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PodShow Co-Founder Ron Bloom Talks Plans to Commercialize Podcasting

When PodShow Inc. received US$8.85 million in venture capital last week, Internet pundits wondered if this was the start of a new era in entertainment or a repeat of the dot-com boom and bust cycle. The company, co-founded by ex-MTV VJ Adam Curry and music producer Ron Bloom, plans to help budding podcasters create and distribute their shows, with the opportunity to earn money through advertising.

Mr. Curry was one of the first people to start using the term "podcast," wholeheartedly joining the movement with his Daily Source podcast in August 2004 and recently initiating PodFinder, a show devoted to the latest trends in podcasting. Mr. Bloom has collaborated with Mr. Curry since 1994, when, he told The Mac Observer, "we saw 100 million computers just waiting to be connected [through the Internet]."

He added: "Now, we'll soon have 100 million MP3 players waiting to be connected." He sees PodShow as a way to facilitate that, in the process commercializing a format that he compares to FM radio in the 1960s, when the content was driven by what DJs wanted to play. While FM radio has now given itself over to producers who dictate what music their DJs play, Mr. Bloom sees podcasting as a way to reignite that decades-old passion.

'A World Where the Content is Cooler Than the Box'

"We tested this last year and saw that people will go through a lot to get a hold of good stuff," he explained. "Listeners have vacated the space held by radio, but that doesn't mean they don't want good content."

He added: "The iPod started as a jukebox that was hipper than what was on it, which was the same old music. In any new medium, the box is usually cooler than the content. We wanted a world where the content is cooler than the box."

To that end, PodShow wants to provide programming to niche audiences and offer assistance to new podcasters. While iTunes 4.9 added the ability to easily find and download podcasts, Apple doesn't host those shows or help budding podcasters hone their skills. Ms. Bloom noted that earlier this year, he and Mr. Curry met with Apple CEO Steve Jobs to discuss podcasting, coming away with the roots of a symbiotic relationship.

"Apple is a great distribution partner," Mr. Bloom said. "They get input from us [for what podcasts to list], but they're not in the business of helping podcasters, or of guaranteeing quality delivery. We help the podcaster prepare for the big time." He added that PodShow has dubbed professional-level podcasts "podshows" to differentate them from amateur efforts.

The Money Trail

Advertising dollars will flow to podcasters through the strength of numbers, according to Mr. Bloom. "If you have 50,000 subscribers, that's not a whole lot," he said, "but if you have other shows that also have 50,000 subscribers each, then you can use that combined market." PodShow will get a piece of that revenue, as well as earn money selling enterprise podcasting tools to organizations that want to produce podcasts. For example, a company might want to distribute podcasts to its employees.

However, Mr. Bloom didn't think that podcasting will become the domain of the big media companies currently offering audio files through iTunes. "CBS, etc. will fail because if people didn't like it on the radio, they won't like it as a podcast," he noted.

Strengthening the Relationship

On Tuesday, PodShow added the PodSafe Music Network, which provides royalty-free music for use with podcasts. Mr. Bloom noted that this was an important way to address the needs of podcasters who can't use music due to copyright restrictions. "This will help build the relationship between podcasters and their audience," he said.

However, Mark Cuban, the dot-com billionaire who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, recently said of the new format: "It will be rare to find anyone making money from originating podcasts." Asked to respond to Mr. Cuban's thoughts, Mr. Bloom simply said that "things have changed," noting that "today, the tools for creating world-class audio is in the hands of the general public."

When Mr. Cuban made his money in the dot-com world during the mid-1990s, Mr. Bloom added, those tools weren't available, nor were portable devices, such as the iPod, that enabled consumers to take content away from their computers.

"This isn't broadcast or narrowcast," he said. "This is microcast. It's a network that lets great stuff percolate to the top."

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