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Angle 1: The Artifact Itself
With the advent of radio people were able to enjoy oral content from all over the place. Broadcasters could transmit music, news, or conversations over the airwaves and as radio evolved listeners could tune in from the comfort of their own home or during a road trip in the car. As technology has evolved so has our broadcasting. The newest and most popular form of broadcast media is podcasting. Podcasting leverages many of the advancement and benefits of modern technology. Podcasts, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a music or talk program made available for digital download,” came into existence around the early 2000s. Alongside the development of the iPhone, the term podcast was dubbed by BBC journalist Ben Hamersley combining the two terms “broadcast” and “iPhone”. Over the past decade podcasts have become more and more prevalent, especially among young people, with 42% of people aged 18-34 being weekly podcast listeners. Apple was the first major company to integrate podcasts into their general interface, establishing iTunes as the premier destination for pods. Culture critic Nicholas Quah identifies three distinct inflection points. With iTunes’s establishment of a legitimate platform being the first, Quah then points to the introduction of the iPhone 3G. This new device allowed users to download audio files remotely bolstering podcasts stock among “on-the-go” users. This mobility that podcasts provide is a crucial aspect of the medium. In his article “The mp3 as a Cultural Artifact” Jonathon Stern presents the concept of a “container technology”. He argues the mp3 is not a vital artifact in and of itself but that the crux of its utility lies within the content that it contains. Continuing he describes the novelty of these containers as lying in their mobility and compression. Users are able to use, share, and modify the content across a myriad of platforms at great speed and efficiency. Additionally, the files are small enough to allow users to download and delete them in large quantities. Podcasts can be understood from a similar perspective and reflect many of the same benefits. Steve Jobs described podcasts as “Tivo for Radio” and this characterization highlights the essential attributes of podcasts. They can be easily accessed at any time and user can select which content they want to view. Stern continues his point writing, “They take up less space than other kinds of digital recordings and when they are listened to, they are experienced as music, not as file format.” For many podcast users, their experience is similar. Podcasts have become a source for news, politics, tutorials, and all kinds of various media. Consequently, users associate each podcast with the content it contains. One might say “I’m listening to the news” while listening to a BBC podcast on the latest events as opposed to “I’m listening to a news podcast”. Most podcasts are available for free download and podcast publishers rely primarily on advertising revenue to sustain them. Thee revenues have increased dramatically in the very recent past. According to a case study by IAB podcast revenues in 2015 totaled 69 million dollars. By 2016 these figures had risen to 119 million and are projected to reach 220 million in 2017.in the past week Apple has released its beta version of advertisement analytics on podcasts. This information will provide podcast creators and advertising company more detailed information on who is listening and to what extent. While previously creators could access only the total number of downloads these new analytics will show how many downloaded podcasts actually get listened to, exactly how long they are listened to and perhaps most importantly whether or not listeners fast forward through advertisements. This new information could spurn additional investment on the part of advertisers but could also show these ads to be ineffective.
Angle 2: Cultural Representation
The resurgence of podcasts is a relatively recent phenomenon and thus their presence in popular media is limited. But the kids television show ICarly serves as an instance of cultural representation. The first episode of iCarly premiered on September 8, 2007 and the show lasted until November 23, 2012. The show centers around Carly Shay, a teenager living with her older brother in Los Angeles, and her two friends Sam Puckett and Freddie Benson. The premise of the show starts with Freddie, unbeknownst to them, recording Carly and Sam during a school talent show. Freddie, a tech wizard, posts the video online. The recording generates a wide viewership and the web audience gravitates towards Carly and Sam’s chemistry and humorous personas. Inspired by the reception the trio begin to produce regular episodes of their new web show, iCarly. Their web show features a wide range of mostly silly content, including talent contests, cooking tutorials, and famously (at least to fans of the show) random dancing. While the webcast obviously differs from the podcast, in that it features a visual aspect, it still bears many similarities to the podcast and iCarly highlights what would become some of the most important qualities of the podcast. The internet in general has increased the access of the public to a wide array of content but has also reduced the barriers to creating content and given a platform to produce content for almost anyone who desires to do so. Without home internet or even a computer people can still access the internet and all the content housed there with just a smartphone and at least theoretically create a podcast using only those same tools. The iCarly show created by a few teenagers with a webcam highlights this fact. Another interesting aspect of the iCarly show was the element of fan interaction. Bill Bradley, in his article 11 Things You Didn’t Know about iCarly, describes the process of fan interaction on the show. The iCarly website featured a section where views could submit commentary and the show would often feature videos submitted by real fans of the show doing similar activities to the ones featured on the fictional web show. The show also contained Carly and Sam’s reaction to the fan videos as part of the webcast. This aspect allowed viewers to feel connected to the characters and made them feel part of a collective community. Users were able to submit not only videos on themselves but also general feedback, which the writers and actors would often incorporate into the show. This stands in stark contrast to most traditional TV shows where viewers watch their favorite show and then wait for the next episode. This aspect of iCarly also highlights the openness and interactivity of the show and foreshadowed the way in which podcasts would operate. Podcasts also commonly feature interactions with the audience. With over 200,00 different podcasts on iTunes, each podcast has its own audience some more specific than others. This creation of communities establishes an intimate network. Consumers leave reviews which create more visibility in the public sphere and in terms of the algorithms on iTunes and other platforms that promote popular and widely discussed pods.
