Simply put, a Podcast is a series of audio or video recordings, that you can subscribe to and listen to whenever you like.
Here’s an example: BBC Radio 4 have a Podcast called ‘More or Less: Behind the Stats’, a show all about interesting economics and facts. Each podcast episode is nothing more than a recording of a ‘More or Less’ show, and they are all organised into a series, called the More or Less podcast. So, if you’re a fan of the show, you can subscribe to the More or Less podcast and episodes are delivered to you each week, so you can listen to them any time, rather than have to have the radio on at the same time each week.
Key things to take from this is that a podcast episode is just one audio or video file from that series, just like a TV show is made up of a whole series of episodes. The word ‘podcast’ refers to a series of audio or video files, while a ‘podcast episode’ is one audio file from that series.
So, if you think of ‘Friends’ as the series and ‘The One where they Got Married’ as the episode, Friends is the equivalent of a podcast and ‘The One Where They Got Married’ is the Podcast Episode.
I hope that’s clear so far!
What Formats or Media Types Do Podcasts Come In?
As we’ve already mentioned, podcasts are always either audio or video. The majority of Podcasts today are audio only, perhaps because that’s the easiest way for amateurs to make a podcast. While many professional media outlets are getting involved in podcasts these days, like the BBC mentioned before, the majority are still made by enthusiasts on no budget and not for profit. So, as a result, most podcasts are made cheaply and using the easiest methods.
More and more these days, though, people are gaining easy access to webcams, and often these are used to record video podcasts which you can watch on your computer, or your smartphone. As more TV shows get involved in Podcasts, the number of video podcasts is bound to grow.
What Are Podcasts Normally Like?
When you listen to a podcast, you’ll discover that they’re really just the same as radio shows. Any particular Podcast will be themed around a particular topic, about which they talk every week – e.g. triathlon racing or dog training. Then, each episode of that podcast will talk about something specific within that topic – nutrition tips for taking part in a triathlon, or how to stop your dog fighting with other dogs. Each episode is normally run by one or two regular presenters, talking about that subject, and they’ll often get outside guests on to contribute.
A lot of podcasts are really simple, just a few friends chatting about something that they’re all into, and that can be great. But, some Podcasts are very professional, including theme music, sound effects, professional editing and more. These type of professional podcasts are great to listen to but they take a lot more time and money to produce. There are great examples of both types though, and many totally amateur, freely produced podcasts are still really entertaining and informative.
What's the Difference Between a Podcast and an Audio File?
The most complicated aspect of learning about podcasts, and where many people get confused, is in telling the difference between a simple audio file and a full-blown podcast. Let’s see if we can help.
The most simple explanation is that an audio file and a podcast episode are technically the same. If you’ve downloaded a Podcast episode from a Podcast site, you’ve already discovered the fact that you’re just downloading an audio file. The difference comes when you add the option to subscribe to that series of audio files.
So, if you use a Podcast hosting website to allow people to subscribe to your series of audio recordings, then you’ve suddenly turned them from simple audio files into a fully functioning podcast! They’re still just audio files, but alongside the subscription, you can now call them a Podcast too.
The subscription aspect is done for you automatically if you use a good Podcast Hosting company like The Podcast Host, but you might want to know a little about how it works. It’s run through a technology called RSS (that’s the tricky bit…) and it’s just a computer language that lets your Podcasting software talk to a Podcasting website.
Essentially, if you give your Podcasting software (such as iTunes) the web address of a Podcasting Website, it’ll read the RSS feed and it’ll be able to download all of the old episodes of that Podcast and download new ones as they’re released.
So, when you use iTunes, or similar Podcasting software, it’ll keep track of all of your subscriptions via each Podcasts’ RSS feed, and it’ll automatically download new episodes as they’re available. This is much easier than normal audio files where you would have to search them out on the web and download them yourself.
The big thing to remember is that an audio file on it’s own is nothing more than that, just an audio file.
But, if you upload that audio file to a website and allow it to be subscribed to via an RSS feed then it’s suddenly a Podcast. Easy!
Next, we’re looking at How to Listen to a Podcast – let’s move on!