WYNC’s decision to offer podcast downloads is based on a simple understanding. Listeners now live in what one programmer calls a ‘time-poor environment.’
Every week, 11,000 people download the podcast file for NPR’s “On The Media,” a weekly talk show produced by WNYC, New York Public Radio.
In the same time period, about 4,000 people download segments from WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show” and about 2,500 download segments from “The Brian Lehrer Show.” These downloaders then listen to their shows when they want to, on their iPods or desktop PCs.
To reach this on-demand audience, WNYC has had to do “very little,” said Mikel Ellcessor, WYNC’s director of programming operations.
“We already encode all of our programs for on-demand listening, so all we had to do was make certain they’re available as an RSS attachment,” he said, using the common acronym for Really Simple Syndication.
“Our listeners then select the programs they want to be automatically downloaded to their own computers, using RSS software that they can get free our site, if they don’t already have it.”
WYNC’s decision to offer podcast downloads is based on a simple understanding: Today’s listeners live in a very “time-poor environment,” as Ellcessor puts it.
“We are all pressed for time, and often can’t be next to the radio when our favorite shows are on, ” he said. “This is why a technology like podcasting makes real sense for listeners and broadcasters alike: It allows you to ‘time-shift’ programs so that you can hear them when you want to.”
Time-shifting is a concept familiar to VCR and TiVo personal video recorder users: They record the TV shows they like when these shows are broadcast, then view these shows at their convenience. However, it wasn’t until the advent of podcasting that this on-demand became readily available for radio shows.
“As someone who bought a TiVo PVR six months after the product was launched, I’ve been an on-demand consumer for a long time,” said Ellcessor. Having read about podcasting on some radio blogs last year, “I brought the idea in-house last Thanksgiving,” he said. “Everyone grasped its possibilities immediately: We went from talking about podcasting to launching it in just six weeks.”
“On The Media” was launched as WYNC’s first regular podcast on Jan. 7 of this year, followed by “The Leonard Lopate Show” on March 7 and “The Brian Lehrer Show” a week later.
“We started at zero downloads, and then just kept seeing more people take programs on every single week,” said Ellcessor. “The audience just keeps growing.”
The only kind of programs that WYNC won’t podcast are those which contain music. The reason is royalties; by steering clear of music podcasts, WNYC avoids the scrutiny and monetary demands of the RIAA and its rights holders.
To serve its podcasting audience further, WYNC has started offering its own “Podcast Picks.” These are podcast feeds from other broadcasters, which Ellcessor thinks could be of interest to WYNC’s listeners.
Included are local programs produced by KCRW Los Angeles, shows created by independent radio producers and specific programs from CBC Radio in Canada as well as the BBC.
“If you think about the stress of living in today’s demanding ‘attention economy,’ it’s really valuable having someone else sift through the thousands of podcasts out there on your behalf,” Ellcessor said. “WYNC has always done this kind of ‘sifting’ for our on-air listeners. Now we’re doing it for our on-line listeners as well.”
Based on its download numbers, WYNC’s decision to offer podcast is paying off.
“For us, it’s another way to meet listeners where they are,” said Ellcessor. “Not only does it
allow us to reach more listeners at virtually no extra cost, but it also helps to build stronger relationships with these people. We’re very excited about this because it allows more people to access more media and that’s a very encouraging sign for our democracy.”
Moreover, “We have been getting great feedback from our podcast downloaders; both in quantity and quality,” said Ellcessor. “The response has been terrific.”
Whether this trend will continue to grow will be seen. At present, WNYC intends to stand pat and consider its next podcasting moves. “We now want to pause and listen to our listeners; read their e-mails and see what they think,” says Ellcessor. “We’ll look for some pointers from them, and then make our plans accordingly.”