Policy needed on podcasting


  1. Introduction
  2. iPod
  3. Not Quite Broadcasting
  4. Technology-neutral policy
  5. Advertising Business Model
  6. Consumers Will Pay for Specialist Content

    See Also

  7. Other Podcasting
  8. Home


Just like the movie Field of Dreams the internet was developed on the premise of build it and they will come, suggesting if the technology is good enough, people will find a way to use it.

It's questionable whether the internet pioneers foresaw many of the applications that would develop or anticipated the internet's huge commercial potential.


Take the case of Apple's iPod, launched in 2001 with the intent of changing the way people listen to music.

It has certainly fulfilled that potential but the bigger development has been the accompanying new trend in podcasting.

Podcasting began with digital music but quickly expanded to include audio books and video, with multimedia podcasts looming on the horizon as the technology improves.

One leading proponent of the technology is the ABC, which uses it to distribute many of its audio programs.

A benefit of podcasting is how it simplifies and streamlines digital content delivery, freeing users from needing to be online when their preferred material is being broadcast.

More capable applications are developing, such as the way the US military uses digital video to assist in repairing fighter aircraft.

From rock music to rocket engines, potential applications are endless.

Not Quite Broadcasting

Podcasting is really just stored-forward video for the masses.

It's not quite as immediate as broadcasting, but the addition of high bandwidth wireless internet looks set to change that.

Users think in terms of collecting content on their computer and downloading it to their MP3 player, but better wireless services will allow them to download content on the move.

As podcasting becomes real-time, the distinctions between internet distribution and broadcasting will become blurred.

In fact, podcasting could emerge as an efficient rival to broadcasting. This will create challenges not only for existing broadcasters, but for the federal Government in regulating such services.

The federal Government's Digital Content Industry Action Agenda Report, launched earlier this month by Information Technology Minister Senator Helen Coonan, had little to say about podcasting or internet broadcasting.

Although it makes a brief reference to moving away from control of market structures and efficiencies of scale, and having new market entrants, there is nothing specific to wireless broadcasting.

There appear to be no regulations preventing anyone from transmitting television content to wireless devices, although we do have regulations that restrict access to traditional broadcasting spectrum.

Technology-neutral policy

The ACS has always supported a technology-neutral policy that applies the same regulations, regardless of the type of bandwidth used.

The Government's digital broadcasting strategy has been widely criticised for blocking innovation, but its light touch with the internet has worked reasonably well.

The ACS, which contributed policy advice on the internet, web censorship and spam, expects podcasting will also benefit from limited regulation.

Technologists and information specialists such as librarians combined their knowledge to help policy makers come to terms with the internet and establish the Government's website structure. Similarly, we need to look to those who are literate in digital video for assistance in developing an appropriate podcasting policy.

Advertising Business Model

Questions remain as to whether internet broadcasting will make money, although experiments by Google and others to incorporate advertisements into podcasts suggest the potential is there.

Google has built a successful business with web-based advertising that combines Google's knowledge about the user's profile with links to active advertisement servers to deliver ads that are relevant and of interest. This technique is being applied to video also.

Revver.com is applying similar principles to provide digital videos supported by advertising tailored to the interests of the viewer and the needs of the advertiser.

Google's advertising for web pages relies on a live internet connection, but this approach will not work with podcasting.

Google and other online advertisers are testing a system that chooses and downloads appropriate ads with the content feed.

Consumers Will Pay for Specialist Content

This approach is probably of concern to broadcasters, but there is enormous potential for them to tailor and deliver content of interest to viewers and charge a premium for that service.

For several years, I subscribed to a digital television service on a fibre-optic cable. There were several channels, but I eventually cancelled it because all that caught my interest were the car shows, which accounted for about an hour of programming a week.

If offered these programs by podcast, I would happily watch them with locally inserted car advertisements.

If nothing else, my experience suggests consumers will pay for specialist content that interests them.

Published as "Policy needed on podcasting", The Australian, 28 March 2006

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