Tech personality Leo Laporte is expanding his podcast empire in Petaluma and moving into a 9,000-square-foot recording studio, where he will continue to stream live video and produce his weekly shows.
Laporte, who made his name as a radio and TV host for tech shows, is moving out of the old Victorian house where he built his first recording studio in downtown Petaluma and began producing shows for an Internet audience in 2005.
Since posting that inaugural show online, Laporte has grown the audience from a few thousand devoted tech geeks to a listenership that tops 5 million people, said Lisa Kentzell, who last year was appointed chief executive of Laporte's TWiT.tv.
The media company's ad revenue has grown rapidly, from a smattering of sponsors to $2 million in 2009 and $4 million last year, Kentzell said. The company is now ready to embark on its next stage of growth.
"We've decided to turn our network into a full broadcasting business," Kentzell said. "Our goal is to become the CNN of technology."
The new space will hold multiple studios, including a breaking news studio to focus on the latest developments in the technology world.
The cutting-edge business built its empire using a technology dubbed podcasting, which is a method of recording shows that are posted to the Internet and downloaded by listeners to play on their iPods or other digital devices. It remains one of the most downloaded free shows on Apple's iTunes store.
The most popular show remains Laporte's flagship program, This Week in Tech, or TWiT, a roughly 90 minute show covering the latest in tech happenings.
As technology has evolved, so has the show. It now broadcasts a live video stream of nearly everything occurring in the studio, which is currently tucked into the cramped den of a 2,000-square-foot Victorian on Keller Street.
The new location, a couple blocks away at 140 Keller St., is nearly five times larger.
"It's not only huge, it's not only affordable, it's got great bones," Laporte said on a recent video tour of the new space for his audience.
He dubbed it the "TWiT Brickhouse" because it is located in a historic old building dating back to Petaluma's agri-business roots.
Laporte was one of the first people to tap into the business potential of podcasting. He attracted a highly-focused audience of geeks and technology professionals — the same folks often in charge of making the technology purchases for large companies.
"We have a niche audience," Kentzell said. "And advertisers love that."
Sponsors pay about $40 for every thousand people who listen to the show, Kentzell said. That is far higher than online averages.
Newspapers charge an average $6.99 per thousand online readers, while portals such as Yahoo on average charge $2.60 and social networking sites charge 56 cents, according to 2010 data released by ComScore, an Internet tracking company. The overall online average is $2.52 per thousand viewers or listeners.
TWiT.tv has grown rapidly, and now employs 10 full-time staff members. It is looking to hire an additional four or five people in the next year as it expands from producing 40 hours of weekly content to about 50 hours, Kentzell said. Its lineup of 23 shows is expected to grow also, as the company continues to expand its ad-supported business.