Motivations behind podcasting: What are the motivations behind participating in podcasting on a personal, individual level for both the sender and the receiver?
Podcasting technology was developed in 2004 in response to time-consuming processes for downloading audio files from the Internet. MTV VJ, Mark Curry turned to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) as a means for automating the process (McClung & Johnson 2010). The name podcast came about through combining the words broadcasting and iPod and describes the portable audio files available for download to home computers and other portable playback devices. Podcasts have a diverse user base, and have enabled both amateur and professional media organisations to disseminate information to listeners to be consumed on the listener’s own time schedule. These audio files are easily transferrable to devices such as iPods and MP3 players and thus “podcasts enable users to time-shift and place-shift content” (McClung & Johnson 2010, p. 83) ensuring both ease and pleasure of consumption.
Podcasts are often directed at niche audiences, whether it is a program of British comedy, health and fitness podcasts, self-help, politics, or technologically focused. The personalized and flexible aspects of podcasting, in combination with their ease of use and portability, heighten the appeal of the podcasts for both users and makers. Podcasting is based around the interactive communication model with a focus on feedback between the sender and receiver of information. Podcasting communities have emerged as makers and listeners actively seek interaction and create conversations within and beyond the boundaries of their podcasts. In this way social networks are established creating a sense of belonging and engaging individuals in conversation they may not have been able to access through other modes of communication.
Podcasts generally follow a template or structure making it easier for listeners to follow the individual podcast as well as the show or stream of podcasts to which it is tied. A basic structure of a podcast begins with greetings and rhetorical questions that initiate quasi-interactions with the listener (Jarrett 2009). The host then outlines the topic or theme of discussion, and defines a purpose for the podcast that relates the conversation back to the life of the listener. The nature of podcasting, being an online tool also dictates that each podcast show and episode has a title, alerting potential listeners to its focus and content. Podcasts may consist of varied segments including interviews with experts, scripted section or narratives, music interludes and featured questions, often at the end of a podcast, to prompt interaction beyond the close of the recording. These features seek to lure new listeners and thus are important to the sustainability of the podcast. However, it is important to note that podcasts are a form of communication that does not have to have a big user base to continue production. If a podcaster has a small, niche audience, and is getting positive feedback and satisfaction in production, there is no barrier to its continuation. This establishes the freedom involved in podcasting, as well as being a key motivator for podcast production.
Podcasting is very much a product of Ong’s culture of ‘secondary orality’ (Ong 2002) that describes communication effects of an electronic society. Both primary and secondary orality generate a strong group sense (Fernback 2003) but the electronic culture has diminished any need for physical co-presence that may have been sustained through primary orality (Venturini n.d). “Electronic media may arouse a sense of closeness and community” (Venturini n.d, para. 5) and virtual communication is a key aspect of podcasting and the establishment of podcasting communities. Ong draws significantly on McLuhan’s notion of a ‘global village’ where physical distance does not hinder peoples’ communication activities. McLuhan writes, “We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening” (Symes 1995, para. 5).
Six gratifications have been associated with MP3 players: boredom, stimulation, entertainment, relaxation, escape, and loneliness (McClung & Johnson 2010). McClung and Johnson conducted research into the motivations behind podcast use among a very digitalised sample (58.5% of respondents spent between two and four hours online per day; more than 20% spent over six hours online per day). Results revealed that factors contributing to increased podcast use included entertainment, time shifting, library building, advertising, and social aspects, such as “how users talk with other fans about the podcasts they download” (McClung & Johnson 2010, p. 89). The availability and accessibility of the podcasts for libraries such as iTunes were coupled with personal empowerment through choice of when, where and how users were able to listen to their chosen podcasts, and “an overwhelming majority (89%) report actually using the podcasts they downloaded” (p. 89). However, despite the above, the value of podcasting still lies primarily with the content. Users “appreciate the ability to access only podcasts they like” (p. 89) and enjoy the communal aspect of discussing the media in social settings. McClung and Johnson suggest it could be “the socialization function of podcast use is akin to early radio use, but in a different technological format” (p. 93) that really motivates people to download and listen to their chosen podcasts.
Podcasts, falling under the category of participatory media, enable the “empowerment of non-professional or subjugated discourse” (Jarrett 2009, p. 116) particularly advantageous for the individual podcaster. Personal trainer Trish Blackwell’s podcast From the Inside Out released its first episode in July 2012. She tells listeners that she records her podcasts from within her closet, and repeatedly put off starting her show due to a fear of failure. The motivational nature of the show lends itself favourably to this particular discussion, as the show’s tagline is ‘The podcast about living, exercising and thinking from the inside out’. Blackwell discusses her experience of starting a podcast, as an amateur without professional equipment, through the encouragement of a friend. As a user, one is able to subscribe to her (or any) podcast series, when a new episode is released the audio downloads automatically, like an RSS feed.
