What is a Podcast?

Posted By BrokenClaw on October 4, 2007

A podcast is a digital audio or video broadcast on the Internet that plays on a computer or on any digital player. The word podcast comes from the name of the Apple iPod®. However, there is no special relationship between a digital broadcast and the iPod, so it could more properly be called a netcast, because it always originates on the Internet but can be played on a variety of devices. As with many things in pop culture, once a nickname is established, it’s difficult to change, so most websites continue to use the term podcast. Going forward, the distinction between broadcasts on the Internet and broadcasts over-the-air will undoubtedly blur, so the content itself should be identified as a show, which happens to be distributed as a podcast.

An audio podcast is the Internet equivalent of a recorded radio show, and that is how it differs from Internet radio. Podcasts have much more versatility:

  1. Minimal production cost
  2. Small, targeted audience
  3. Independent of broadcast time
  4. Portability
  5. Often accompanied by online notes

First of all, the minimal production costs make podcasting accessible to virtually anyone with a computer, a microphone, and some relatively inexpensive software. Consequently, the targeted audience for a podcast can be quite specialized. For example, you’d never hear a weekly radio show devoted to hobbies like model railroading or hang gliding, but those are precisely the types of things that podcasts can cover. Of course, the most well-known podcasts generally center around computers and technology. Podcasts can be single episodes, like an interview or a report from a conference, but most are weekly, or even daily, productions.

Podcasts can be broadcast live over the Internet, but most are simply uploaded to a website. That process creates another advantage of podcasting: you can download the file at any time. Since there are no time slots to fill, there are no time constraints on the length of the podcast, either. In fact, one podcast uses the phrase, podcast of indeterminate length, as its subtitle.

You can also subscribe to a podcast, using a technology called RSS (really simple syndication), which automatically downloads the podcast to your computer as soon as it is available on the website.

Another positive characteristic of podcasts is the accessibility to the content producers. Since most are produced by individuals or small groups, without the trappings of big-business networks, they are much more likely to read and listen to feedback from their audience.

The ease with which a podcast can be produced can also be its downfall. For instance, a person may be excited and committed to produce a weekly show, but after a few episodes, it becomes a chore to come up with new topics. And since they have little invested in the project, and virtually no financial return for their efforts, they simply lose interest, move on to other projects, and stop producing new shows.

Audio podcasts, like digital music, are often supplied in the MP3 file format. Since a podcast is a digital recording, it can be transferred from device to device, whichever serves the user best. Portable devices, such as the Apple iPod, the Microsoft Zune®, the Creative Zen®, and any of a host of other brands, are designed to play MP3 files. Some cell phones can store and play MP3 files as well. Newer CD players can also play MP3 files which have been burned onto a blank CD. Once the user has the podcast in the form they want, they can play it any time.

A commercial music CD holds about 1 hour of music. Digital music in MP3 format, depending on the quality, compresses the files to use much less space, making it possible for a single CD to hold 6 hours or more of music. Digital recordings of the spoken voice require even less space, so a single CD can hold 20 hours or more of audio podcasts.

A video podcast is the Internet equivalent of a recorded television show. Video obviously requires more time and money to produce, so most video podcasts are financially supported by a parent company, national advertising, and/or investors.

Some places to find podcasts, along with instructions:

Be warned that podcasts are not regulated by the FCC or any other governing body, so some of them, like other content on the Internet, are not family-friendly.

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