand player not the radio broadcasts] attract a record 2.5 million unique users and 1.4 million on demand listening hours in November". (Might there also have been large number of users, across the world, drawn to read tributes to John Peel and associated content on the web site, since he died four days before the start of November?) Integrate this more deeply with web content like Sold on Song (see this appreciation) or artist profles, and you start to get some new forms of programming that don't fall conveniently into the categories of broadcast or portable media that we're used to.

For reviews and news about the development of podcasting, it's worth keeping an eye on Podcast Research, which "aims to study the podcasting phenomena and to discover if podcasting can become a sustainable mass medium".

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Music and Multimedia, Podcasting, Radio on 20 December 02004 | TrackBack
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