Podcasting’s Impact on Real Estate

Is this new medium the next big thing or just another overhyped technology?

February 1, 2006

The relatively new medium known as podcasting has come a long way in just a few short months. The term podcast was coined and first used in February 2004 by The Guardian newspaper, describing audio MP3 files that could be downloaded to a computer or other device (but not to be confused with MP3 music files).

Podcasts started as a kind of audio blog. Inexpensive recording software and weblogs allowed people to record and distribute their own audio programs, talking about technology, music, religion, and just about anything else under the sun. The new medium quickly caught on with technology buffs, radio stations, and amateurs, and the number of available podcasts grew exponentially.

Then last summer, Apple effectively endorsed the podcasting phenomenon by creating a podcast directory on its wildly popular iTunes online music store, helping to propel the technology into the mainstream. Now it seems that everyone from the kids next door to multinational corporations is podcasting. Teachers, real estate professionals, accountants, automobile manufacturers, and even National Public Radio and President Bush have all joined the ranks of podcasters around the world.

What Is a Podcast?

The proliferation of Apple's iPod audio player certainly has helped the podcasting trend, but despite the name, you don't need an iPod in order to listen to a podcast. A podcast is simply an audio program that listeners can subscribe to via an RSS feed. They are often, but not always, updated regularly, and can be downloaded to any computer or device capable of playing audio files — desktop computer, laptop, MP3 player, iPod, PDA, cell phone, etc.

Podcasts are often described as a kind of TiVo service for audio content. They offer a convenient way to distribute, download, and listen to all kinds of Internet audio “broadcasts,” whenever and wherever the listener chooses. Podcasts cover just about any topic, ranging from interesting and educational to downright pointless. In fact, it’s almost as easy to create a podcast as it is to download one — all you need are a microphone, recording software, and access to the Internet.

The main advantages of podcasts are their portability, convenience, and low cost. Since they are compatible with just about any device capable of playing audio files, they can be used on the go, in the office, and at home. Unlike traditional and Internet-based radio, you can listen to a podcast whenever you like, without having to schedule your listening to broadcast schedules. The vast majority of podcasts are free, although a few are beginning to require paid subscriptions.

Potential Uses and Future Trends

To help understand the potential impact of podcasting, take a quick glance at some numbers. In an April 2005 report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than 22 million people, or 11 percent of the U.S. population, owned an iPod or other MP3 player. Of those 22 million, 6 million people (29 percent) had downloaded and listened to podcasts. Those 6 million people weren't just teenagers; the Pew survey found that high percentages of baby boomers and other older generations were among those who had listened to podcasts. Men and women were equally represented among podcast listeners.

Since the Pew survey was conducted last year, much has happened in the podcast world. And the general consensus is that the technology has certainly exploded in popularity in recent months.

For the most part, podcasting is still in its early stages of development. Like blogs, Web sites, and so many other Internet-based technologies, podcasts started out as a grassroots innovation by amateurs and hobbyists and only recently began attracting the attention of the business world. Now, companies large and small are exploring ways to profit from the podcasting boom. For some, this means creating their own podcasts as a way of attracting customers and generating business. Automakers, consulting firms, and others offer informative podcasts with news, interviews, and tips, all while promoting their products and services.

Here a few other trends to watch for:

  • Advertising. As might be expected, the possibilities of podcast advertising are being vigorously explored. Marketing firms are beginning to buy and sell advertising space on some of the most popular podcasts, which can pull in hundreds of thousands of listeners per month. Many podcasts also are funding themselves through sponsorships, with a short audio ad promoting the sponsoring firm at the beginning of the program. There are at least 20,000 podcasts out there, according to some estimates, and most of them cater to subscribers with very specific interests, creating endless potential for niche marketing opportunities.
  • Search engines. Besides advertising, another interesting development to watch is that of podcast search engines. Although there are dozens of podcast directories available on the Web, and general search engines can be used to help find programs, new search engines specifically for podcasts are beginning to crop up. Podzinger and blinkx both create indexes of keywords used in podcast broadcasts, making it possible to search for terms used in an actual program. For example, a search for “real estate” in Podzinger will find recent podcasts that mention the phrase. These audio search engines can be used to locate podcasts that discuss a particular interest, and can help track programs that mention specific names, places, or companies. The technology that enables searching of audio content can only improve, and more podcast search engines can be expected to come online in the near future.
  • Vodcasting. If podcasting is the current big thing on the Internet, the next big thing, some analysts say, will be vodcasting. Short video-based podcasts are already available on the Web, and the number is expected to continue increasing, spurred on by the recent introduction of Apple's Video iPod and the widespread availability of digital cameras, cell phones, PDAs, and other gadgets capable of recording video. Just as podcasts are making it possible for anyone to create their own online radio station, vodcasts are predicted to do the same for television.

Potential Impact on REALTORS® and the Real Estate Industry

For members of the real estate community, podcasting can be an interesting and useful tool, whether you're considering becoming a podcaster yourself or are just content to listen to a few.

Here are some possible uses for real estate:

  • Marketing. A quick search for “real estate” in podcast.net, iTunes, or any other podcast directory is all it takes to prove that practitioners and home owners alike are beginning to take advantage of this new medium. Hundreds of podcasts are available covering homebuying and selling tips, market conditions in specific local areas, viewpoints of real estate and the economy, real estate investment trusts, real estate investing, and more. At least two technology providers offer services that turn property listings into podcasts. For real estate professionals, podcasting can be a low-cost method of sharing expertise and reaching customers, but it also can be time-consuming and requires imagination to create a program that will keep listeners and potential customers coming back for more.
  • Business. In addition to creating and using them as marketing tools, there also are plenty of podcasts that cater to the personal and professional interests of practitioners. Podcasts on local news and issues, the economy, new sales techniques, technology, cultural diversity, and countless other topics can be downloaded and listened to whenever it's convenient.
  • Company info. Real estate firms and local associations also can use podcasting in any number of ways. Some firms have already begun using podcasts as a way to automatically bring updates on benefits and company information to sales associates and other employees who spend most of their time working away from the office. Associations also can offer podcasts on local industry news, recordings of education sessions, and other presentations.
  • Advertising. Podcast advertising and vodcasting are two trends the real estate industry should keep an eye on. Sponsoring or advertising on a podcast may prove to be a great way to reach niche audiences, but keep in mind that the business models for podcast ads are still very much in their infancy. Costs, potential audience, and the podcast content and update frequency should all be carefully considered when buying ad spots in this new medium.

Innovative practitioners might consider delving into vodcasting to deliver online neighborhood tours, highlight new listings, etc. While podcasting has already taken off, whether or not vodcasting will become as popular as expected, though, remains to be seen.

Frederik Heller

Frederik Heller is Director of Library Operations and Information Strategy at the National Association of REALTORS®. He can be reached at fheller@nar.realtor or 312-329-8361.