Behind The Numbers: Invasion of the Podcast People

Want to reach as many as 22 million consumers? By 2010, you might be able to via podcasting. That's the number of people who will be podcasting by decade's end, compared to an estimated 5 million radio listeners and 64 million iPod and mp3 listeners who have downloaded a podcast today, according to "Podcasting: A Crossover Opportunity for Local Media Companies," a report from Borrell Associates.

The figures should be music to advertisers' ears. The reason? While consumers who tune into podcasts have the ability to skip through ads, it's very possible they won't want to because the content they're downloading may actually be the ad.

"The idea of podcasting ad messages as content is not unthinkable," says Kip Cassino, director of research for Borrell. Cassino cites such consumer activities as choosing a nightlife destination or a car dealership as natural options for commercial podcasting. Even some retail experiences could drive viewership: "What if you could take a virtual tour of your favorite dress shop, where they could show you what's on sale or what just came in? This is content, and it fits right into podcasting," Cassino explains.

According to the report, the two prime audiences for podcasts today are college students and commuters. Early adopters of podcasts are 18- to 24-year-olds who are difficult to reach via traditional media. As many as 20 percent of podcast listeners download to a mobile device, while the majority use computers. Apple's iTunes currently offers 15,000 podcasts, for which 7 million listeners had subscribed at press time.

Traditional media, including the BBC, CBS, Clear Channel, CNN, and the Walt Disney Co., all plan to launch podcasts in the near future, while AOL, Yahoo, and other leading digital venues already offer them. Early clients venturing into podcast advertising include Volvo and Best Buy. Volvo reportedly paid $10,000 per month for a podcast sponsorship package on Autoblog, while Best Buy reportedly paid $30,000 for a one-month sponsorship of the Denver Post's podcast, which is a recap of the day's top stories. Both packages included banner ads.

Podcasting will change substantially as it grows. "Podcasting is a function of the capability of mobile technology, and the mobile phone is already used for a lot more than just communication," Cassino says. It might even change its name. "I don't think, in the end, that we're going to even call it podcasting, because what it's going to be five years from now is much more than just a transmission of information," Cassino notes.

Cassino asks us to stretch our imaginations. "Think about the idea that you could actually get podcast coupons at your local supermarket. You would scan your phone at the checkout or make a call to the supermarket while you were there. The phone as we know it is going to morph into something quite a bit more than that." Five years from now, Cassino predicts, podcasting is "going to be as much a media venue as anything we consider a media choice today."

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