Wharton Business School Asks If Podcasting Can Make Money
July 15, 2005

Over the last twelve months, FMQB has twice examined podcasting.  We first introduced the concept last fall, talking with Adam Curry about his ideas and how the concept works.  More recently, we reviewed the state of the technology, looking back over the first part of 2005, while also keeping an eye on the future.  As podcasting continues to grow and make headlines, it is only natural that the academic world would weigh in on the topic.  Enter The Wharton School Of Business at the University Of Pennsylvania.

In an article released this week titled "Podcasting: Can This New Medium Make Money?," the renouned staff at Wharton took a close look at podcasting, moving from an overview of the technology through the business possibilities and into prognastications for the future.  Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader opens the dialogue, saying, "A lot of the attention has been overdone, but podcasting is not going away.  It will continue to grow and resources will be thrown at it. Some will do podcasting well and be rewarded for it."  Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach then lends his opinion. He agrees that the technology is more than a fad, but also admits the ultimate effect on listening habits is still unsure. "Podcasting is a nice way to package up spoken audio content the way MP3s have already packaged up music," says Werbach.  "For people listening to the radio or music on the go, it will increase the amount of non-music content they hear, but it won't dramatically change listening patterns."

The real question in the article is not where podcasting will end up, but instead if there is money to be made.  The article makes two points that attempt to answer that question.  First, (as FMQB also pointed out) podcasting is simply another form of narrowcasting and as a result, there is a built in niche audience which could prove valuable.  Second, the writers touch on the idea of time-shifting, saying that that feature could be the most compelling aspect of the technology.  Both of these thoughts seem to set up a viable market.

With the stage set, the article moves into the current state of the business of podcasting, looking at Apple's recent integration of the technology into iTunes and the probable competition from Microsoft and RealNetworks.  The writer also touches on the business models that are currently available:  aggregation, subscriptions, advertising, a model labeled "transparent advertising" (i.e. sponsorship), and a hybrid or combination of several of these.

The article closes by leaving the future fairly wide open but mentions the radio and record industries as examples.  In contrast to what many insiders believe today, it claims that broadcast radio is "under siege from the iPod, podcasting and satellite radio" and says that "the industry will have to respond somehow."  A close look at the number of radio companies that are already podcasting suggests that the industry is being more proactive (and helping to advance the medium in the process) than reactive.  The writer also indicates that music labels are at risk, saying "If music labels don't license their content, they lose a viable distribution channel and ultimately get usurped by sites like Garageband.com."

For the full text of this and similar articles, visit the Knowledge @ Wharton Web site.

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Mark Adams
San Francisco

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