(By Todd Cochrane) Many have forgotten, or do not know, the origin story of podcasting. So let me share a little tale. Way back in 2004 there was no iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. We had the iPod and a few third-party MP3 players that had to be synced at night with a cable in order for podcasting to grow. Many shows, in those early days, grew amazing audiences with that technology.
MySpace had just launched but the world was such that there was simply no way for anyone to create and distribute media and gain any appreciable audience unless you were partnered up with a major media company and or paid for syndication. Sure, people had online radio shows and streaming was in its infancy at, like, 16k, but it was incredibly expensive and there were gatekeepers that included Yahoo, Microsoft, traditional radio — and anyone else who had a piece of the media space pretty much had their hand out when it came to media distribution.
When the RSS feed 2.0 spec came out, a marriage happened whereby media distribution through a software hack allowed podcasting to be born and led by individuals like podfathers Adam Curry and Dave Winer. They understood that media distribution could now take place without anyone’s permissions or by paying someone.
It was truly revolutionary.
Podcasting was largely anti-establishment-screw-the-man, and especially screw radio and those who controlled it. Even Steve Jobs did not have a lot of nice things to say about podcasting content, but he had the forethought to understand it would be big and included podcasting support in July of 2005 in an update to iTunes. It was a watershed moment.
In the very early days, commercialization was heavily frowned upon. Commercial radio consolidation had been in full effect from 1996 and to pay for the consolidation the advertising loads increased dramatically while at the same time reducing local community content — ultimately leading to the bankruptcy of iHeartMedia (formally Clear Channel) and the destruction of radio as we knew it from the ’80s and early ’90s [Editors note: iHeart recently emerged from bankruptcy.]
Commercialization was frowned on so much that when I announced my book deal on podcasting I was labeled as a traitor and sellout for taking the money to write a book on podcasting. Overnight I lost half of my audience. Not to mention the negative feedback I got in June of 2005 when I signed GoDaddy as one of my first podcast sponsors.
The monetization attitude changed rapidly but one thing that most successful podcasters have thrived on is the ability to be in control of one’s content, and where it is distributed.
People ask me why I am such a staunch advocate of having your show on your .com, controlling the podcast feed which is the equivalent of the radio tower and holding the IP/ metadata where it’s under the show host’s control. As someone that was there in the beginning, I’ve seen podcasting companies fail and fold, leaving tens of thousands of listeners abandoned. Hell, one company pulled the plug three days before Christmas, killing 1000s of shows as a Christmas present. The smart podcasters never wanted to have to be held hostage to gatekeepers, those that may ask for something in return for distribution.
Podcasting is free because of RSS, and growing because no one company/syndication group/new entrant can control the space and or control who can subscribe to our RSS feed. So as we move forward in the podcasting space, and have all these great tools, remember it was not always this way.
While I am not an alarmist, I want everyone to understand that podcasting is still a bit like a rebel group that cannot be contained. But those who allow third parties to control aspects of their distribution, remember that so long as “you” control your RSS feed or are hosted with a “trusted third party,” you cannot be silenced. Even a complete removal from Apple Podcasts has allowed podcasters with extreme views to stay on the air, and reach their audience, because they control their RSS feed.
So my hope is as new leaders in the podcasting space emerge, they understand at least in part the origins of the space. Most will not care, but history has a way of repeating itself. We as independent voices are in control of our destiny and as the suits continue to arrive we should all keep in mind that gatekeepers do not always have the best intentions when it comes to your content.
For those podcasters who allow third parties to control your distribution, you need to think out 2, 5, 10 years and ask, “Am I protected from future business decisions of those that control my feed, distribution, brand, and content.”
Podcast Hall of Fame Member
One of the old guys protecting the space.
This was reprinted from Todd’s Facebook page with his permission. Reach Todd by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org