Archive for December, 2006

The Status of Podcasting Outside the U.S.

December 22, 2006

 

Are the best cooking-related podcasts in France or Italy?  Are the British listening to them for ideas, or does the secret ingredient get lost in translation?  There are jokes galore about Italian policemen, but is it true that their State police have a popular podcast?  Are the Chinese forced to subscribe to “Lets Learn English” podcasts in preparation for the Olympics? Where is podcasting most developed outside the U.S.?

Before setting out to answer these questions, and examine the status of podcasting outside the U.S., the assumption was that the average American podcast-enthusiast (I was born and educated in the U.S.) knew little about podcasting elsewhere.   However, I was certain that outside the U.S., they were well connected and informed about cross-border activity, especially in the European Union.  This four part article examines podcasting outside the U.S., answers the above questions and tests my assumption. 

Part one provides an overview of the key factors which frame podcasting  in he countries examined.  Part two explores relative podcast adoption in each country by examining factors such as big media podcasting, corporate podcasting, advertising and venture capital involvement.   Part three discusses the effects of cultural on national podcasting.  Part four summarizes key podcasts, podcast-related entities and recent developments in each country.   

Many factors influence podcasting in any given country. Two factors, however, are of key importance.  Language is one.  Broadband Internet is the other. 

It is easy to predict the impact of broadband internet on podcasting.  Clearly, people with low-speed dial up connections will not regularly download huge podcast files.  In terms of analysis, however, broadband Internet either exists or does not exist, and does not make for interesting analysis.  And in the countries examined, broadband Internet is now sufficiently available.

All things being equal, the more broadband subscribers there are in a country, the more podcasting is developed.   In France, UK and Germany, 11.1M, 11.6M and 12.4M  subscribers have high-speed Internet, respectively. China has about 30M subscribers. On the other hand, Australia, Italy and Spain have only 3.5M, 7.7M and 5.9M broadband subscribers, respectively.    Judging by local podcast creation, in France, Germany and China, podcasting is flourishing   According to Bertrand Lenotre of Podemus, France produces 2650 different French podcasts, including 490 video podcasts. China produces approximately 20,000 podcasts, few of them video, according to Chinese Jack Gu of Podlook.  Germany produces 3300 different podcasts, including 800 video podcasts, according to Fabio Bacigalupo of podcast.de.   In Italy, the largest of the second group of countries, there are only about 220 active podcasts, and podcasting is still in its infancy, according to Valerio Di Giampietro of audiocast.it. 

Surprisingly, however, the UK produces only about 220 different podcasts, very few of them video. How can that be?  The UK is clearly a very active podcasting hub.  It is home to Podcast User Magazine, the world’s only podcast magazine, according to Co-founder and Editor Paul Parkinson.  UK Podcast enthusiasts can also boast to have hosted Podcastcon, the world’s first Podcast conference. So why are so few people in England producing podcasts?  The answer is language. 

The impact of language is both more interesting and far-reaching than that of Broadband.  Language will impact podcasting on a country -level long after broadband Internet becomes common-place. 

 

In talking to leading podcast enthusiasts in nine countries, what became immediately clear was their near total isolation.  Leading podcast figures in one country had absolutely no idea what was happening abroad.   Passionate podcasters and podcast-entities were creating beautiful gardens, but they were walled gardens.  The English knew nothing about podcasting in France.  The French knew nothing about German podcasting.  Of course, no one know anything podcasting behind the Great Wall of China. 

 

There was one clear exception: common language.  French and German podcasters know nothing of each other, although they may live within a 30 minute drive of one-another. On the other hand, the flow of podcasts and emails between Australians, South Africans, English and Americans is very common.  Common language tears down national boundaries.  Here are some examples.  British Telecom and U.S.-based Podshow just launched BTPodshow.  75% of Podcast User Magazine subscribers come from the U.S.  Its editor is a proud Brit.  Keren Flavell (mobilemedia.thepodcastnetwork.com) is a proud Australian, but 70% and 50% of the podcasts they subscribe to respectively are from the U.S.  According to South African Mark Taylor of podcast.co.za, it was listening to Adam Curry that inspired him to “jump right in”.  

 

Spanish-speaking podcasters know no borders either.  Jose A. Gelado of Podcastellano is a leading Spanish podcaster and he runs a portal too. Of the nearly 500 Spanish podcasts he lists, 150 are from Spain.  The others are mainly from Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.  Carlos Fernandez of Podsonoro, his fellow countryman, agrees and is very familiar with the top podcasts and portals in Latin America.  

Language can also unite communities disbursed around the world.   ‘Afrikaans in Sydney’ is produced by an Afrikaner who moved to Australia, says Mark Taylor.  In Afrikaans language, the podcast compares life in Australia with life back in South Africa and is popular in South Africa, as well as in the many South African communities around the world.

 

Other than in cases of common language, however, language is a barrier.  A wall that isolates people.  Here is a subtle example: Nicole Smith of usefulsounds.com in Germany started her podcast in German, then switched to English.  She drastically increased her reach, but only at the cost of alienating her follow Germans, who see this as a snub and treat her with suspicion.

 

Language has a direct impact on local content creation. The more isolated the country is in terms of language, the greater the opportunity for local podcasters to fill the vacuum.  Although France and the UK have roughly the same population and number of broadband users, France creates ten times more podcast titles.   Germany creates 15 times more.  Amateur and big-media podcasting is booming in France and Germany, less so in the UK.   U.S. podcasters are setting a very high standard.  With UK listeners selecting U.S. content 70% of the time, it is clear that content generation in the UK, both amateur and big-media, is somewhat less advanced.   This should not be understood to mean that the UK podcast community is inactive.  Quite the contrary.  UK’s community is extremely vibrant.  Its strong large passionate group of activists are dominant, vocal and divided in the discussion of many core issues of podcasting, especially on the amateur/professional, for fun/for money question.  Key UK podcast entities worth mentioning are PodcastPaul and Britcaster.

 

While France prefers French and China Chinese, English remains the “global” language.  English podcasts have a worldwide audience.  In Israel, 2 of the top 10 podcasts are in English.  In Italy, two of the top 16 podcasts, and a few of the most popular Chinese podcasts are “lets learn English” tutorials.   Bonjour-America, a wildly popular French podcast is in what Lenotre of Podemus describes as “kitchen” English.  While providing a humoristic view of America and Americans, it underlies the universal fascination with the U.S., and the desire to blend into universal English culture.

 

The impact of language may decline somewhat with video podcasting.  Funny videos  are more easily  enjoyed by all.  YouTube videos are very popular in China, according to Gu.   Interestingly, however,  the Chinese do not frequent the YouTube.com site due to the site’s English interface (language), and slow international Internet (bandwidth). Rather the Chinese prefer to cut and paste YouTube videos onto comparable Chinese sites. 

 

To summarize, while broadband is becoming ubiquitous, language will remain the single most dominant factor influencing the evolution of domestic podcasting.  Language will continue to impact many aspects of podcasting: the walled garden phenomenon, local content creation, the formation of multi-country groups, and the manner in which national brands, such as Podshow will port across borders.

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