As I was looking through TPN’s November stats last night I remembered a question that a VC in SF asked me last month that I couldn’t answer. The question was: how many hours of programming does The Podcast Network have up on its servers today?

Calculating the amount of hours involves some slight guesswork but here’s how I did it.

The first question I asked myself is “How many shows do we have up on our servers currently?”. That’s also a hard question to answer without getting my IT guys to write some sort of script, but an easy way to estimate it is to see how many media files were downloaded from our servers in the month of November. The answer: 3298. That means that in one month, people listened to 3298 TPN shows.

Now, if we assume that each show is, on average, about 30 minutes in duration, that would mean that in November alone we served up 1649 hours of new and archived programming. If you listened to TPN’s archives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take you 69 days to get through it all. And by then, we’d have added hundreds of hours of new programming.

It’s hard for me right now to figure out exactly how many of those shows were brand new in November versus how many are old, archived shows, but some simple math would give a guesstimate. Let’s say we have about 50 podcasts currently producing new content and, on average, each podcast does a new episode once a week. That would mean that in November, about 200 new podcast episodes were produced. So, out of the 3298 files we sent out, about 6% of them were new and the other 94% were archived shows that someone out there still found interesting enough to download. The Long Tail of The Podcast Network.

Okay so why does any of this matter?

It seems to be trendy at the moment to say that content businesses do not scale and that the future is all about aggregation. I wholeheartedly disagree. I think aggregation and platform plays are great, there is no denying YouTube and MySpace’s success. However, what happens when the latest and greatest platform or aggregator comes along? How do you maintain your audience? Stickiness is a real problem if you don’t own the content. Does Metcalfe’s Law apply to platform businesses when something cooler appears on the scene? And if it’s one thing we know about the innernet, it’s that there is *always* something cooler just around the corner.

Here’s a question – what was the #1 blogging platform in 2001? What was the #1 online music site in 2001? Can anyone remember back that far?

I’m going to take some wild guesses. I’d say that LiveJournal was the top blogging platform and that either or eMusic were the top music sites.

The second question is this – are those sites still #1 or even highly ranked today in their respective fields? Are they the sites everyone is flocking to? Or were they eclipsed by newer, cooler sites? As they didn’t control the content on their sites, they had few options to stop their audience departing for newer destinations. If you don’t own the content, how do you get people to stick around?

Of course that isn’t to say it can’t be done. Yahoo made it work. MSN made it work. Very expensive plays though.

I think the content business has a lot of upside and will continue to scale. However, the models that we are used to from the 20th century have to change. As audience fragmentation occurs, scale means having lots of shows with a small audience and fewer shows with a large audience. Getting that model right is going to take a whole new way of thinking, something I’ve been working on for the last couple of years.

But to say that content businesses can’t scale any more is just wrong. TPN is owned, operated and financed by one guy at the moment – me. I have a great team of about 50 collaborators who produce content and a couple of part-time IT guys. Between us we served up over 1600 hours of content last month that we created. Who says content doesn’t scale?