Forrester Tells People What They Want to Hear

The big news going around the podcasting community is this Forrester report, which asserts “that only 1% of online households in North America regularly download and listen to podcasts.” Of course, since the actual six-page report is hidden behind a $249.00 walll, we can’t exactly corroborate the methodology behind this sweeping assertion. Nor is there any indication on how these “online households” are defined or determined. How many people were tested? Where were they tested? Were they dial-up or broadband?

Without these terms established, I really can’t see how anyone who believes in the scientific method can get into a big fuss over this. For one thing, Charlene Li’s math seems considerably off to me. If Forrester claims that there are “just 700,000 U.S. households” using podcasting, how did the two million downloads of The Ricky Gervais Show (after the first seven shows) happen? Surely, a substantial bloc of those downloads were American.

Granted, I’m just as skeptical about the Web 2.0 propaganda as anyone else. But if podcasts are a bust, why are so many companies spending so much money putting them out? Is so much VC riding on a long tail effect? A hunch? Or is this because the web stats (a far more verifiable figure than Forrester’s “we’ll tell you how we did it if you drop three C-notes” ruse) confirm a growing audience of listeners?

Of course, for those who Want to Believe, here are some fundamental reasons why Forrester’s “studies” should be called into question.

1. New York Times (February 20, 2005): From CEO George Colony’s own mouth: “Forrester, as it turns out, as it comes out of the recession, is really a portfolio company.” Colony has also insisted over the years that Google will be eclipsed by Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL.

2. CNet (October 7, 2003): Forrester releases “integrity policy” after Forrester stacked the deck in favor of Microsoft concluding that Windows was cheaper for companies to run than Linux (study paid for by Microsoft, with Forrester using a mere 12 companies as the basis for their results) and another bought and paid for by PeopleSoft. Because of this, software companies are now forbidden from publicizing Forrester results. In other words, Forrester Research commissions deficient studies, asks the companies to pay for them and orders them to keep their mouths shut after telling them what they want to hear! Brilliant!

3. ZDNet (November 17, 2005): George Colony: “I foresee a world in which even enterprise applications like financials, ERP (enterprise resource planning), and supply chain software will be advertising-funded.” Sure, because, as the 191 million+ downloads of Ad-Aware have demonstrated, everyone loves spyware and adware that cripples their OSes!

4. And then there’s bullshit from Colony in the Contra Costa Times (July 31, 2005): “Yet the president of Forrester Research, George Colony, who met last week with Hurd, is convinced that the company’s new chief will impose a sharper focus on HP when he unveils Phase 2 of his plans for the company. The only reason he did not do so earlier this week, Colony said, is that he has not been there long enough to devise a new strategy.”

Really, George? You mean, with all of your seer-like powers, you’re essentially telling us that a new CEO needs to settle and assess a situation before developing a game plan? Wow, that’s like Economics 101!

It’s only natural that newspapers are jumping onto this story like crazy. Because like the Microsoft people commissioning the Forrester study back in 2003, they’re hearing exactly what they want to hear. Podcasting is dead! Long live podcasting!

Well, if you want to believe this without proof or confirmable data, then you may as well believe that George Colony has five testicles in his nut sack.

[UPDATE: Looks like the sample pull was 5,015 computer users and that many of those surveys didn’t have broadband. Where were these people located? How was this representative sample obtained?]

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One Comment

  1. In a past life, I worked at Forrester. That is, until I was laid off after this energy company they predicted great things for, Enron, went belly up. So let’s just say their survey methodology could be more rigorous.

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