I recently completed an interview for the upcoming series "The Podcast Producers," in which I was asked a question I used to be asked all the time: "Do you think the name "podcast" holds the medium back?"
If you were to ask 2006 Tom, when I first started reporting on podcasting metrics way back at the Podcast Expo in Ontario, California, I might have given a different answer. If you do happen to talk to 2006 Tom, by the way, tell him not to remodel his kitchen, but to put all that money on Street Sense in the '07 Kentucky Derby. Ahh, regrets. Anyway, a slightly less-gray, earlier Tom often answered "yes" to that question. It was kind of a weird name at the time, and a name predicated upon knowing that "pod" meant a specific brand of media player (already a bad idea) and not the thing from which Triffids emerge.
I was not the only one who held that opinion then. Famously (in podcasting, anyway) Leo LaPorte eschewed the term, in favor of the word "Netcast." Indeed, the tagline for LaPorte's TWiT.TV remains "Netcasts you love, from people you trust." Gradually, though, I began to hold the opinion that it's the name we have, and we are stuck with it, so let's embrace it. I don't think earlier Tom was wrong, really, but I'm not in the form-an-opinion-and-doggedly-hold-it-forever business, I'm in the consumer behavior business, and consumers change--which, of course, keeps me in business.
Today, 2015 Tom has given this a fair amount of thought. The name isn't the problem; it never was. In our 2015 Infinite Dial study, we asked people how familiar they were with the term "podcasting," and 49% of Americans 12+ said they were. To use a technical term, that's a crapload of people--approximately 130 million, in fact. So, even in the face of the decline of the iPod, Podcasting is just a few suburbs away from being a term known by the majority of the population. It's the name we have.
There is a problem with the name, however, and it's not the name itself. The problem is this: when we asked the familiarity of the term podcasting back in 2010 the number was 45%. So, in six years, the awareness of the term Podcasting has grown...four percentage points--well below the growth rate of podcast usage.
That's not the name's fault.
Let's imagine that we pooled all of the talent in the medium and came up with THE perfect name for podcasts. Let's say that name is UNICORNBLASTS (this is why I get paid the big bucks). Next year, when we field The Infinite Dial 2016, what do you think the awareness of the term "UNICORNBLASTS" would be? Would it be 49%? Nope. It wouldn't be 49% for a very long time, if ever.
The reason is this: it's not the name that holds Podcasting back (if anything does--I think it's growing just fine.) The fact that the awareness of podcasting is barely growing isn't the name, but the fact that the medium has never been adequately explained to a mainstream audience. First of all, when the medium first started, you couldn't explain it to a mainstream audience. RSS Feeds? Podcatching? Syncing? Negative, Ghost Rider.
Today it's easier to explain, but no one has explained it on a mass level. There's been no "Got Milk" or "Beef, It's What's For Dinner" campaign to educate the American public on what a podcast is, and why they need it.
In that respect, it's a lot like the slow adoption of TiVo in this country. It took a decade to explain what TiVo was, and why it was different/better than a VCR. When that tipping point arrived, it became part of our vocabulary. But it took a long time to get there, and I see a lot of parallels between the TiVo story and the story of podcasting.
Today, podcasting is simply this: shows you love, when and where you want to hear them. It's that simple. Whether or not you think "podcasting" is a goofy name, half the country knows it. The problem is reaching the other half (and those in the first half that tried and rejected the medium in earlier days)--and that is going to take more than word of mouth. It's going to take a concerted effort, and cooperation between podcasters of all stripes. America needs to be asked, "Got Podcasts?" on a larger stage.
When that happens, you just wait and see.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few other things to tell 2006 Tom that you shouldn't be privy to.