THE PODFATHER: Part One
WITH DOWNLOADABLE BROADCASTS, ADAM CURRY
HELPS USHER RADIO INTO THE DIGITAL AGE.
By : Laura A. Locke.
ADAM CURRY lives for ambient noise.Whether it’s a cough, a sneeze or traffic, Curry makes use of everyday sounds to record his hit podcast, The Daily Source Code. Bloopers don’t exist. Rambling, interruplions, urns, even drawn-out silences become part of his shows.
In Episode 224, he’s vacationing with his family in San Francisco during one of the foggiest summers on record. ....... Hold on.... I’m reaching back to grab .... some money for the toll ..... [rustling]. .... It’s foggy again today. You can barely see the Bay Bridge........
To Curry, 41, and his fans, musings about mundane matters like the weather and driving through tollbooths are aural gems, all part of the intimate sound romps he creates for more than 100,000 listeners worldwide. He likens his audio meanderings to radio’s heyday, when it invoked the “theater of the mind. “Listening sucks:’ he says about today’s corporate-controlled radio and homogenized programming. “When do you hear a room breathe?”
To remedy radio’s dearth of originality and authenticity and make it on-demand and portable, Curry created the world’s first podcast— a downloadable digital audio file (MP3)—a year ago . Since then, some 10,000 original podcasts—most by amateurs talking about everything from their sex lives to their favorite Cabernets —have emerged, creating an entirely new mediurn. This summer podcasting be-came a full-blown craze, marked by the word’s entry into the Oxford English Dict-ionary. Lance Armstrong has one . So does Donald Trump. “It’s one of the quickest trends I’ve seen in 12 years:’ says Jeremy Welt, vice president of new media at Warner Music Group. For the first time in radio history, audiences can “shape their own listening experience,” says Jack Isquith, head of music-industry relations at AOL, which, like TIME, is a unit of Time Warner.
Unlike traditional radio, podcasting needs no studio, broadcast tower or hushed quiet. Best of all, there’s no Federal Communications Commission regulation. Hosts can say what they like for as long as they like. Profanity works too. The Daily Source Code, although not quite “daily:’ is taped on the fly with a small recorder and a mike while Curry soaks up the scene, wherever he happens to be—sitting in bed with his wife, piloting a helicopter or fixed-wing airplane (he has licenses for both) or taking a midnight stroll.
Known as the PodFather, Curry, a former MTV VJ, is the face of this new cult-ural phenomenon—and he may just be the first person to figure out how to make real money off it. Until now podcasts were personal sound bites—a bit like audio versions of blogs. There has been no advertising. PodShow Inc., Curry’s new San Francisco-based company, which aims to commercialize podcasting, just landed $8.9 million in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley powerhouses behind Yahoo! and Google. PodShow aims to bring podcasting to the masses. “Whoever wants to podcast should be able to do that for free—no matter what—and we’re going to facilitate that. And if you want to kick it up and monetize it, make a business out of it or have it be part of your business, we’re going to be there for you,” Curry told TIME. He isn’t alone. Another San Francisco—based start-up, Odeo, also recenfly won funding and promises to make podcasting easy and profitable. In Seattle, Melodeo secured $11 million to bring podcasting to mobile phones.
When it comes to commercial possibilities, PodShow has a wide lead. Boasting a collection of 7,000 shows, the company owns the largest directory of podeasts, including portals such as iPodder.org and PodcastAlley.com. Indexing technology created by PodShow underlies the latest version of Apple’s iTunes, which features free podcasts from big media like ESPN, CNN and ABC, as well as from quirky amateurs. Called PodFinder, it’s the world’s first audio directory to help listeners browse, search, discover and subscribe to podeasts. PodShow claims that 4 million listeners access its content—about half the estimated podcasting audience . The company produces some of today’s hottest content, including podcasts for Paris Hilton, Spike Lee and The Dawn and Drew Show! (raw talk from two married ex-punks living in a Wisconsin farmhouse) and shows for media companies like Sirius Satellite Radio. It plans to promote independent artists and royalty-free music podcasts.
The real money, of course, comes from advertising; $30 billion is spent annually on radio ads, and Mark Kvamme of Sequoia Capital sees podcasting grabbing a chunk. “You can easily see it as a billion-dollar advertising market,” he says. Internet audio advertising, he estimates, will capture 3% to 4% of all radio advertising over the next 5 to 10 years. “It’s a very targeted medium,” he says, and “a great place for an advertiser to hit specific audiences’ Curry is betting that podcasting will deliver new ways of selling—allowing advertisers to go beyond product placement and permeate the content. “The show could actually be the advertisement,” he says. “Dawn and Drew not just talking about Durex products—you know, condoms and lube—but actually demonstrating them on their show. So much for the idea of raw independent content. Curry doesn’t seem to have any qualms about blurring ads with content.
Vox Vodka, one of the earliest companies to grasp podcasting’s promotional value, recently launched a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to reach trend-setting consumers. Vox-supported podcasts air on Infinity Broadcasting’s KYOU Radio, the first all-podcasting station in San Francisco. Each week it features 25 regularly scheduled podcasts, some with commercial sponsors. Station manager Stephen Page has a “podbank” filled with more than 3,200 programs—all created by listeners, like Worldbeat Radio from Paris, a blues show from Iowa, and Guy Bauer, a 30-minute variety show. About 15 new podcasts arrive daily, he says. Launched in May, 2005, the new format has attracted 8,200 registered listeners. Radio isn’t dying; it’s just going digital: expect to see radio stations roll podcasting into their regular broadcast mix, including streaming audio (real time—not downloadable). Infinity Broadcasting considers KYOU Radio an experiment with on-demand and user-generated content. “Radio has a chance to stay ahead of the curve,” Page says.
Meanwhile, Clear Channel, the nation’s largest station owner, is amping its online presence. More than 600 stations have redesigned their websites, now reaching 10 million people a month, and 2.6 million podcasts (with ads) have been downloaded since June. In August, AOL Radio introduced podcasting to its 16 million monthly listeners. “We’re very bullish on podcasting,” says Isquith. “Millions of people are interested in the on-demand experience. As for now AOL’s podcasts are commercial free, but that may change. “In podcasting, there are no rules,” Curry says. “You don’t have to do it to make money. If you want to do a podcast for your friends and family, that’s great” But if you can make money off it, even better!
INSIDE BUSINESS..October 2005. (Pgs. A20-24)
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