Since they started recording their eccentric, irreverent podcast from their Midwest farmhouse, Dawn Miceli and Drew Domkus would joke about...

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Since they started recording their eccentric, irreverent podcast from their Midwest farmhouse, Dawn Miceli and Drew Domkus would joke about “world domination.”

They haven’t quite achieved that goal yet. But their downloadable “Dawn and Drew” show is now so popular that it’s courted by big-name advertisers — despite its sometimes raunchy and profane language — and has allowed Domkus to quit his day job to concentrate on podcasting.

Miceli and Domkus are on the vanguard of podcasters who are finding that their living-room-produced, amateur Internet radio shows can lead to both fame and fortune.

Viable market

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Now that some podcasters are pulling in hundreds of thousands of listeners a month, advertisers are setting their sights on the downloadable audio programs as a viable marketing channel.

That’s spawning an ecosystem of companies hoping to capitalize on the emerging medium.

“I think things will take a dramatic turn,” said Ron Bloom, chief executive of San Francisco start-up PodShow, looking ahead to 2006. “There’s a $32 billion war chest invested in radio advertising. Advertisers are already leaning forward and looking at alternatives.”

Bloom’s optimism is understandable. He’s betting big that PodShow can build a lucrative business by pairing podcasters with advertisers.

The company has corralled a stable of 18 shows — including one by a Chicago drag queen and another produced in Scotland. And it already has advertising deals with companies such as Absolut Vodka, Logitech, EarthLink and America Online.

The company planned to add 30 shows to its network in late November. And soon it will launch a major marketing push to lure even more podcasters into its fold, broadening the network of shows it can sell to advertisers.

“We’ll invite anyone who wants to podcast to come through the door,” Bloom said.

Barely two years old, the podcasting phenomenon has quickly emerged as a key piece of the grass-roots media movement. As many as 10,000 different shows are now being produced.

Advertisers are taking notice.

Virginia moms Paige Heniger and Gretchen Vogelzang began “Mommycast” — a show about the joys and travails of motherhood — in March. They have quickly become podcasting stars, drawing hundreds of thousands of listeners a month and appearing on national news shows.

In November, the duo announced what is perhaps the most lucrative podcasting marketing deal to date — a 12-month sponsorship agreement with Dixie paper products, worth more than $100,000.

“We are trying to speak to the same moms and reach them in the same way ‘Mommycast’ does,” Erik Sjogren, senior brand manager of Dixie, told Brandweek. “We are an 85-year brand, but we want to be contemporary and find the cutting edge.”

So far, advertising dollars are flowing largely to the most-popular “A-list” podcasters. Whether smaller, niche podcasters can cash in remains to be seen.

Part of PodShow’s star-making strategy is to have podcasters promote each other’s shows and help them build audiences — raising their appeal to advertisers.

The company also works with podcasters to give their shows a more professional polish.

The uniqueness of podcasts — the shows are portable and their content is wildly diverse — is causing marketers to think creatively about their advertising messages.

Familiar, radio-style commercials will be part of the mix.

But more creative campaigns will emerge, as well, with podcast hosts being asked to talk up certain products or promote contests that are tied to a brand or product.

There are still kinks that need to be worked out before podcast advertising can really take off, marketing professionals say.

Advertising rates for the medium are still in flux. And advertisers are increasingly wedded to demographics and audience statistics — data that’s hard to come by for podcasts.

Counting downloads is doable. But it’s virtually impossible to know whether a person has actually listened to a podcast.

“What we need to know is how many people have downloaded it, how many people listened to it and how many people have listened to the ad,” said Geoff Clendenning, managing partner of Digital Media Garage, an entertainment marketing company.

Clendenning sees promise in an audience measurement system being developed by digital book company Audible. And Mark McCrery just founded Podtrac, which attempts to measure podcast activity and listener demographics.

Bloom is not concerned.

“Right now, I think the advertisers understand this is a new medium, and they’re growing with it,” he said.