This is taken from the text of the presentation I made at the AOP Conference, Oct 4th 2006, now “printed” in Podcast User Magazine.

With newspapers using podcasting to occupy broadcast territory and seizing their chance to use the internet to reverse their falling readership and declining advertising revenue, and with broadcasters following the internet example set by the BBC, moving ever more confidently into on-demand content, there is a growing interest from the commercial sector in podcasting; but while Ricky Gervais, Baddeil and Skinner, Chris Moyle may (or may not!) be the household names which the general British public associates with podcasts, there exists a distinctive and established podcast culture out there, which stands out markedly from traditional offerings.

Typically low-budget, relatively low-tech, podcast content is sometimes derided as shoddy, said to inhabit geek niches, and to be entirely irrelevant to your average viewer or listener, but this is far from the truth.

Most podcasts, in fact, are made by untrained people, speaking in their own voices, without editorial interference, and although they may not appear in the iTunes top ten, these non-commercial podcasts make up the vast majority of podcast culture.

Podcast producers tend to operate locally, and they work comfortably within content niches, from situations that television and radio cannot reach. But that being said, a lot of podcasts conform to normal program-making rules, and generally production standards are high, especially in the UK.

The widespread appeal of this home-produce is precisely that it is by and large stripped of the excess packaging and mindless repetition that weighs down television and radio and offers non-standardised content, uncensored views and unique perspectives… and because it’s being self-produced and largely un-edited, it often has a freshness and a naturalness that is missing from corporately derived content.

We first saw the attraction of this sort of content in Britain in the successful and influential BBC series, Video Nation, born in 1993, where people were given support to make their own short videos.

Video Nation came from a Community Programmes initiative and distributed cameras in homes across Britain for filming everyday lives. The Guardian said of the first series,

“The immediacy of these programmes is entirely different to anything shot by a crew. There seems to be nothing between you, not even the glass…”

This immediacy came as a blast of fresh air, and it has been a significant driver of audio-visual culture since that time. The result was many awards and a format that was extended and widely copied.

Podcasting is full of the kind of home-produced priceless gems that Video Nation gave us, and its appeal is precisely that it often gives us a more real version of reality than TV or radio can offer.

As J.G. Ballard said,

“There’s been a huge surge in popularity of so-called Reality TV shows. I think this reflects a tremendous hunger among people for “reality” – for ordinary reality. IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO FIND THE ‘REAL’ because the environment is totally manufactured. Even one’s own home is a kind of anthology of advertisers, manufacturers, motifs and presentation techniques… we’re living inside commercials. I think people realise this, and they’re desperate for reality…” *

I think it is no accident that this upsurge in dis-intermediated culture – where the middleman of broadcaster or publisher has been removed – comes at a time when tabloid-driven reality TV is becoming stylised, garish and spiteful in order to maintain its audience.


Most of the 250 or so independent UK podcasters consider themselves program makers. Yet, among podcasters as much as podcast users, there is a recognition across the board that podcast culture, as made by podcasters, is quite different from podcasts which are merely extensions of conventional broadcast or publishing into the medium. Repurposed TV or radio programs are especially deemed not to be REAL podcasts, and music programs with the music removed are a prime example of mainstream media insanity, as far as they are concerned. This generalisation represents a fairly typical attitude, but it is an attitude that stems from knowledge about the breadth, depth and variety of podcasting, rather than from ignorance.

Podcasting is less than two years old, and among the early adopters, there is a certain amount of peer pressure; but this pressure is mainly non-conformist – in other words, the desire is to remain original and not to ape the out-dated structures of the old media, which are seen by the most passionate proponents of the new medium to have practically exhausted themselves and to be blindly stuck in a self-serving, dead-end loop.

So, morale among podcasters is high, and there is a lot of insight by practitioners about their practice. Nonetheless, podcasters do aspire to achieve the audiences that traditional media enjoy, and this effectively creates an environment of competitive invention and generally drives standards higher.

