Podcasting outside the U.S.: An Exploration

Clearly, no single test can determine where podcasting is most developed. But several key variables can be examined. Indeed, this post explores the following factors: the number of podcasts created per country, the involvement of big-media, podcast commercialization (i.e. podcasts for charge & advertising), venture capital involvement, corporate podcasting, and the existence of podcast-only commercial companies. Obviously, the number of people listening to podcasts in a country is a very telling figure. These numbers, while speculative, do provide clear indications.

Big Media Involvement: In all countries, Big Media (TV, Radio, Written) is podcasting. Germany and France have a wealth of TV-video podcasts. According to Fabio Bacigalupo, ARD, the largest TV network in Germany releases the podcast version of Tagesschau (Daily View) shortly after the popular show is aired on television. According to Bertrand Lenotre, TF1 in France produces video podcasts as well. However, despite 300,000 Aussies down under demanding the video version of ABC's "Enough Rope", server and bandwidth infrastructure can only provide the audio version, says Keren Flavell.

Radio France
has hundreds of audio podcasts and BBC is the largest media player in England, with audio and some video podcasts. BTPodshow, collaboration between Podshow and British Telecom is also worth mentioning. In Spain, the lack of media involvement has lead people to record radio shows and create pirate podcasts. In Italy, Valerio Di Giampietro tells of a popular entertainment podcaster who was sacked from one of the thousand Berlusconi-owned media companies after making questionable political comments. In China, big media is generally uninvolved, says Jack Gu.

As a general rule, big media simply repackages existing content. The exception to the rule is Europe 1 in France which aggregates radio shows into a single podcast, and SWR public radio in Germany, which produces "podcast first" content.

Advertising & Revenue: All podcasts are free. Campaigns to charge for podcasts have lasted a maximum of three days. Advertising and sponsorships are in infancy status everywhere, even in Big Media podcasts. One of the most advanced companies on the podcast advertising space appears to be Audioads.de in Germany. They have numerous Tier 1 early-entrant advertisers, such as Napster, Sony Ericsson and Casio. Should the number of podcast consumers grow, which it will, there appears to be a good business case for podcast advertisement services, as evidenced by the revenue per download figures that Audioads presented.

Sponsorships are not common but exist. Three examples are Oral B sponsoring an independent podcast in Germany, popular Chinese podcaster Pang Da Hai getting sponsorship from a mid-sized internet company, and The ZA Show getting sponsorship from wine estate, says Mark Taylor. In Australia real estate agencies and banks have been experimenting with advertorial podcasts, even trying scripted narrative, with questionable success.

Venture capital: VCs are not involved in podcasting at all, with Mobuzz of Spain the only known exception. The American cultural/economic traits which serve as the foundation of a healthy high-tech VC industry are lacking elsewhere, with the exception of Israel. In 2004, Israeli high-tech companies raised $1.1B from VCs, and Israel has about 75 companies traded on Nasdaq, second only to Canada. Most of them are VC-backed high-tech companies.

European investment mentality is conservative when it comes to high risk vs. high reward investments, and technology-based entrepreneurialism. Podcasting, like many other internet activities, doesn't always have a clear business model, not to mention actual revenue streams. This deters European investors.

Corporate podcasting is most developed in Germany, though still in its infancy there as well. Siemens has a few podcasts that are aimed at both conveying innovate messages to customers, as well as on internal training. Also in Germany, Coca Cola creates music and lifestyle podcasts. In Italy, Ducati and Gucci have podcasts as well, but they are in English and geared towards the international market. In England, corporate podcasting is beginning to emerge, says Paul Stevenson.

Podcast-only businesses are just starting to emerge. Podemus and Podcast.de have full time staff, as does Radio Podcast in France. According to Jose A. Gelado, Mobuzz in Spain, a video-podcast production company, with its own video podcasts, employs approximately 6 people. Research has not revealed any professional podcast companies in England, Italy or South Africa. Worth mentioning, however, is Roocast in Australia. Roocast is a music podcast service that offers free podcast hosting to small record labels and independent musicians, thus getting them to create their own music podcasts to reach a wider, particularly U.S. audience.

The level of local podcast generation is a good indication of relative adoption, in all cases but England. In terms of absolute numbers, China leads with around 20,000, followed by Germany (3300) and France (2650). After factoring in country size, France has the largest number of local podcasts per capita, followed by Germany.

Italy, Spain and Australia each produce around 220 podcasts. Italy and France have the same population, with Spain slightly less populated. Based on these numbers alone, clearly podcasting appears less developed in Spain and Italy than in France.

England has the same population as France but produces only about 220 podcasts. This figure, however, should not be taken to mean that podcasting is developed in England. England is home to the Podcast User Magazine, and Podcastcon, the annual podcast conference. People listening to podcasts in England have access to an abundance of podcasts in the US, a fact which has stifled the creation of England-generated podcasts.

Obviously, the number of people listening to podcasts is a good indicator of adoption. While these numbers can not be verified, they are somewhat indicative. According to Lenotre, 3,800,000 French have listened to podcasts. In Italy the estimated number is 200,000, and 40,000 in Spain. The most popular podcasts in France can have 100,000 downloads per episode, 20,000 in Germany, and 2,500 in England. One issue holding back podcasting in China is the lack of iTunes in Chinese. As a result, User Generated Content services are 9 times more popular than podcasting, and growing twice as fast, says Gu.

To summarize, podcasting appears to be most developed in Germany and France, with England and China close behind. However, in most countries, the situation is very similar when it comes to commercialization of podcasting. People are creating and listening to podcasts in various degrees in the different countries, but podcast commercialization is in early stages everywhere.

Monte Silver

Monte Silver is Director of European Sales and Advanced Data Services at BamBoo Media Casting.