So you wanna be a video podcaster?

A source tells me of his doughy, on the other side of middle-aged television producer flashing a shiny new iPod extolling his minions, “Podcasting. We’ve got to get into podcasting.” Kind of like in the Graduate, “Plastics, son. Plastics.”

Many of the content producers I’ve spoken to about video podcasting approach it like web video. Few make a distinction between video podcasting and web video, yet the user experiences are vastly different.

Web videos are pulled. Podcasts are pushed. Based on what the user sees on the web page, she decides whether or not to watch the video. If she doesn’t like it after a bit, she stops watching it. Podcasts are syndicated. Once the user subscribes, she’s trusting the content producer to deliver on the promise of what she signed up for. Podcasts most often land on the hard drive automatically, many then they get uploaded to the iPod automatically as well. Users will become frustrated quickly if they find that you’ve filled a third of their free iPod space with content they are not interested in.

  • Deliver narrowly focused content that the user expects. Don’t cram too much into a single feed. Create multiple, targeted feeds if necessary.
  • Keep the list of available podcasts on the subscription feed manageable. Make old versions available through an archive, but keep the RSS feed to six to ten items if possible.

Web videos are almost always viewed at the PC. Podcasts can be viewed almost anywhere. This is huge. That cooking podcast might be viewed in the kitchen, the grocery store, or in the gym. If you think user behind the PC are easily distracted, a user on the go is even more so. The portable video user’s hands may not be as readily available to hit pause or rewind as the PC user’s.

  • Cut slower and hold shots a little longer for the podcast. Odds are the user is multitasking. Keep it moving, but realize it’s unlikely the video podcast will fill the viewer’s field of vision as completely as a television show or a PC screen.
  • Use large type or no type at all on screen. Small type will do more to irritate than illuminate.
  • Test your content in the environments it’s likely to be viewed in. If there’s a good chance the viewer will be outdoors, make sure the image is bright enough and has enough contrast to be visible on the often underpowered screens of portable devices.
  • Knowing the context of the viewing experience will help you determine the proper length for the podcast video.
  • Understand that everything will be heard in your video podcast. The user likely has earbuds or headphones. Magicians know you can fool the eye, but never the ear.

Web videos exist within the context of the site. Podcasts must stand alone. In fact the web video viewer can be reading the web page as the video plays. The video is only a part of the full experience, even if it’s a very important part. The video podcast is the complete experience. The old television rules apply. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.

Podcast audio is crucial. PSP and iPod users are wearing earbuds, some video podcasts will be played on the living room TV. Every production error is heard. Web video remains a predominantly small PC speaker experience.

Conflict revolution

There’s an ongoing debate between some new school new media and some old school old media types about the role of production values in the podcasting space. The back and forth between Steve Gillmor and Stephen Hill on Gillmor’s blog is illustrative. I come down firmly on Hill’s side of the debate. Gilmor seems to believe that audiences will tolerate poor production values in narrowcast content simply because they are so hungry for that content. His typo-infested, grammatically challenged, stream of consciousness blog stands as proof. It’s terribly disrespectful to the reader.

I don’t believe people will tolerate poorly presented content for long. If it’s a wide open free market of ideas and content, then once an audience is developed there will be competition to serve that audience. Gillmor’s podcasts recorded over Skype with his interviewee sitting in a crowded Starbucks just won’t cut it a few years (or maybe even months) from now. Gillmor’s probably brilliant and worth listening to, but there are millions of brilliant people worth listening to. Surely some one of them will create something that’s a little bit easier on the ears as well as insightful. Think Chris Lydon. The audience only has a fixed number of hours in a week to devote to radio.

One Thought on “So you wanna be a video podcaster?

  1. That brings back memories.

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