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January 27, 2009 3:03 PM   Subscribe

On the podcast for This American Life, Ira claims NPR spends $140,000-$160,000 per year just on bandwidth for the podcast. To those of you who do hosting & have some vague idea how much bandwidth TAL's podcast would take: Does this seem reasonable to you?

This seems like an outrageous cost for a podcast. I did some quick math based on some cheap hosting and came out with around 13TB per month for a cost of $150,000 per year. That seems like way, way more than any podcast would need but I don't really know. Is Ira blowin' smoke to make me cough up the dollars?

I did donate so please, no lectures.
posted by chairface to Technology (29 answers total)
 
Bandwidth is a bit nebulous when Ira's talking, but TAL is insanely popular and the hour-long podcasts are not small files. I think it's plausible. The SA Forums cost $3.5k/mo on bandwidth ($42k/yr) and those are text only.

* I would be that the cost does include a bit of human overhead, but he does say 'bandwidth alone'...
posted by unixrat at 3:13 PM on January 27, 2009


An episode of This American Life is a 27 megabyte mp3 file. 13 terabytes / 27 megabytes is around 500,000 downloads per month, or, at four shows a month, 125,000 subscribers, which seems completely plausible to me.
posted by silby at 3:14 PM on January 27, 2009


The podcast is about 50 megs each as I recall. So 20 per gigabyte or 20,000 per terrabyte. 13 terrabytes would be 160,000 people. That doesn't really seem all that out of line, assuming you're right about 13TB being the BW that would cost that much.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:14 PM on January 27, 2009


Er 260,000
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:15 PM on January 27, 2009


I will point out that 13 terabytes a month of download from Amazon S3 (by my calculation) costs around $25,000 for a year, so it is quite possible that either TAL is employing a more expensive CDN/host or the above subscribership estimates are lowballs, or both.
posted by silby at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2009


Not to derail — but I'm pretty sure NPR doesn't pay a dime for TAL's bandwidth. TAL is distributed by Public Radio International, not NPR.
posted by Bizurke at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's see. It's 30 megs an episode. 4 episodes a month. So 120 MB / month / regular listener, which is 1.44 GB/user/year. I can find 'content delivery network' stuff for $0.15/GB, so say a quarter per user a year, expense.

Do they have half a million online listeners? Not just the regular listeners, but also the folks that just go through the archives every so often. Including repeat downloads. That seems pretty plausible to me.
posted by aubilenon at 3:23 PM on January 27, 2009


I know my radio station's streaming cost a bundle, and without mirrors we couldn't do it. SOMAFM used to get free mirrors from AOL, but after they got cut off, they relied on Stream Boys, and i likely 90% of their expenses. Stream Boys podcast rate is not pretty either.

Space is cheap, bandwidth isn't
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:28 PM on January 27, 2009


Last week, the economic crisis that we’ve been reporting on hit especially close to home. A dozen colleagues from our home radio station, WBEZ Chicago, had to be laid off. It costs the radio station around $150,000 per year [from the Dec. 14 entry on the TAL blog]

I believe WBEZ pays for it; when you click on donate, it tells you that you can make a check out to WBEZ Alliance.
posted by desjardins at 3:32 PM on January 27, 2009


Putting on my webhost hat

13Tb is about 40mbit/mo.

Cheap bandwidth can be had for $10/mbit, expensive for $65/mbit/mo

So depending on who they are using + the cost might include hardware/rackspace etc $10k/mo is definitly possible
posted by rus at 3:42 PM on January 27, 2009


that doesn't seem out of line, particularly if he's including costs for the colo space in with the bandwidth.

i'm assuming it doesn't include the cost of the servers.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2009


Maybe this is a dumb question, but shouldn't there be some way to reduce podcast download costs by spreading the load in the Bit Torrent fashion? Or maybe there is a good technical reason this is not feasible?
posted by Kirklander at 4:01 PM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Bit Torrent as it stands doesn't work for streaming; you get the file in random order from a dozen people and piece it together. For streaming you need to get the start of it first.

I think something like BT specifically designed for streaming media should be possible but I haven't seen it.
posted by aubilenon at 4:16 PM on January 27, 2009


Maybe this is a dumb question, but shouldn't there be some way to reduce podcast download costs by spreading the load in the Bit Torrent fashion? Or maybe there is a good technical reason this is not feasible?

Not a dumb question at all. In fact, most good bittorrent clients include RSS readers these days (azureus, utorrent, etc, etc). When a new episode comes out, it's queued up and downloaded automatically, in much the same way that iTunes or other podcast fetchers do it.

The major impediment, from TAL's perspective, is that the number one most-used podcast client (iTunes) doesn't support it. It also doesn't support watching directories, so it's not even an option to have a bittorrent client throw it in a folder for iTunes to pick up.

