updated 7/16/2005 2:22:08 PM ET 2005-07-16T18:22:08

Q.What is podcasting?

A. For all the buzz it's created in technology and media industry circles, "podcasting" is still relatively unknown to most people.

But that could be about to change, as more and more people make and use podcasts, and as media companies try to get into the act.

But first — what are they? Podcasts are essentially homemade radio programs that people make and then distribute over the Internet.

You can download them and listen to them on your PC or an iPod or a similar portable audio player, thus the term podcasting, combining "pod" and "-casting," as in broadcasting.

So far, there are relatively few such podcasts — fewer than 10,000, by most estimates — but more are being made and distributed all the time.

Since most podcasts are still produced by amateurs from their homes, podcasting retains a kind of populist, freeform feel to it.

People can make the broadcast they never got to do from their college radio days, discuss their favorite movies, expound on fine wines or give gardening tips.

Basically, podcasts give people something else to listen to besides music on their audio player. And some media companies are jumping on board, hoping not to miss out on what could be an important new way to reach consumers.

Several media outlets have started offering up podcasts of their own, including NPR, NBC, ABC, Business Week and Forbes. More are sure to follow. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

But for now, podcasting is still in its infancy. A recent report from Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting company, estimated that fewer than 1 percent of the owners of digital audio players actively download and listen to podcasts.

"It's still a small market," Yankee analyst Su Li Walker, the report's author, said in an interview. "But going forward, with some of these media giants coming in, there's going to be a shift toward them (becoming) more commercialized."

Apple Computer Inc., which makes the iPod, has also moved to embrace podcasting, upgrading the latest version of its iTunes software to make it easier to access podcasts. The updated software will also deliver regularly updated podcasts to users who ask for them, just like third-party programs do.

If you want to see what it's all about, an easy way to check out a variety of podcasts is to go to a Web site like, which assembles and distributes podcasts.

As the base of users of digital audio players expands, it seems to be only a matter of time before companies make a big push to reach those audiences, and then sell those audiences to advertisers.

There were 35.1 million digital audio devices in use last year, and an estimated 41.6 million will be in use this year, Yankee Group reports.

"This nascent market is still in its initial growth period," Walker wrote in her report. However, she also said podcasts could be on the brink of mass-market adoption.

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