Subscribed: Potential in Podcasting

It can give you fame, it can make you a leader, and it can even get you a job. The term “podcasting” can be defined as “the distribution of discrete audio (and now video) programs over the Internet” (Huntsberger). These days, not only do people hold their favorite music on their portable music players, but their favorite programs just also might be readily on cue. Consumers generally watch or view these podcasts for free, but a lot of time and effort is involved behind the show’s producers, be they professional or amateur at what they do. As shown through Show Me Your News and other similar programs, the burgeoning practice known as podcasting is an underrated example when it comes to achieving peer acclaim, building a virtual community, and growing commerce potential.

Time and again, when podcast hosts are interviewed about their show’s humble beginnings, the same sentiment is declared. Wonder is typically present, as something along the lines of “I had no idea it would be this successful” or “I can’t believe it has come this far” is usually uttered. As a technology that has only recently surfaced in the past decade, the art of podcasting takes different forms regarding the reasons people have for creating their first show. To elaborate, as this study’s main podcast example, Show Me Your News was created in July 2007 by a 19-year-old video game enthusiast with the online handle of Youko. As an aspiring musician and sound engineer, Youko had worked with varieties of audio before, but podcasting was a field he had yet to venture into. With a high-quality studio microphone at his disposal and a few years of public speaking experience behind him, the podcast which documented the hype before the release of the popular game Super Smash Bros. Brawl was born. It is only natural to assume that each aspiring podcaster must face the immense difficulty in the show’s creation of finding the proper topic and purpose for discussion. However, while discovering a podcast’s topic may seem like the most imperative issue, it is actually a show’s niche audience that will ultimately drive the overall success of the podcast. For Show Me Your News, it was fans of a game that eventually sold 1.4 million copies in its first week of release (Nintendo). Whether it is something as broad as people who enjoy amusing web videos, or “a handful of people [who] might want to brush up on their bonjours and au revoirs,” determining a podcast’s eventual fanbase is actually of the utmost importance (Park). As a broadcaster, knowledge of your target audience and their likes, as well as their dislikes, allows you to speak on a more personal level with them. People appreciate when personal connections are made in real life, and when one hosts an internet show such as a podcast, an even bigger gap must be bridged between producer and listener to achieve the same, one-on-one result. After all, if the host is not reaching his target audience optimally, then all the work he has put into the show is for nothing.

Once the target audience has been identified, the goal then becomes how to produce and distribute the podcast. On the content front, there are different formats that have proven to be successful for podcast producers. Like how Show Me Your News began, most amateurs take the approach of having themselves act as the only host of the show. In fact, they usually are the ones in charge of the entire operation, which may seem like a lot of work, but the personal reward is worth it if the show reaches even the slightest level of popularity. However, some hosts take approaches of having a steady co-host week-to-week, asking different people to co-host as guests, or even running call-in shows just like talk radio. Regardless of the format, structure is vital when it comes to maintaining a listener’s attention. If the speakers are randomly spouting nonsense that has nothing to do with the show’s topic, most people will simply not care to listen. In order for fans to actually pay attention on what is being said, voices must be clearly audible, which takes some technical know-how. “The [number one] mistake most podcasters make is they have the audio levels wrong,” which can be fatal in terms of the staying power of a show (Park). Because of Youko’s background experience in sound engineering, he was able to make his voice at the appropriate volume with ideal sound quality, which set him way above other amateur podcasters and created a high point of praise for Show Me Your News in the process. As for getting the show out for those to listen to, the most common way for podcasters to do so is to find a way to host their MP3 files online and then upload their show to iTunes. This way, listeners from across the world can find and download the podcast for free, which helps in the distribution. The home-based show that is put up on iTunes is the most common type of podcast that can be found on the Internet, which usually references childhood practices of making one’s own radio show on a tape recorder. Digital technology combined with Internet distribution has now allowed anyone to put their voice out in the new public sphere free of charge. However, only those with true devotion to this craft can make a name for themselves. Doing so generally involves venturing into the realm of interacting with your fans in a centralized virtual community.

