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Podcast creates an unlikely Internet icon

By Mark Egan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Unemployed radio producer Karl Pilkington has become an unlikely superstar by using the new medium of podcasting for his bizarre statement about eating an animal's private parts.

Pilkington plays the village idiot on The Ricky Gervais Show, with Gervais and Stephen Merchant, a hit podcast -- the new media craze of blending iPod with broadcast. The free audio or video shows on the Internet can be downloaded onto iPods and MP3 players.

It was during a discussion on the Gervais show about a reality TV show, where contestants were asked to eat an animal's penis, that Pilkington made Internet history. First he said he could not eat an animal's penis in the morning because he has a delicate stomach.

He then proclaimed, "I could eat a knob at night."

His "knob" soundbite has become so popular that a Google search for "I could eat a knob at night" yields more than half a million listings. Among them are T-shirts featuring the slogan and Pilkington's bald head selling for $17 (10 pounds).

The BBC was among the earliest adopters of podcasting technology. It carried Radio Five Live podcasts in 2004. By last fall, major media on both sides of the Atlantic had begun podcasts. Podcasts now see amateurs and media titans alike battling for the eyes and ears of the "iPod generation."

"This is another new Internet paradigm," Vanity Fair media critic Michael Wolff said, adding that like other recent changes to the media world, "It happened outside the official channels, so we are all unaware of it until it is huge."

A few years ago, media companies woke up to Internet theft of music on Napster. Last year they heard about blogs, and now they are "like deers caught in the headlights again" trying to figure out podcasting, Wolff said.

Among popular podcasts are shows from America's National Public Radio, CBS' news magazine show "60 Minutes" and audio essays from Slate.com. Myriad amateur podcasts include sports fans talking about favourite teams and podcasts like "open source sex," which promises "erotica, sex ed and more ..."

But the most popular podcast of all is The Ricky Gervais show, where Pilkington made his name.

After Gervais mused on the show that the soundbite could be used in a dance remix, it took just a few days for the Internet to be awash with songs using the soundbite as a hook.

Gervais says in his ninth episode that his is the world's most popular podcast. He boasts 2.5 million downloads and says he expects 4 million downloads when the 12 episodes are done.

His hit format is simple: Gervais and Merchant verbally beat up Pilkington, their former producer at the radio station Xfm, as they discuss his off-beat pronouncements. The show is strictly available as a podcast.

Wolff said the question now for mainstream media companies is how to make money from the new technology. "The traditional media are asking themselves with some degree of desperation how they can make money out of this."

Gervais himself has jokingly lamented giving his show away for free, saying in a recent podcast, "I have been a fool."

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