The motivations for individuals to start up their own podcasts are varied however it would be negligent to dismiss the significance of the power the technology gives one to disseminate knowledge and personal narratives to a potentially large audience across national or cultural boundaries and time-enforced barriers. Podcast users in Australia are able to download episodes from BBC4 and listen to them in their own time, only hours after they have been aired through broadcast media in Britain. This is true of most audio content uploaded onto the Web, and provides users with a greater scope of knowledge from which to learn and contemplate. For podcast senders, this broad reach is a key motivator, especially when considered in relation to an interactive communication model. Foulger (2004) notes there is a bi-directionality of communication in this model, where feedback is introduced as a key aspect of two-way communication. It draws on earlier sender-receiver communication models, but the addition of feedback empowers both sender and receiver to engage with each other and provides points of discussion, criticism and positive responses to one another. This focus enables an exchange of information, expanding on the limitations offered by a one-way model of communication in which the receiver has no impact on future proceedings.
Such exchanges can be seen in the variety of responses encouraged by Blackwell. Blackwell encourages her listeners to follow her on Twitter, to subscribe to future podcasts, search her website, download her fitness-oriented applications from the Apple App Store, or even to send her an email, with any feedback, recommendations and responses. Blackwell also expresses her appreciation for her listeners. Being a new and amateur podcaster, these listeners are integral to the show’s success. Thus, through users subscribing to her show and the emails and followers she is gaining as a result of this process, Blackwell has achieved her goal to establish an outlet for her to teach and express her passion for living a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle, through podcasting. Similarly, many podcasters ask for feedback via their podcast library providers, such as iTunes. Listeners are then motivated to rate podcasts and provide comments from which other users can decide to download the podcast.
Podcasting has generated a sense of community that has its basis in the rhetoric through which many podcasters often communicate with their listeners. On a personal basis, many podcasters use lay discourse, “associated with experiential and concrete narratives, subjectivity, particularity and, importantly, authenticity” (Jarrett 2009, p. 125) to establish a relationship with their listeners. Podcasts not derived from news sources, political or non-government organisations, frequently utilize experiential narrative (Jarrett 2009) as a way of validating their comments, as they are commonly without expertise or professional standing opinion on their topic of discussion. Furthermore “rich engagement of audiences and user-generated content [can be] integral to [podcasting’s] success” (Jarrett 2009, p. 116), and thus it is this interaction and creation of virtual communities that becomes so important to maintaining and fostering these relationships. Users (both sender and receiver) are able to engage in intimate relationships and discussions despite being physically disconnected, and find individuals with similar interests and passions as well as avenues through which to discuss these subjects. What is interesting about podcasting is that while most people listen to episodes through headphones, alone and often whilst at the gym, cooking or multitasking, their personal interest in the conversation generates greater engagement than when one listens to the radio generally. The difference here is that users have actively tailored listening to their interests rather than being subject to the dictates of programming.
As listeners are paying greater attention to details of the discussion, they are being educated on a deeper level, which encourages them to join the virtual community and provide feedback, to rate the show or sign up to a forum through which to pursue their interests further. These communities, in turn, generate ongoing discussion and provide new modes of learning and educative models with which podcast senders and receivers can engage. It can be concluded from this research that the benefits to the individual of producing and consuming podcasts are numerous. However, the way podcasting enables the creation of communities based on niche interests is most significant in parallel with the interactive communication model, probing feedback and reciprocal relationships between listeners themselves as well as with the host. Together, they shape the podcast, empowering all users to engage in the group mentality suggested by Ong’s (2002) ‘second orality’. The evident rapid growth of the podcast suggests it is likely to continue to motivate producers and listeners in innovative and interesting ways.
Fernback, J 2003, ‘Legends on the net: an examination of computer-mediated communication as a local of oral culture’, New Media & Society, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 29-45.
Foulger, D 2004, Models of the Communication Process, viewed 1 October 2012, http://davis.foulger.info/research/unifiedModelOfCommunication.htm
Jarret, K 2009, ‘Private talk in the public sphere Podcasting as broadcast talk’, Communication, Politics & Culture, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 116-135.
McClung, S & Johnson, K 2010, ‘Examining the Motives of Podcast Users’, Journal of Radio & Audio Media, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 82-95.
Ong, W J 2002, Orality and Literacy, Routledge, New York
Symes, B 1995, Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’, viewed 1 October 2012, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/bas9401.html
Venturini, T n.d, ‘Second Orality’, International Collaborative Dictionary of Communications, viewed 1 October 2012, http://mediaresearchhub.ssrc.org/icdc-content-folder/second-orality/