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Podcasting Grows Up at PNME 2007

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Those of you following my columns in Streaming Media magazine know that I recently became a convert to the world of podcasting, so much so that I decided to write a book about it, The Podcasting Bible. I decided to attend this year’s Podcast and New Media Expo to get a feel for where the podcasting industry is, and where it’s headed. I’m happy to report that podcasting is alive and kicking, the organizers of PNME put on a great show.

The Podcast and New Media Expo is in its third year of existence, and has up until this point taken place at the relatively humble location of Ontario, California, which is a somewhat sleepy industrial neighborhood of east Los Angeles. Though the location might seem a bit inauspicious, the Ontario Conference Center is a nice mid-sized facility, and the proximity of Ontario airport and plenty of cheap hotels nearby makes travel a snap. It was with mixed feelings that the crowd learned that the 2008 PNME will be held in Las Vegas. On the one hand, it’s a great sign that the industry is expanding, and Las Vegas adds a certain degree of "respectability," but to be honest I think a lot of folks will miss the feisty upstart nature of the event up to this point.

The first thing to strike me was how well the organizers understood their audience. Since podcasting grew out of blogging, it’s obvious most of the attendees are bloggers, and will want to blog live throughout the event. To this end, the organizers provided tables and power strips to the first few rows, and reserved these seats for "laptop users." No more leaning against the back wall by the electrical outlets! Wireless connectivity was ubiquitous and—get this—free. Given the number of attendees, the throughput was sometimes slow as molasses, but the sentiment was there. It’s about time that all tech conferences realized that attendees don’t want to check their email at kiosks—they want free wireless.<>
The audience ranged from podcasting newbies looking for the most basic information to veterans looking for ways to generate more revenue. The exhibition floor was large and lively, and included podcasting service providers, audio and video equipment distributors, and podcast aggregators; even Nokia had a booth demonstrating the podcast abilities of their latest handsets. More than once I found myself wondering why some of these companies weren’t exhibiting at any of the Streaming Media conferences.

The Show Floor: Business and Technical Solutions Abound
A number of exhibitors caught my eye. Since I’m a well known gear head, Revolabs’ xTag wireless microphone system was bound to get me excited. Their system uses a previously deserted part of the gigahertz spectrum, so no worries about interference. The mics are small and unobtrusive, and communicate with a small base unit that you attach to a USB port. One charge lasts eight hours, so you can talk as long as you want.

Tubemogul is a video distribution service that automatically uploads your video to a wide variety of video sharing sites. That’s only the beginning, though. Where their service really adds value is by aggregatingthe statistics from all the sites, so you can see statistics for all your videos, broken out by site. The service is free, with a paid version available next year adding additional functionality.

Beat9 enables banner advertising in your audio and video podcasts. Audio podcasts get slideshow-type ads displayed, and video podcasts get banners added across the top. Beat9 work with advertisers and agencies to find interested advertisers for you, and track the number of impressions and click throughs.

Podango and Kiptronic, two of the bigger players in the industry, announced a strategic partnership where Podango will make Kiptronic’s ad insertion technology available on their P2 Platform, which is a publishing service for podcasters. Kiptronic has also licensed Nielsen’s SiteCensus technology for third party verification of downloads.

Conference Sessions: A Willingness to ShareThe conference was divided into four tracks: Podcasting 101, Attracting and Growing Your Audience, Business and Monetization, and Advanced Creation Techniques. Although there was a bit of crossover between panel topics, discussion was generally lively and informative. The conference attendees and panelists spanned a wide variety of industries and interests, so there was a lot of healthy cross-pollination.

The most refreshing aspect of the conference was panelists’ willingness to share information. People talked openly about pricing models and revenues. They talked openly about their audience numbers. They swapped tips about marketing and promotion. Compare that to most conferences where panelists are "not at liberty to discuss" the things you’re most interested in. For example, I wanted to know how many subscribers a podcast needed to attract advertisers. The answer: roughly two thousand. How much do people charge for their audio ads? Fifty dollars, per ten seconds, per thousand impressions. Ask a question, and you’d get an answer.

Maybe this is why the conference, and podcasting as a whole, feels fresh and exciting. There’s a feeling of community and cooperation that has been missing from streaming media for a while now. Having been in this industry for over a decade I may be betraying my own frustrations, but I wonder why our industry seems to have stalled while podcasting and user-generated content sites bask in the spotlight. Clearly the answer is community. As my buddy Steve Safran from Lost Remote says, the Internet is a social medium, first and foremost. If you neglect this, you’ve missed the point.

All in all, judging by the enthusiasm of the attendees and exhibitors, podcasting is shaping up to be the latest digital media distribution channel with a healthy future. There’s significant growth in audience figures, revenues are up, and the consolidation many predicted last year is beginning to happen. If you want to get involved, the timing is right, and PNME 2008 should be on your list for next year.

P.S. If anyone from Information Today is reading this - can we have tables and power outlets at our conferences too?

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