Podcasts Help Drive Demand for High-Volume Hosting

As podcasts and video blogs consume disk space and bandwidth, will these large media files reside with major web hosting providers, niche startups spawned by the Blogosphere, or perhaps Yahoo or Google? As Internet traffic shifts from text and images to video and audio, old hosting business models are being reworked and new ones imagined in anticipation of huge growth for user-generated data.

There's good news for podcasters and video bloggers: storage and bandwidth yearn to be cheap. That's especially true at the world's largest web hosting companies, which have dramatically pumped up the specs on their discount hosting accounts in recent weeks. The massive upgrades, which feature 5 gigabytes of disk space and 250-300 gigs of data transfer for under $5 a month, are partly due to competitive pressures. Prices for shared hosting accounts can't get much lower, forcing providers to compete on disk space and bandwidth as they battle for small business customers.

But the shift also prepares the web hosting industry for high-volume media hosting challenges from Yahoo and Google. At a podcasting trade show Friday, Yahoo confirmed that it is developing a service to publish and host podcasts. The show was also awash with rumors that a similar project is in development at Google, and it seems logical that Microsoft's new push into web-based services will eventually include a podcasting component.

The extent of Google's infrastructure ambitions became clear in September, when it was learned that Google plans an enormous data center in one of New York City's most connected telecom buildings. The lease for 270,000 square feet - about twice the size of the average Wal-Mart - adds an enormous amount of data center space to Google's already huge network. Google is already archiving commercial video and inviting user video submissions.

In the meantime, Netfirms is the latest web hosting provider to unveil new hosting plans, which offer 6 gigs of disk space and 300 gigabytes of data transfer for just $4.95, with a monthly 1.5 terabyte bandwidth allowance available for $14.95. Similar upgrades were announced last week by the two largest hosts, 1&1 Internet and Go Daddy, meaning other providers will likely follow suit. While shared hosting plans may not be ideal for all new podcasters, veteran bloggers with media archiving requirements may find the disk space and bandwidth allowances to their liking.

If Go Daddy, 1&1 and Netfirms have an opportunity in podcasts and vlogs, it's because pricing plans at specialty podcasting services have left the door open for them. Liberated Syndication and BlogMatrix each offer only 100 megabytes of storage for $5 a month, while PodLot offers 150 megs. Podcaster Hosting provides 1 gigabyte of storage for $9.95, while AudioBlog users get just 5 gigabytes of data transfer for $4.95, with overages billed at $1 per gigabyte.

Audible announced a new podcast service last week, and Audible consultant Mitch Ratcliffe argues that podcast fees of 3 cents per download are actually affordable when the web hosting and bandwidth costs are included. Many prominent bloggers disagree, and the metrics Radcliffe uses to represent the hosting industry in the pricing comparison - $9.95 for 4 gigabytes of downloads - have already been superseded by cheaper plans with beefier specs.

And what about free hosting services? Our Media appears best positioned to become an important free hosting archive of audio and video files. The service, started by blogosphere veterans J.D. Lasica and Marc Canter, has its storage space and bandwidth provided at no cost by the Internet Archive.