What is a Podcast?
This icon indicates the file is a podcast.
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Podcasts have been around since 2004, and they are becoming a preferred method of listening to news and information, along with other Internet audio services. Researchers predict that more than 75 percent of Americans will listen to audio on digital devices by 2015, while interest in traditional radio declines. But just what is this form of digital media?
A podcast is an audio or video file that can be downloaded to a computer, smartphone or MP3 player. Similar to radio programs, podcasts often consist of episodes that cover a variety of topics, including politics, sports, history, business, video games and travel, and dozens more.
Most podcasts consist of audio files, but they can also have video, PDFs or ePub files. Podcasts range in length from three minutes to 25 minutes to several hours, usually without commercial interruption. This varies depending on who is producing the podcasts.
Origin of the podcast
The podcast was created from the idea of automating the delivery of audio-based content to portable audio players, in other words delivering radio straight to your phone. The word podcast is a play on the word broadcast, combined with the word iPod. Apple, the inventors of the iPod MP3 player, didn’t invent the word podcast, though the company benefitted greatly from the free marketing. While the medium is called “podcast,” you do not actually need to own an iPod to listen to these files. They are compatible with any device capable of reading MP3 files.
The first podcasts began to emerge in early 2004 and were driven heavily by former radio talk show and news program announcers. As the medium gained popularity, other radio personalities and amateurs took up the banner of delivering audio content via the podcast.
Most podcasts are available free of charge. Automatically downloading podcasts entails subscribing to a podcast feed. Similar to subscribing to an RSS feed to a blog or liking a page on Facebook, this allows the podcast creator to push out new content straight to your device as it becomes available.
All that is needed to subscribe to podcasts is an aggregator known as a podcatcher. This software regularly checks the podcast feed for new content, and then downloads it when found. Podcasts are also listed in directories, including iTunes, podcastdirectory.com, ipodder.org and podfeed.net. Once downloaded, the new podcasts will be synced by your media player, such as iTunes, and are available for you to play whenever you want, however many times you want.
Unlike broadcast radio, content is not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Anyone can produce a podcast on any subject for any audience. Podcasting software helps produce professional sounding podcasts and facilitates publication to a blog, website or podcast directory. In 2011, more than 91,000 podcasts were produced, according to a Pew Research Center report, and about 78 million people in the United States — about a quarter of the population — listened to them.