Conrad Slater is a video podcaster, from Spainful Films, who has produced many hours of character-based scripted comedy; this is part of Conrad’s response in a forum to a certain hard-working podcaster who started to adopt some traditional radio formats for his show in his search for a bigger audience, a move that attracted a certain amount of derision in the podcast community. Conrad explained the psychology and went on to illuminate the appeal of the alternative approach:

“What has made podcasting so popular has been honesty. Honesty often at the expense of ego which challenges all previous media that has gone before it; the packaged and prepared DJ radio voice, the hidden agendas and political bias of news media, and an otherwise marketing driven corporate sponsored popular culture.

With no financial incentive but driven by a desire simply to communicate honestly, podcasters, at their best have created compelling content that at times successfully showcased a genuine indifference to personal validation or success and instead have been honest, human personal records chronically (sic) ones self at any given time.

And it is these shows that I personally like as do many other listeners.”

Most podcasters are not frustrated just because they don’t have a radio or television transmitter, since podcast audiences are growing fast. And in fact, several UKPA podcasters simultaneously make content for broadcast.

Founder-member “Podcast” Paul Nicholls will this month podcast for the BBC from Swaziland, Markettiers4DC makes brand-sponsored podcasts (for example, for Vodafone) alongside conventional radio and TV. In 2006, my own work with John Cleese led to my company Funk, producing content destined for radio and television and using podcasting to get it there.

So we are entering the phase where as traditional industries start to use podcasting, podcast culture as made by podcasters starts to feed back into and change these industries.


The new podcast industry is vibrant and energetic. There are over 60,000 podcasts out there, and there is a podcast audience population of many millions worldwide. New businesses are being built up on the basis of podcast activity – Podbridge, PodTrac, Kiptronic, Feedburner – all with their sights set on capturing the advertising revenue from podcasts. Venture capitalists are providing millions to fuel the commercialisation of podcasting – Adam Curry’s PodShow announced recently that it’s just received another 15 million dollars.

Feedburner.com: 68,465 podcasts including feeds with video reaching 5,105,602 aggregate subscribers (as of 9/26/06) – and that’s an estimate based on just one of several widely used services.

But this commercial drive stems from a real internet phenomenon – the social web, of which podcasting is a major strand – and it’s all based on the unpaid activities of many thousands of enthusiasts who are putting out thousands of hours a week of programming, innovating with formats and technology and constructing new business models as they significantly develop this new industry.

The UK is at the hub of global podcasting. There is a lot of grassroots energy in this country, and there are several hives of community activity which attract the more gregarious podcasters, with regular meet-ups being organised across the country. This helps to create a self-informed, technology-, business- and culture-savvy community that directly affects podcasting, and it is influencing its current shape and future direction.

The relatively easy availability of high-quality audio and video hardware combined with decently powerful personal computers and broadband is also fuelling this particular boom, and converging media standards across platforms makes interoperability the norm.

It would be entirely wrong to suggest that there isn’t a lot of technical innovation going on in podcasting, containing as it does endless variations of format, including enhanced podcasts, mobile podcasting, gaming, dating and so forth.

But it is because it uses RSS, the innovation that also powers blogs, that podcasting is changing society, by affecting personal content usage and by providing new options for personal content production, especially in the area of group collaborations.

RSS is essentially used by podcasters as an effective, low-cost means of international distribution; but it also fundamentally changes the one-to-many publishing / broadcast paradigm that we are all used to, because it is such a simple technology that it enables a whole new way of participating in culture.

RSS was identified by Tim O’Reilly in 2005 as a key component of Web 2.0, and Tim makes the point that this is not just a technical change but also offers a new business model. He says,

The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls “we, the media,” a world in which “the former audience”, not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.


