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A podcast is an episodic series of digital media files which a user can set up so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user's own local computer or portable media player.

The Serial podcast being played through a podcast player

A podcast is an episodic series of digital media files which a user can set up so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user's own local computer or portable media player.

The word arose as a portmanteau of "iPod" (a brand of media player) and "broadcast". Thus, the files distributed are typically in audio or video formats, but may sometimes include other file formats such as PDF or ePub.

The distributor of a podcast maintains a central list of the files on a server as a web feed that can be accessed through the Internet. The listener or viewer uses special client application software on a computer or media player, known as a podcatcher, which accesses this web feed, checks it for updates, and downloads any new files in the series. This process can be automated so that new files are downloaded automatically, which may seem to the user as though new episodes are broadcast or "pushed" to them. Files are stored locally on the user's device, ready for offline use. Podcasting contrasts with webcasting or streaming which do not allow for offline listening, although most podcasts may also be streamed on demand as an alternative to download. Many podcast players (apps as well as dedicated devices) allow listeners to adjust the playback speed.

Some have labeled podcasting as a converged medium bringing together audio, the web, and portable media players, as well as a disruptive technology that has caused some people in the radio business to reconsider established practices and preconceptions about audiences, consumption, production, and distribution. Podcasts are usually free of charge to listeners and can often be created for little to no cost, which sets them apart from the traditional model of "gate-kept" media and production tools. It is very much a horizontal media form: producers are consumers, consumers may become producers, and both can engage in conversations with each other.