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What is Podcast Hosting?
So you're thinking of starting a podcast but aren't sure how to handle the hosting. You aren't alone. Hosting podcasts is not the same as hosting a website. Most websites are composed of small files, a typical web page is only about 1 MB, and much of the content will be cached by your browser to make future visits even easier on the server. In contrast, media files such as podcasts are very large (around 25 MB for a 30 minute audio file recorded at 96 Kbps), and downloading media files takes up a lot of bandwidth.
The bandwidth demanded by multiple simultaneous downloads of large media files can cripple the performance of a server that isn't up to the task. Let's say that at some point your podcast attracts a large audience and that each new episode is downloaded thousands of times in the first few days after it is released. If your podcast is being downloaded a thousand times in a day there will be many times that a dozen or more listeners are downloading the file simultaneously.
Now think about what happens when you try to move a dozen large media files simultaneously on your computer. Think about how slowly the files are moved, and how that movement affects the overall performance of your computer during the transfer. The exact same thing happens to the server when there are several simultaneous downloads of your podcast. This is the main reason why there are servers specifically configured and dedicated to hosting large media files.
Many popular web hosting companies boast unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth, however they aren't set up to handle the demands of a popular podcast. A popular podcast will demand bandwidth resources that a web server just isn't configured to accommodate.
If you are starting up a small podcast with only a few dozen listeners your shared hosting account on a web server will probably work just fine as long as hosting large media files doesn't run afoul of your hosting agreement (you should check with your hosting provider before trying to host a podcast on a shared server). However, if you were to see a sudden jump in audience size you could find yourself having major download speed issues and a disagreement with your hosting provider at the worst possible time.
The solution to this problem is to buy space on a server designed to handle multiple simultaneous downloads of large media files. Servers configured in this way are called media servers, and there are several hosting providers that offer media servers specifically configured for and packaged with useful tools for hosting podcasts.
What is podcast hosting used for?
A great podcast with a large audience or one that hopes to develop one needs two types of hosting solutions: a web server, and a media server. The web server will power the podcast website and link to media files. The media server is where the podcasts will be hosted, and is a server specifically configured for this purpose.
Using a web server for your website, and a media server for your podcast hosting may seem like overkill when you first get started - and may not be necessary if you don't ever plan on building a large audience (if that is the case be sure to check with your hosting provider before uploading your podcast). However, if your podcast grows in popularity having your hosting configured properly will save you from a lot of headaches.
What does podcast hosting cost?
There are many podcast hosting providers out there, and they offer a variety of plans based on exactly what you want and need. Podcast hosting can be as inexpensive as $5 per month for a simple plan with enough storage to host two or three average-length podcasts at a time for a small audience, or as much as $80 or more a month for lots of storage and lots of bandwidth to support a large audience. Of course, you can always start small and upgrade your plan when you hit it big and your storage and bandwidth needs increase.
There are even a few free podcast hosting options out there with limited storage, bandwidth, and support that will let you get your feet wet while you begin to develop an audience.
Why choose podcast hosting?
Hosting a podcast requires generous allocations of storage space and bandwidth. Media servers hosting podcasts needs to be configured with this end-goal in mind. While your shared web hosting account may boast unlimited storage and bandwidth, and may handle the demands of a podcast with a small audience, it won't handle the demands of a large audience. As a result, using a web hosting account to host a podcast is not best practice, and is not recommended.
Many podcast hosting providers throw in great tools that will make getting your podcast noticed that much easier. Typical features unique to a podcast hosting account include:
- Support for RSS feeds and iTunes.
- Audience stats.
- A podcast website to advertise your podcast.
- Simple publishing tools social media and websites of your choice.
Using a podcast hosting provider for your podcast is the best choice if you're serious about building a sizeable audience.
Questions and Answers
What's the difference between a web server and a media server?
Web servers are configured to support websites and web applications with a relatively low bandwidth demand. Most web servers simply don't have the backend power to handle simultaneous downloads of large media files. Media servers on the other hand are specifically configured to handle multiple simultaneous downloads of large media files. So while your web server can and will host media files, if your audience is large enough to result in simultaneous downloads you really need to host your media files on a server designed for that purpose.
What factors do I need to take into account when selecting a podcast hosting provider?
The primary factors to take into consideration are storage and bandwidth. Most media servers accounts include a set amount of storage space for your files, and a certain amount of bandwidth to allow users to access and download or stream your podcasts. It will take a little math, but you need to figure out how large your podcasts files will be, how many you plan to have available at once, and how large your audience will be. With those figures in hand you will be better equipped to select a plan that will provide the storage and bandwidth your podcast will need.
I've heard I can use file transfer apps like Google Drive and Dropbox to host my podcast. Is that true?
The short is answer is yes, but with severe limitations. You can host your podcast as a publicly shared file on Google Drive or Dropbox. However, it's probably not a good solution unless your audience is extremely small and dedicated. Using a file sharing application like Google Drive or Dropbox will throw up several roadblocks to attracting a large audience:
- You'll want to make your podcast subscribable using RSS. This requires a direct link to the media file. While this can be done with some workarounds, most file sharing applications are not design for this purpose.
- Rather than downloading the entire file, many users choose to stream podcasts. File sharing applications generally do not support file streaming, and many podcast channels such as iTunes won't allow a podcast that can't be streamed.
- Many file sharing applications have bandwidth limitations that will make hosting a podcast for any but the smallest audiences untenable.
Using a free file sharing account to host your podcast is tempting, but in the end you'll grow to regret using a less than optimal solution that will create extra work for you, create barriers for your audience to overcome in getting to your content, and ultimately hurt your ability to attract an audience.