Brian Greene, from Doop Design, founder of PodRepBod, the Irish equivalent to UKPA, says:

“As a podcaster with a decent-sized audience, people do ask me, how many people listen to my podcast. But it’s not about how many people listen to my podcast; it’s about how many podcasts I can listen to…”

This understanding really does show up the difference between podcasters who perceive the medium holistically and podcasters who think it is just another branch of their particular industry. As a podcaster, you are not operating in a vacuum; you are not apart from your audience; you are in the middle of, and adding to, an ongoing many-threaded conversation.

Podcasting, powered by RSS, evolves content production into a many-to-many, dialogue / commentary / community-based paradigm, where the producer is also a consumer, and we can see this working in the way podcasters cooperate, aggregate and combine their feeds.

For example, the Britcaster site is a website which does two things: it combines feeds from a group of UK podcasters into one, and it provides a podcast community forum.

The benefits are that the podcast audiences grow as people subscribe to the combined feed and find new programs they like. In the forum, podcasters share skills, give production and technical tips, solve problems, argue pros and cons, and alert one another to pitfalls and scams. Britcaster has also been the place where several new social and business organisations have found form, including the UKPA and the annual PodCastCon.

So, this kind of collective podcasting allows an organic sharing of experience, and it provides a straightforward way to combine multiple intelligences; and this creates a hothouse for development very effectively. Good ideas are born and flourish, bad ideas shot to pieces and dropped. RSS allows national and international enterprises to be enabled overnight and cuts the development curve of a new idea down from months to weeks, or even days.


Whether they produce their shows commercially or privately, most podcasters tend not to employ excessive production tricks, clever editing or special effects, but instead rely on original turns of phrase, quirky accents, insight, ambient noise and genuine passion to make their shows authentic and compelling.

And this approach seems to work. UK podcasters punch far above their weight in terms of audience numbers – podcasting is something we Brits seem to be very good at.

Within the UKPA, we are involved in every aspect of podcast creation and production, including audio, video, film-making, live performance, citizen journalism, websites of every flavour, search, hosting and traditional format magazines.

Within that astonishingly broad range of production activities, topics vary from comedy to cold-calling, photography to football, poetry to pornography, technology to travel, knitting to nightlife. And of course, there’s a huge amount of music – artists, labels, managers, promoters and retailers, all selling music via podcasting, the vast majority using legitimately licensed material outside the mainstream.


Everybody I meet who is involved in media has a different take on podcasting. I’ve heard it described as radio, publishing, web tv, journalism… usually by people working in these established industries, but in reality, it’s none of these.

Given that podcasting is following the blogging pattern, using the same technology, and looking at the huge success of sites that allow the easy sharing of user-generated content, such as YouTube and MySpace, and the coming of sites such as BT PodShow to the UK, we can see that podcasting is likely to affect in a major way broadcast media in the very near future. But alongside the obvious changes, something much more subtle and far-reaching will be happening.

If blogging is about the collective mind, the chattering echo chamber, moderated and filtered by collective intelligence, then podcasting is about the collective voice.

Podcasters make content for each other as much as for you out there; and the distance from the outside to the inside is growing ever smaller.

Andy Warhol’s famous quote, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” came true – he was talking about the cult of celebrity, the victory of the superficial, the “homogenised self-imitating landscape of programs where nothing new ever really appears.”

But now, to quote JG Ballard once again, our modern-day HG Wells, with the public starting to despair, switch off, and look for alternatives, Ballard’s future prediction seems much more relevant:

“In the future, everyone will be living inside their own TV studio.” *

Podcasting will be a key part of this; and now that podcasting is on school curriculae, we can expect to see further uptake and more daring and diverse uses of podcasting than we have so far dreamed.

* JG Ballard – Conversations – ReSearch Publications http://www.researchpubs.com/features/jgbqu.php

One Response - Add Yours+

  1. Mike O'Hara says:

    Excellent article Dean. Once again, you’ve got your finger well and truly on the pulse.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on corporate/commercial podcasting, and how you see that whole paradigm evolving, as more and more firms start using podcasting as a way to communicate with their customers and prospects.

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing you at PCCUK…

    Mike O’Hara