As far as I can tell, these shortcomings are mainly another way for apple to use iTunes to lock people in.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:20 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, sure, bit torrent is not good for streaming but at DSL speeds the download of the whole thing would only be a few minutes if there really are a lot of listeners.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2009


Bit Torrent as it stands doesn't work for streaming; you get the file in random order from a dozen people and piece it together. For streaming you need to get the start of it first.

Even if some people do stream TAL, I'd wager that a larger number of people download the complete mp3 file to load on their mp3 player.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2009


Ok, I'm a believer. Thanks, askmefi.
posted by chairface at 4:24 PM on January 27, 2009


Also - does TAL pay for podcasts downloaded from itunes or the like? Do most ppl really stream directly from the site?
posted by jourman2 at 4:26 PM on January 27, 2009


@aubilenon: I don't think that people are listening to the podcast as it downloads. Instead, they have iTunes or some other podcast client set up to download new episodes as they're released.

@Kirklander: Sure. There's some discussion of this in the wikipedia article on broadcatching. Miro is a good example.
posted by PueExMachina at 4:28 PM on January 27, 2009


Instead, they have iTunes or some other podcast client set up to download new episodes as they're released.

For that matter, who knows how many of the iTunes subscribers even get around to listening to the show before it's automatically deleted. It does stop downloading them after a while, but it's certainly wasteful.

Another related factor is that they have a lot of reruns, maybe half of the weeks, and a good first step to cutting bandwidth costs would be to stop sending those out and just send people over to Audible to pay $1.

(Personally I download them all even if I won't listen immediately because they start charging for them at some point.)
posted by smackfu at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2009


Swarmcast is basically streaming BitTorrent.
posted by atomly at 5:48 PM on January 27, 2009


Unless I'm mistaken they limit the amount of time you have to grab each episode keeping only one available at a time in order to encourage people to subscribe to the entire TAL library via audible.com and while I don't imagine that is much money it does place limits on file availability.
posted by geekyguy at 6:00 PM on January 27, 2009


"Also - does TAL pay for podcasts downloaded from itunes or the like?"

Yup. For podcasts, iTunes is just a directory, not a host.

Not sure why TAL doesn't provide a bittorrent option, as it would offload at least some of the bandwidth.

Back on topic, it's a reasonable estimate of bandwidth costs. (Bizurke, NPR absorbs the costs once it hosts the show.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:24 PM on January 27, 2009


Something seems fishy to me. Last year I emailed TAL and offered $100k/year of free hosting for their podcast, and never heard back. If you were paying out that much for just serving a podcast, why would you turn down free hosting? Maybe it's better that they didn't contact me because it turns out there are a ton of culturally important podcasts that we try to help get online, but the TAL situation still confuses me.
posted by rajbot at 11:39 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes completely plausibel, that's why they should stop using http download and rely more on p2p, especially torrent.
posted by zouhair at 4:07 AM on January 28, 2009


Something seems fishy to me. Last year I emailed TAL and offered $100k/year of free hosting for their podcast, and never heard back. If you were paying out that much for just serving a podcast, why would you turn down free hosting? Maybe it's better that they didn't contact me because it turns out there are a ton of culturally important podcasts that we try to help get online, but the TAL situation still confuses me.

I believe the reason is that if they go on the air and complain about the $140k per year that it costs to host the podcasts, then they will get many times that amount in donations, which they'll use for other things in addition to hosting the podcast. But if they go on the air and say "thanks for rajbot for donating all the hosting we need for our podcasts!" then they won't get nearly as much in donations from people downloading the podcast, because they have nothing that they can call out specifically from podcast listeners.

It really irks me when they do this because it's dishonest, or at least disingenuous. They should just be upfront and be honest about why they are trying to raise money and what it's going toward. I doubt that anyone would be upset if the extra money went to pay staff in addition to paying bandwidth.
posted by helios at 6:20 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops. TAL is a PRI show, so that last bit in my above comment is wrong.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2009


helios: agreed. I too am irked by this sort of cognitive dissonance they spread. At least in Chicago, the NPR and PBS stations have tremendous, state of the art facilities. That sit fallow doing nothing most of the time, while they broadcast purchased shows from other networks.

Presumably, if the goal was reducing the expense, they could do it in an instant. But yeah, that completely ruins the ability to guilt-raise.

The dozen layoffs are surprising to me in that they employ that many people. Yeah, TAL is production heavy. But it's what, an hour a week? And they don't have to sell advertising? How many people do they need??

(Not dissing the concept of publicly supported broadcasting. Just the implementation of it.)
posted by gjc at 4:21 PM on January 28, 2009



Chiming in waaay late here, but I would cheerfully donate to TAL if they'd simply put up a paypal donation link. Duh!
posted by trixare4kids at 2:22 PM on March 2, 2009


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