For some podcast producers, simply having their work on iTunes suffices all expectations that they had for their show. Their voice is on the World Wide Web for anybody to download for free, so a fanbase is sure to grow somehow. However, those who aspire for more results out of their effort head to virtual communities where they can attract potential listeners. For Youko, the ideal place to pitch and advertise Show Me Your News was at Smash World Forums, the largest Super Smash Bros. community on the Internet. Looking for listeners by adding another podcast to the vast pool of shows that exist on iTunes, hoping that fans stumble across the show through a search is a passive way of looking for success. However, actively promoting the podcast to fans that would be directly interested in the subject matter is an ideal strategy. Not only does the fanbase for the podcast immediately begin to grow, but there are individuals who become so interested in the show, that they become a sort of “braintrust” for fan feedback. It is this sort of interpersonal interaction that makes a virtual community paramount for a podcast’s extended success. Not only do listeners get to discuss what works and what does not work for the podcast in an open forum, but the host gets to read this feedback and make improvements, optimizing the show’s content. However, it is essential that the feedback is for the most part positive. If a host is swamped with negative comments, it can be very disheartening, leaving him to question if all the effort he is putting into the podcast is really worth it. As certain individuals contribute more often to the podcast’s success, the host will make web-based friendships with them, taking their advice closer to heart compared to others. Once again, this was the case with Youko’s podcast in its beginning days. After asking for contributions from fans to have their voices directly heard on the show, he received an impressive entry from an individual named SamuraiPanda. After communications between the two, Youko and SamuraiPanda realized that they attended the same university, and after meeting face-to-face, they decided on changing the podcast’s format for the better. With this, SamuraiPanda became Youko’s co-host and the format changed from being scripted to being outlined in a roundtable style. Fans responded positively, but it was only because of the virtual community of Smash World Forums that the hosts of Show Me Your News were able to gauge this reaction.

As soon as the podcast has reached notability on one virtual community, its scope begins to branch out as other communities become aware of its existence through word of mouth. Not only do fans start to tell their friends about the latest thing hitting the web, but these individuals start to “develop the infrastructure for supporting critical dialogue, [produce] annotated program guides, [provide] regular production updates, and [create] original fan stories and artwork” (Jenkins 142). In this way, podcasts are no different to television programs when it comes to fan culture. In order for a podcast to be successful and for it to be fairly comparable to a television show, reliability is essential. When a listener’s favorite web-based show delivers on a consistent, scheduled basis, trust is established between the viewer and the show. Also, since production studios do not control podcasts like they do television programs, podcast hosts are freer to whatever they want to do with their show. However, since hosts generally do not earn any money for all their work, fans appreciate this unrewarded effort far more, especially if the host interacts with his fans in the virtual community. This gratitude can be shown in several ways – fans of podcasts have been known to draw artwork of their favorite show moments or even make YouTube videos of their top ten favorite instances in the podcast’s history. Not only were these fan gestures appropriated on Show Me Your News’ behalf, but hosts Youko and SamuraiPanda were rewarded with leadership positions in the Super Smash Bros. Brawl community at Smash World Forums for the names they had made for themselves. The administrators at this virtual community were looking for leaders to become moderators for their forums, and with these promotions, Youko and SamuraiPanda were the biggest names in the largest Smash Bros. community on the Internet, all because of a podcast. Becoming moderators helped Show Me Your News’ notability, in addition to furthering the forum-wide reputation that Youko and SamuraiPanda were devoted leaders with fascinating things to say, since they had a way to spread their voices. As a single podcast dominated one virtual community and started to spread to others, the next step was to wonder if this was the limit of what podcasting could achieve.

In today’s media society, expansion is always a key phrase. Movies and television programs do not get much consideration unless there are different tie-in products that can be produced in conjunction with the original media. So, what is it that makes an internet show like a podcast popular? In an economy where hits mean everything, “with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance. And the differences are profound” (Anderson 8). This means that with so many podcasts that are online, the distinguishing difference between the successful and the start-up is the diversification of how the show is presented online. Especially when its hosts are on a college budget, the best kind of free advertising to do is to have different websites that support the podcast. Four different varieties of websites drive a theoretical podcast dispersion model, in order to accrue the maximum amount of hits. First of all, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are essentials in this web-driven era. These allow the hosts to stay in touch with fans by giving status updates regarding production notes. Success can be quantified with these websites through numbers of friends or followers, and links to media produced by the podcast can easily be dispersed to everyone connected to these social networking pages. The second type of website is that of the live broadcast service, such as Stickam, UStream, and JustInTV. These are similar to the social networking sites in terms of measuring achievement through number of friends and views, but the purpose is entirely different. Live broadcast sites can allow podcast hosts to not only video chat with fans, but broadcast episodes of their show as they are being recorded live. Speaking of video sites, it is almost essential in this day in age for podcasts to have a YouTube account to store their media for streaming purposes. This contributes to the idea of cultural memory, as YouTube can “offer new and remediating relationships to texts that indicate changes and acceleration of spectatorial consumption” (Hildebrand 49). Show Me Your News has recently taken full advantage of this, as they have shifted to a video podcast, which allows for a greater connection with fans. The ease of video stream allows for the analysis of facial inflections and other video cues, instead of purely audio episodes, where many things had to be inferred. Finally, it is extremely important for each podcast to have a home website, which allows for media downloads and other information. This homepage can used on every other website for viewers to learn more about the podcast itself, but a cookie-cutter homepage made by free services might not suffice if the show becomes popular. “Your Net provider likely gives you space you could use, but if your podcast catches fire, it might strain the bandwidth and get you in trouble,” which could result in shelling out a lot of money (Park). With social networking sites, a live broadcast site, a YouTube page, and a home website, a lot of ground is covered in terms of getting a podcast’s name out there for minimal cost. Yet, there is still expansion and potential that can occur beyond this step, which can involve money and the corporate level.

