Podcasts As Mobile Content
By Carlo Longino, Tue Apr 12 23:45:00 GMT 2005

Podcasting continues to gain momentum, and today a number of well-known UK DJs announced they'd begin selling professional-quality shows, priced pretty cheaply. Why not target some to mobiles?

Mainstream media is catching on to podcasts, with lots of radio stations beginning to offer downloadable shows, and more "professionals" are becoming interested in them as well -- a group of UK DJs the latest to get involved. Interestingly, they're going to sell half-hour shows for 49p and hour-long shows for 99p, and although there are some drawbacks to their content, it seems like a medium that could be well-suited to the mobile phone.

People's reluctance to pay for mobile content is eroding. That doesn't mean they'll pay for anything just because it's mobile, but certainly there's a market willing to pay for content it feels delivers value. The increasing interest in mobilizing personal media has been mentioned before, as have the possibilities for mobile RSS. Combine those with professional-quality podcasts for mobiles, and there's some potentially compelling action there.

The major stumbling block and this point is delivery and its costs. Not too many phones can handle multi-megabyte media files, while the packet charges for delivering them on most carriers would be astronomical. But podcasting already relies on syncing a portable music player with a computer, and this isn't that foreign to the mobile world: AvantGo continues to chug along, with a great number of its users syncing with their PCs.

Another significant problem is the content itself. Particularly if people are paying for it, they want top-notch content. And for most average consumers, that means something other than your typical amateur podcast. One problem for aspiring DJs is that it's unclear if it's okay to use copyrighted music in podcasts, but in today's lawsuit-happy environment, it's best to err on the side of safety. No word if the UK DJs have some sort of license, but for starters, they're only playing 60% of any individual song to try and keep record labels happy. Such moves aren't likely to work in the long run -- after all, current results would seem to indicate music lovers enjoy hearing more music and less DJ chatter.

Here's another spot where operators can jump in. While many carriers around the world are attempting to become content creators, most are focusing on video rather than audio. But audio might still be a better bet for mobile. Operators could download "morning shows" or news programs overnight to devices. Just as satellite radio companies are signing exclusive deals with broadcasters and sports leagues, so too could operators. Of course, they could also just stream this type of content, but there's value in having it pre-loaded on a device and not having it dependent on maintaining a network connection (making it better for commuters on subways, for example).

But mobile podcasting also offers a great opportunity for operators to bolster user-created content -- if it were easy and cheap for individuals to get a license to play "real" music. The mobile platform allows for the possibility of some really cool interactivity, but without carrier support, it could be quite difficult. Just as many different media outlets and service providers are embracing blogging and making it easy for people to set up their own sites, operators could do the same with multimedia and make it easy for people to create and share audio and video, and make it easy for others to interact with it -- creating user interest and excitement, and increasing usage and traffic.