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Known as the PodFather, Curry, a former MTV VJ, is the face of this new cultural phenomenon--and he may just be the first person to figure out how to make real money off it. Until now, podcasts were personal sound bites--a bit like audio versions of blogs. There has been no advertising. PodShow Inc., Curry's new, San Francisco-- based company, which aims to commercialize podcasting, just landed $8.9 million in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley powerhouses behind Yahoo! and Google. PodShow aims to bring podcasting to the masses. "Whoever wants to podcast should be able to do that for free--no matter what--and we're going to facilitate that. And if you want to kick it up and monetize it, make a business out of it or have it be part of your business, we're going to be there for you," Curry told TIME. He isn't alone. Another San Francisco-- based startup, Odeo, also recently won funding and promises to make podcasting easy and profitable. In Seattle, Melodeo secured $11 million to bring podcasting to mobile phones.
When it comes to commercial possibilities, PodShow has a wide lead. Boasting a collection of 7,000 shows, the company owns the largest directory of podcasts, including portals such as iPodder.org and PodcastAlley.com Indexing technology created by PodShow underlies the latest version of Apple's iTunes, which features free podcasts from big media like ESPN, CNN and ABC, as well as from quirky amateurs. Called PodFinder, it's the world's first audio directory to help listeners browse, search, discover and subscribe to podcasts. PodShow claims that 4 million listeners access its content--about half the estimated podcasting audience. The company produces some of today's hottest content, including podcasts for Paris Hilton, Spike Lee and The Dawn and Drew Show! (raw talk from two married ex-punks living in a Wisconsin farmhouse) and shows for media companies like Sirius Satellite Radio. It plans to promote independent artists and royalty-free music podcasts.
The real money, of course, comes from advertising; $30 billion is spent annually on radio ads, and Mark Kvamme of Sequoia Capital sees podcasting grabbing a chunk. "You can easily see it as a billion-dollar advertising market," he says. Internet audio advertising, he estimates, will capture 3% to 4% of all radio advertising over the next 5 to 10 years. "It's a very targeted medium," he says, and "a great place for an advertiser to hit specific audiences." Curry is betting that podcasting will deliver new ways of selling--allowing advertisers to go beyond product placement and permeate the content. "The show could actually be the advertisement," he says. "Dawn and Drew not just talking about Durex products you know, condoms and lube but actually demonstrating them on their show." So much for the idea of raw, independent content. Curry doesn't seem to have any qualms about blurring ads with content.