Angle 3: History
Podcasts have an interesting hand varied history. They are at their core broadcast media with a repurposed format. They can be traced back originally to radio broadcasts where personalities would present music or talk shows as entertainment for the home. As technology progressed radio become more portable with Walkman, car radios, and other mobile devices. But with governmental control over radio waves and only established entities having access, a significant barrier to entry presented itself and thus the people who could produce radio content were severely limited. They were limited in how they could listen, who they could listen to and when they could listen. The development of the web saw the advent of internet radio an important precursor to podcasts. The internet provided a centralized location for the aggregation of content. But the aggregated, subscription based model that also allowed downloads did not take shape until the early 2000s. The first device of this kind was i2Go. Originally priced at 500 dollars, the i2Go allowed users to automatically download episodic content from a companion website that featured programs on news and entertainment as well as music. While it was not particularly portable the advent of automatic downloads was groundbreaking and set the stage for podcasts. The project was short lived and i2Go folded during the dot-com crash.
Around 2000 two software developers, Dave Winer and Adam Curry theorized about solving the problems with delivering catered and downloadable content to users seamlessly as Todd Cochrane details in his book Podcasting: Do It Yourself Guide. They aimed to create a mechanism to download audio files from their favorite websites for later listening. They turned to RSS (Real Simple Syndication) as a springboard. Curry and Winer proposed using enclosures, or embedded content in RSS feeds to circumvent issues of bandwidth. Using basic software users could “catch” files embedded in these feeds automatically. Winer wrote a script that would then take these files and place them in a centralized location like an iTunes library. Users now had a way to efficiently download and aggregate content. This step, while seemingly innocuous was crucial for the implementation of podcasts distributed to the masses. Everyday user would likely be unable to program scripts or complete a multi-step process with multiple platforms. The automation and integration with a centralized library was critical to making the content easily accessible. Winer created a RSS feed for a colleague’s weblog that included enclosures. The weblog contained interviews with various political figures, and personalities. After accumulating enough interviews Winer released them as enclosures within the RSS feed. This was the first official podcast and the idea spurred on software engineers to improve upon the concept. As others borrowed from Winer and Curry the number of podcasts grew and radio shows began integrating internet access in their programming. While the technical workings of podcasting still seemed complex the relative costs of producing podcasts grew the number of content creators. The introduction of Apple into the podcasting market saw a huge rise in visibility of the medium. Apple, providing sleek and streamlined platform to consumers spurned a rise in everyday consumers removing podcasts from their previously specialized RSS arena. As the number of existing podcasts rose, so did the number of aggregators. Alternate platforms like PodcastAlley and The Podcast Network also housed countless programs and like Apple allowed users to search and discover new content. These added features and accessibility significantly grew the medium and set it up for the widespread success it enjoys today.
Perez, Sarah. “Apple launches its podcast analytics service into beta.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 14 Dec. 2017, techcrunch.com/2017/12/14/apple-launches-its-podcast-analytics-service-into-beta/.
Quah, Nicholas. “The Three Fundamental Moments of Podcasts’ Crazy Rise.” Wired, Conde Nast, 4 Oct. 2017, www.wired.com/story/podcast-three-watershed-moments/.
Stern, Jonathon . “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media and Society, vol. 8, no. 5, 1 Oct. 2006.
Bradley, Bill. “11 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘iCarly’.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Nov. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/23/icarly-trivia-facts_n_6196682.html.
Cochrane, Todd. “History of podcasting.” Blubrry Podcasting – Podcast Hosting, Statistics, WordPress Hosting, Syndication Tools and Directory, create.blubrry.com/manual/about-podcasting/history-of-podcasting-new/.
Doyle, Bob. “The First Podcast.” EContent Magazine, 7 Sept. 2005, www.econtentmag.com/Articles/ArticleReader.aspx?ArticleID=13515.