Blair L. Fannin
Texas A&M University System Agricultural Communications
An emerging technology called podcasting has been identified as a new source of Web news distribution.
Podcasting derives from the words iPod (Apple Computer’s portable audio player) and broadcasting. Audio content, such as news, is compressed into .MP3 audio file format and can be automatically downloaded to a computer. The audio file can be transferred to a portable .MP3 player for listening at the user’s convenience, whether traveling by car, airplane, working out at the gym, etc. The audio files can also be burned onto a CD-ROM and played in an automobile.
With the void of agriculture radio news programming in many rural markets, podcasting can help fill that vacancy with a variety of news and educational programming, targeting both agriculture producers and the general public.
Podcasting is an attractive technology to land-grant institutions with news divisions. The technology can be easily implemented without purchasing expensive transmitters and satellite time. Many institutions already have computers and servers, the only essential tools necessary to begin podcasting.
The demise of farm radio in many rural markets across the country has left a void of agriculture news. An emerging technology called podcasting has been identified as a new method of news distribution, bypassing traditional radio media outlets without significant investment.
While downloadable audio files have been available for many years on the Internet, the key component to podcasting is its subscription method via Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
Users who download software capable of subscribing to RSS podcast audio feeds can automatically have .MP3 files downloaded to their computers. When the iPod or .MP3 player is synched to the computer, those new audio files are transferred to the player and ready for listening.
Podcasting can help fill the void of farm radio programming in rural markets, targeting both agriculture producers and the general public. With the content available as an audio file on the Internet, the end-user can download and listen to it at their leisure. Many podcast listeners listen to the content while commuting to work, traveling by air, or during gym workouts, walking, etc.
Usage of .MP3 players is growing at an extremely fast rate. Apple Computer Corp. reported sales of 20 million iPods in 2005. News organizations in the Northeast and some Public Radio Stations, including National Public Radio (NPR), now offer their audio content via podcasts.
Podcasting is an attractive technology to land-grant institutions with news divisions. The technology can be easily implemented without purchasing expensive transmitters and satellite time. Many institutions have computers and servers - podcasting’s key distribution components.
The audio content is produced using a laptop or desktop computer using a microphone and headphones. Interviews with Extension specialists and Experiment Station scientists are captured using a portable Olympus D330 digital audio recorder. As an alternative, interviews also are captured using an Apple iPod with an external microphone. The produced audio is downloaded to the computer. Free audio editing software, Audacity, is used to edit the interviews and produce the voiceovers for the news reports. The file is compressed into an .MP3 file using Apple’s iTunes and uploaded to a server.
The program’s contents are coded into a RSS file, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, and placed on a server. RSS is becoming a widely adopted technology. Texas A&M Agricultural Communications first began offering RSS feeds of its news in September 2003 - one of the first land-grant institutions in the United States to make this technology available.
RSS feeds can also include enclosures, which contain code linking to audio/video files on the Web. Those running newsreader programs and subscribing to RSS feeds can now receive audio news podcast reports automatically.
When including the audio content in a RSS feed, individuals can subscribe to Ag Communications’ RSS feed and automatically receive audio news content, which can be synched to the iPod. Users can also use a traditional method by downloading the .MP3 file and listening on their desktops or burning the programming to a CD-ROM.
Agnews Weekly is a program that spotlights Extension and Experiment Station research, educational programs, and current issues. The pilot program can be found at http://agnewsweekly.tamu.edu.
As podcasting popularity grew through the end of 2004 and in 2005, a clearing house for Podcast programs was created on the Web at http://www.ipodder.org.
Texas A&M became the first land-grant institution to be listed under the Agriculture category with its Agnews Weekly program on Nov. 17, 2004 (see http://www.ipodder.org/directory/4/podcasts/categories/agriculture). Other sites have been created promoting various podcasts. Those sites listing Agnews Weekly include: www.podcastdirectory.com, www.podcastalley.com, www.digitalpodcast.com, www.podcastingnews.com and others. These sites offer free podcast listings, eliminating the need for investment in advertising and marketing on behalf of Texas A&M Agricultural Communications.
In June 2005, Apple Computer debuted iTunes 4.9 that featured a listing of podcasts as part of its iTunes Music Store. The podcast listings allowed site visitors to subscribe and download free audio content through its music store. Agnews Weekly was included in this debut of the new feature to its music store - yet another marketing avenue for Texas A&M Agriculture Program news.
Statistics have been recorded for the Agnews Weekly podcast dating back to when the project first began in October 2004. The number of requests and the amount of audio files downloaded have gradually increased each month since the inception of the podcasting project (See Table 1).
The request numbers and gigabytes of audio have steadily increased. Please note the month of July was when Apple Computer Corp. listed the Agnews Weekly podcast as part of their iTunes Music Store directory. It’s a free listing and it has boosted the number of people requesting these podcasts. Apple estimates its iTunes Music Store attracts between 6 million and 30 million visitors.
The following were the most popular Agnews Weekly podcasts that were downloaded:
*Oct. 27, 2004 podcast featuring interview with Jose Pena, Extension economist, discussing Texas pecan harvest (1,408 requests)
*March 11, 2005 podcast featuring interview with Dr. Parr Rosson, Extension economist, with perspective on recent action by WTO and ruling U.S. Cotton subsidies create unfair trade.
*Nov. 24, 2004 podcast featuring Dr. David Anderson, Extension beef economist, providing commentary on negative case of mad cow disease tested in U.S.
The podcasts have also led to listener feedback. The following is e-mail from listeners:
“Huge fan of the podcast. I’m not sure that I’m similar to the rest of your audience since I work in New York City. I was raised in cattle country in California so I’m familiar with your topics. I mostly enjoy listening at home or on my iPod in the subway on my way to work.”
“I’m not sure how far away your regular listeners are, but I’m a pretty far piece from College Station here in Chicago. Been listening to your podcast and have been enjoying it. My father was a professor-farmer in Southern Indiana, so hearing about hay usage, crop planning and ag extension is a lovely tie to my past. Keep up the good work and interesting programming!”
“What neat possibilities this technology could have for us…we found out about Agnews Weekly after visiting our son who is the Web Development Director at CNN.”
“I downloaded the podcast and put on my iPod so my father could listen to it on the way to the deer lease. He is a part-time cattle rancher.”
While it’s unclear if podcasting technology will become a standard application on the Internet, it’s predicted that usage will increase over the next five years with already more than 20 million iPods sold globally.
This table table illustrates the number of podcast users through 2010.
Podcasts can be listened to at any time whenever the user so desires. Many radio stations across the country are controlled by one large company. Typically, programming is distributed via satellite to large groups of stations, therefore reducing the amount of locally-generated news. It is anticipated that these large media companies will identify podcasting as a new distribution method in the future.
Podcasting bypasses traditional media. Instead of Agricultural Communications having to pitch the news to radio outlets, we send the information directly to our audience via RSS and the Web.
Podcasting opens a new door to target general consumers and agricultural producers with our news content. Further, this may penetrate younger audiences who are more inclined to use portable .MP3 player devices.