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Symposium: Next Gen Podcast Distribution Protocols

MAY 11, 2017, 9am–5pm
Harvard Law School
Wasserstein Hall
1585 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Next Gen Podcast Distribution Protocols: Innovation and governance in open development initiatives

Presented by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School, in Collaboration with the Open Working Group


On May 11, 2017, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Tow Center for Digital Journalism will host and facilitate a symposium, in collaboration with the open working group, to address the process of developing standards that support the distribution of syndicated audio content. The event will look back at the evolution of the RSS protocol and look forward at the need for new technical infrastructure to support an expanding podcast distribution landscape. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in both higher-level policy discussions and technical deep-dives throughout the course of this one-day event.

The goals of the symposium include furthering cooperation among various players in the world of podcast creation and distribution and consideration of recommendations on standards, enhancements, extensions, and other methods to support the growth of podcasting as an open and inclusive medium. It will bring together academic, non-profit, and commercial constituencies to address, among other things:

  • the history of media protocols;
  • promises and pitfalls associated with open development initiatives;
  • rights issues relevant to openly syndicated content;
  • questions of governance and stakeholder engagement; and
  • technical planning and implementation for next generation podcast distribution

The symposium will mix talks and panels that generally address these issues (curated by the Berkman Klein and Tow Center teams) with opportunities for breakouts that allow deeper dives into technical questions around distribution protocols for podcasts and other forms of serialized media (facilitated by members of the community).

Registration is limited; sign up here. The symposium will be followed by a separate, two-day “Audio for Good” event, co-hosted by PRX, RadioPublic, and the HBS Digital Initiative. Applications to participate can be submitted here.


In the last two years, podcasting has hit a tipping point in mainstream adoption. Over fifty-seven million people listen to podcasts each month in the US, growing at over 25% per year. A rapidly expanding industry and ecosystem is taking shape across content creation, publishing, distribution, discovery, and monetization. Apple remains the largest platform for podcasting, with major players like Google, Spotify, Audible, and Pandora beginning to integrate podcasts into their services. Independent creators, content networks, and podcast apps and a variety of service providers are starting to arrive. Public radio remains a foundational force, dominating the charts with shows from NPR, PRX, WNYC, This American Life, and others.

There is also a growing number of industry conferences, events, and associations starting to address myriad needs in the podcasting space, including Podcast Movement, the Podcast Summit, Third Coast International Audio Festival, in addition to an uptick in live events for podcast fans in venues across the country.

Growth in content, audience, and revenue is intensifying the competitive landscape, with resulting pressure to address problems related to metrics, metadata, advertising, audience insight, and more.

These are unique and exciting challenges in developing technologies that power an open standard like podcasting. From the basic and ubiquitous formats that have come to be relied on, to recent advances like dynamic audio serving and advanced metrics and analytics, there is a wide array of topics that must be addressed.

This convening seeks to provide a forum in which to discuss specific technical details that relate to podcast distribution and to learn from and compare notes with people who have been deeply involved in questions of governance, standard-setting, and open innovation across a wide variety of fields. A primary goal for the community involves establishing processes and developing timelines for future development initiatives.


The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society is a research center based at Harvard University. The Center’s Center’s mission is to explore and understand cyberspace; to study its development, dynamics, norms, and standards; and to assess the need or lack thereof for laws and sanctions. Berkman Klein is a research center, premised on the observation that what it seeks to learn is not already recorded. The Center’s method is to build out into cyberspace, record data, self-study, and share. Its mode is entrepreneurial nonprofit.

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, established in 2010, provides journalists with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism and serves as a research and development center for the profession as a whole. Operating as an institute within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, the Tow Center is poised to take advantage of a unique combination of factors to foster the development of digital journalism. Its New York location affords access to cutting-edge technologists, a strong culture of journalism and multiple journalism and communication schools, with outstanding universities attached to them. The Tow Center is where technology and journalism meet, and where education and practice meet. is a community-driven working group with a mission to ensure that podcasting grows to meet the needs of listeners, creators, producers, publishers, advertisers, and developers, without sacrificing the groundwork that has been established to make it an open and inclusive medium. The goal of the working group is to develop clear and comprehensive standards and best practices. The group now includes more than 100 representatives from a growing number of podcast industry stakeholders, including international participants, and intends to incrementally release updates to existing standards and recommendations for new proposals.




The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School for Journalism

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Tow Center

Tow Center

Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

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