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July 22, 2005

The Podcast Disruption

[22 July 2005] I love radio. Here in Australia, I listen to Radio National while in Australia, and PBS when in the USA. Radio stimulates and informs in a way that leaves other media in the dust (for me, at least). And when, in 2003, Doug Kaye started IT Conversations, to provide audio conference sessions and interviews for download via the 'net, I quickly became addicted.

Doug somehow managed to get permission to record/distribute a terrific mix of speakers, which were totally within my "demographic". I was like the proverbial "pig in sh*t". Not only did he unearth old heroes (like Engelbart and Wozniak), he also introduced me to new ones like Clay Christensen and Bruce Schneier. Downloading MP3's was easy, it gave me something to listen to in the car, train and plane. And it was like having a radio station with programmes especially made for me. Meanwhile I continued to listen to the ABC or PBS, live or via their streaming services.

Innovator's Solution book cover
I don't read a lot of "business" books, but there are a few that I treasure, such as "The Cluetrain Manifesto", mentioned last week and Geoffrey Moore's books. Apart from introducing me to their authors "live", Doug and IT Conversations introduced me to "The Innovator's Solution" by Clay Christensen, a follow-up to his earlier bestseller "The Innovator's Dilemma". Clay's books (and conference speeches) are about the challenge faced by established companies when an innovation occurs, such as when Digital (Equipment Corp) lost its position when confronted by the rise of the desktop computer. Clay draws a clear distinction between disrupting and sustaining innovations, though. An example of a sustaining innovation is the effect of the Internet on banking. Existing banks achieved substantial efficiencies by agressively adopting online banking and so prevented internet startups from getting a foothold.

About twelve months ago, someone put two and two together and called it podcasting. And got everyone's attention. As is typical with this kind of thing, somehow we were all expected to start recording our thoughts and interviewing our friends... And of course the carpetbaggers moved in, pitching it to all and sundry.

So... is podcasting disruptive to existing radio broadcasters by allowing new players to start up or is it a sustaining innovation which will bring the incumbents further reach and reduced costs?

The real expense in broadcasting is in talent, editing and overall production value. Broadcasting (distribution) is the easy piece. For most of us, even if you have something interesting to say, it is deceptively hard to turn it into an attractive recording.

Doug Kaye's recording gear - lots of knobs!

Much harder than concisely writing down your thoughts (which is hard enough...), whatever some of the budding 'casters might think. Podcasting has made a marginal difference to me (I can now download my favourite ABC "shows" directly into iTunes). But sadly, IT Conversations lost my favorite weekly show, "The Gillmor Gang". Steve Gillmor probably thought there was nothing to it and decided he could produce it himself.... Just listen (if you can find it and if you can bear it) to his self-produced shows. And I'm not the only one totally turned off by their woeful production value.

Doug Kaye of course only made it look easy. He had years of experience in broadcasting and film. Guys like him can now build their own "broadcasting corporations". But will he? No, I think Doug realises that the Podcasting innovation is sustaining rather than disruptive to existing broadcasters. You can see our local ABC and the BBC already doing it with enthusiasm, it broadens their reach for little or no cost and they have lots of content which been paid for already. They have the talent and production values and (unlike record companies and music MP3) have little to lose and everything to gain.

Mind you, Doug has a vision for IT Conversation which is exciting and maybe even viable, at least for someone with his experience and reputation.

And Steve Gillmor needs to find a producer or go back to writing...

Posted by Marius at July 22, 2005 03:12 PM

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