Friday, March 24, 2006

Peter Griffin: Ricky Gervais the podcast king

The hot new word in the tech world last year was "podcast". Well, the Oxford University Press seemed to think so. It actually named podcast the most significant new word of 2005.

It seemed like anyone with an internet connection and something to say got into podcasting last year. Even George W. Bush had a go.

Podcasts - or recordings of audio content downloadable to the computers and portable music players of listeners - started out as free bonus material given away to supplement TV shows, massage egos or accommodate the overflow of radio babble.

For the first year, everyone struggled to build a business model that would make podcasting eventually pay. Yet no one managed to come up with a podcast attractive enough to have web surfers reach for their credit cards in sufficient numbers.

Who would have thought the fledgling premium market would have been given its biggest boost by an overweight, middle-aged British comedian?

That's right, Ricky Gervais - creator of the hugely successful TV show The Office - is now the podcast king, credited with bringing podcasting to the mainstream with his downloadable programme, The Ricky Gervais Show (link below).

The podcasts of the show, which has Gervais, his writing partner Stephen Merchant and eccentric producer Karl Pilkington engaged in inane but hilarious conversation for half an hour at a time, emerged in December as a sort of experiment by the Guardian newspaper.

Incidentally, with Guardian Unlimited, the paper has one of the best free news websites in the world.

Posted on the Guardian site and available free for download, the episodes were so popular that by February they had been downloaded two million times. Downloads have now passed the three million mark.

On average, each episode was downloaded 261,000 times, meaning more people were downloading Gervais' show than buying chart-topping CD singles. Gervais was on to another winner and comedy was again his weapon. Gervais is now in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the most popular podcast ever.

After completing the first season of 12 episodes and taking stock of the record-breaking download figures, Gervais and his cohorts decided to make the second series of the show premium content.

Obviously the new shows aren't as heavily downloaded, but they're still the best-selling podcasts in the world.

The episodes top the sales on the iTunes store, where they sell for 95 pence ($2.65) per episode or £3.75 for a series subscription. It's also number one at, the website that specialises in downloadable audio books and podcasts.

What started out as a bit of fun to keep Gervais' profile up while he develops a second series of his comedy TV show Extras has quickly turned into a thriving business venture.

Now it seems that Britain's radio deejays and comedians are salivating at the prospect of mirroring his success.

While The Ricky Gervais Show is the only major British comedy podcast to take the subscription route, there's fierce competition among radio deejays and comedians battling it out in free download territory.

Most are not tailor-made for podcasting, but consist of the best clips from a week of radio deejay shows. That's certainly the case for popular Virgin Radio deejay Christian O'Connell ( who supplements his 30-minute, best-of podcast each week with some unbroadcast content.

His rival at the BBC, Radio 1's breakfast host Chris Moyles (link below) has delved into podcasts with weekly highlights of his own radio chat show.

But at a panel of hosts engage in comedic chat specifically for podcast.

There's also Comedy 365, which has now racked up more than a million podcast downloads and delivers a mix of dirty jokes and humorous banter several times a week.

The trend is mirrored in the United States where the Onion Radio News ( and The Dawn and Drew Show are two of the better comedy podcasts available for free download.

For some reason, comedy seems to be ideally suited to the podcast format. These podcasts are generally brief - 20 to 30 minutes long, which equates to 20 to 30 megabytes as an MP3 download.

At that size the download isn't too much of a strain on your broadband connection but the programme is long enough to last the morning commute to work and hopefully funny enough to have you arriving at work in a good mood.

Gervais, a self-confessed luddite, is now working on having his show formatted so it can be downloaded as a podcast to mobile smartphones such as Pocket PC devices and Palm Treo.


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12:24 AM  

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