Thursday, November 10, 2005

Howard Stern's Worst Nightmare. Perhaps.

Howard Stern's struggles against limitations imposed by the FCC and broadcast radio have seemed like a Gulliver fighting Brobdingnagian giants. But now, moving to Sirius Satellite Radio, Stern is about to battle the Lilliputians. And there are a lot of them. And they might just tie him up.

Stern has demonstrated a remarkable ability to push the edge of the socially acceptable on Radio and TV, while retaining the interest of a large, almost main-stream audience. His new opportunity at Sirius Radio gives him a chance to push against a whole new set of rules, and some people feel that his new-found freedom will enable him to draw large audiences away from FCC-regulated conventional radio and TV.

But if Stern is looking back at his old competition, he's in for a shock. Much of his future competition will come from: Podcasting. (I'm using this currently hip term to refer to people who "broadcast" by making their own audio or video programs that people can download from the web.)

So in this corner we have a famous personality/actor/producer backed by tons of publicity, with a big following and a big audience. In the other corner we have what seems to be annoying static – thousands of amateurs, many of whom have no idea what they're doing, and no easy way to advertise and connect with their potential audience, IF such audience is out there. Here's why these people will give Stern competition:

  1. Just as IBM could not compete with the hundreds of companies that tried out thousands of creative ways to improve on the original IBM PC, so Stern will not be able to compete with thousands of competitors. While Stern has time to try a few ideas, they will try out everything. (By "Everything", I do not mean that they will just out-smut Stern. I expect creative people to try out innuendo-ish ideas at every point of the spectrum, finding all sorts of new explicity-points that large audiences find they can enjoy.)
  2. Podcasters will gradually connect with their relatively mainstream audiences. It took just a few years to connect people whose blogs a hundred thousand want to read with hundreds of thousands of readers, and the Web will figure out how to make similar connections for the upcoming audio and video auteurs. There are already many Podcast directories trying to fill this need.
  3. None of the Podcasters has to "beat" Stern to become his nightmare. As a group, they threaten to splinter and diminish his audience. And if listeners get bored with some of these competitors, there will always be new fresh voices to take their place.


Look out, Howard! Something new and awful is gaining on you...
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