As it has been expressed so far, most podcasts are a labor of love, since most hosts do not get paid for the hard work that they do. So at what point in the podcast’s history is it fair to discuss cold, hard cash? The unfortunate truth is that most original shows will not be successful enough to earn any money. Many of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes usually involve an audio or an abridged version of established television programs, such as ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and G4’s Web Soup. It is easy to see that these programs have already had their start in a medium where money was already being made before venturing into the online realm. Continuing to use Show Me Your News as a podcast example, for the two years they have been podcasting, Youko and SamuraiPanda have only earned $150 apiece, which was for their efforts as moderators for Smash World Forums. Currently, they are trying to make contact with the company Major League Gaming, in hopes that their show can be picked up and sponsored. However, this is a hope and a prayer, which only further demonstrates the labor of love that is involved in podcasting. If anything, podcasters can take the skills that they have learned from the production process and use them in future work careers. Traits such as public speaking, fan/customer interaction, web media distribution, and more on a distinct time schedule can come in handy when in the job market. Above all, the devotion to something that does not produce a material reward can be seen as admirable, as it shows the power behind doing something one enjoys. As it stands today, podcasting is still a new technology, but there are those who are trying to push this type of web material as something more than pure entertainment. University of Oregon professor Alan Stavitsky is known for being one of the first individuals to create a podcast called AI Pod for his class and then document its advantages and disadvantages in a learning environment. The results that followed from the professor’s post-podcast survey were rather intriguing – 89% of the students listened to the podcast at least once and students were favorable of its convenience, both in terms of time flexibility and textbook material coordination (Huntsberger). If podcasts are becoming more mainstream, especially in learning environments, great things are possible for the technology’s future, which might include taking the web-based medium seriously in the job market. Anything is possible, as long as there is the ease of Internet downloads at the world’s disposal.

In the past decade in which they have been possible due to high-speed internet connections, podcasts have been shown to be very relevant in a networked world. The selfless efforts that amateur podcasters put into their shows can make one a person of note on the internet, make them a leader in virtual communities, and give them skills that help in the workforce. Show Me Your News is just one example of an audio program that has extended beyond the realms of simply being on iTunes, but it certainly took a lot of effort to have it do so. In fact, through writing an autobiographical research paper on the topic, one could even say they have learned a lot through self-reflection.

Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail.” Change This. 14 Dec 2004. 18 Aug 2009 .
Hilderbrand, Lucas. “YouTube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 1, September 2007, pp. 48-57.
Huntsberger, Michael. “The New “Podagogy”: Incorporating Podcasting into Journalism Education.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 61(2007): 397-411.
Jenkins, Henry. “Interactive Audiences? The Collective Intelligence of Media Fans,” in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers. New York: New York University Press, 2006, pp. 134-151.
Park, Andrew. “So You Want To Be An Internet Star.” Business Week 28 Nov 2005: 124.
Spezia, Peter. Show Me Your News. 08 July 2007. Smash World Forums. Podcast. 18 Aug 2009.
“Super Smash Bros. Brawl Smashes Nintendo Sales Records.” Nintendo. 17 Mar 2008. 18 Aug 2009.

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Peter Spezia

Editor-in-Chief at Rhymes With Asia
Speaking into a microphone about nerd culture is a passion project for Peter Spezia, formerly known as SMYNYouko. Peter has been an Internet broadcaster since 2007, with past shows including Show Me Your News and WTF, Pokémon. His latest ventures include hosting The PowerSwitch - gaming's call-in talk radio show - and writing for A University of Michigan alum, Peter lives in the Great Lakes State with his wife Rachel as he works in video production for FCA US LLC. When he isn't keeping track of the latest video game industry news, Peter is either playing the guitar or staying fit.