Few emerging technologies have gained more attention more quickly than podcasting -- the delivery of audio or video content via RSS. Based on analysts' numbers however, podcasting clearly is still in its infancy. The question of course is, how big can or will podcasting get? What's behind this phenomenon?
As an avid iPod user, I can tell you that podcasting works for both audio and video (although the content quality of the latter is questionable). Like its close cousin, blogging, podcasting is really all about "the Long Tail." (See this great Wired article, or my previous blog post.) If the movie studios and television networks are about offering a few items of content that appeal to the widest audience, then the Long Tail is about offering many, many items of content, each of which is interesting to a relatively smaller audience.
What does this mean? First, a huge collection of small audiences still amounts to a huge, albeit fragmented, audience. There is real money to be made here. However, a smaller audience per content item means lower revenue for each content publisher. This in turn means publishers have less revenue -- and therefore less money -- to spend on nice things like production and content quality. Video, being the most expensive medium to produce, is probably going to play a smaller role in podcasting than audio, which is much easier to create and edit.
The biggest impact on podcasting will come from the rapidly expanding availability of both content and ways to consume it. Think about a near future in which you can receive podcasts in your car, or on your home stereo and home theater. Imagine TiVos getting video podcasts the same way they record TV shows today. Imagine your car using Wi-Fi to download only those news podcasts you want for the ride into work each morning. Or your phone receiving talking-head news or sports-update podcasts throughout the day, so that you can catch up while riding the elevator or waiting at the doctor's office.
So, will podcasting be big? Absolutely. However, like its underlying technology, RSS, podcasting itself likely will not be found in the spotlight. It will simply be another straightforward way to consume content. As always, it's the people who have something to say -- not the way that they say it -- who will take center stage.
Blogging and podcasting will continue making tremendous in-roads this year, and an ever-increasing number of people will be getting their online daily or weekly fix of information via podcasts. Moreover, I believe 2006 will see an even greater expansion of the possibilities for this exciting new medium.