The first podcast was created nearly 15 years ago at Harvard University. So it’s fitting that some of the most creative experiments in the growing medium are happening just down the road.
RadioPublic, a year-old company headquartered at Harvard’s Launch Lab startup office, is trying to build a better podcast app, one that will remove nagging roadblocks for podcast creators and listeners alike. That puts the startup in competition with Apple, whose own app is the default way of listening to podcasts for many iPhone users.
If chief executive Jake Shapiro seems unfazed, it’s probably because he’s not new to the task. As one of the founders of Cambridge’s Public Radio Exchange, which distributes public radio shows such as This American Life, Shapiro’s been working in the field since radio first crossed paths with the Internet.
“If you were to build radio now,” he says, “this is how you’d do it.”
Although it’s more popular than ever, podcasting is still a pipsqueak in the broader world of media and entertainment. In very basic terms, podcasting is radio delivered over the Internet. That lets listeners tune in whenever they want, skip ahead and rewind shows, and binge on new discoveries.
A recent survey on the podcasting market by Edison Research estimates that nearly a quarter of Americans older than 12 — about 67 million people — listen to podcasts monthly, up from about 57 million a year ago.
RadioPublic is hoping to tap into the market’s growth potential in part by helping new users find and follow podcasts more easily. One example of that strategy in action, Shapiro says, is RadioPublic’s new playlists, which let professional curators and everyday enthusiasts compile their favorite podcast episodes into a package that is easily shared over social media or on websites.
“It becomes something that is a rare and important thing for a mobile app, which is a network effect. There are more ways for people you care about to join and listen to something together,” Shapiro says. “Otherwise, it’s a very solitary experience.”
That’s just one of several seemingly obvious product features in RadioPublic’s sights that hadn’t yet been developed for podcasters. And, yes, that means the big players could copy RadioPublic’s idea. But the list of startups that have built big businesses on the complacency of gigantic competitors is a very long one.