The public broadcaster's trial, which commenced in May and offers 16 ABC radio programs for download, has been a spectacular success, says Radio National Program Director and podcasting guru Gordon Taylor. He's ready to declare the trial over.
"We quickly realised it's the future. It's a permanent service now," Taylor told CNET Australia. "It was just such a success we didn't need to keep trialling it. We've come to realise that a large part of the future of the radio lies in podcasting."
Podcasting allows Internet users to download entire programs in MP3 format automatically using specialised software. They can then be loaded into a portable player like an iPod. The latest version of Apple's popular iTunes software includes support for podcasting.
Users are automatically "pushed" their favourite programs as they are made available. "You can pick and choose, and in the future you'll get [podcasting] aggregators that are quite intelligent," Taylor says. "They'll find material and put it together according to your tastes."
The ABC issued a media statement on July 6 claiming 100,000 programs had been downloaded in a single week, less than two months into the pilot project. Since then, the number has jumped a further 20,000.
Because the ABC is offering talk-only programs for download, it's managed to steer clear of copyright issues. "We've been very careful not to include music programs because of the rights issues," Taylor says. "We can't do much more with JJJ until the rights issues with music are worked out."
Commercial broadcasters are more music centric, says Taylor, which may inhibit their ability to offer a similar service. The effect of public broadcasters offering content over the Internet is of concern in Britain, where the BBC has launched a trial which includes television content.
The Beeb plans to carefully observe the effect of its trial on the commercial networks to see if it has a negative impact on the private sector. For once, public broadcasters have an edge.
According to an ABC survey, podcasting has the potential to turn media consumption patterns on their head. Each week 70 percent of trial listeners download the Radio National program All in the Mind. Before the trial, only 40 percent of respondents listened to the program on the radio. "It's broadened people's horizons which is very important to us as a content provider," Taylor says.
A video trial is an initiative Taylor doesn't rule out for Auntie. "It's not my area, but there's no reason why we wouldn't," he says. "Podcasting can be applied to all sorts of media. The technology already exists, the only thing that's stopping it is... penetration of higher speed broadband in this country."
Taylor says peer-to-peer technology, which is used by the BBC in its trial, may very well be used by the ABC in the future, but for now it's just concentrating on getting more radio content 'podcasted'.
Roy and HG are coming any day now, CNET Australia was told.