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.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died yesterday. It’s is fitting to take a moment to take note of what one person who seemingly didn’t have a voice, didn’t have a platform, was able to do. She changed America with a single nonviolent act.

We have a voice and a platform. We have the means with our cameras, editing systems, and internet connections to be seen and heard. The truth, spoken softly and with dignity, is a powerful thing. Our daily professional lives don’t often afford us the chance to speak great truths, but when the opportunity does present itself we should seize it.

My big break in the business was being hired in 1989 to be the post production supervisor for the civil rights series Eyes on the Prize. The very small part I played in helping to tell the stories of people like Rosa Parks remains among the highlights of my career. Sadly, Eyes isn’t available on videotape or DVD. The rights to much of the archival footage and music of the era have lapsed.

As Edward R. Murrow said of television,

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Those moments when we can make the television more than a flickering blue pacifier are what it’s all about.

Video iPod arrived today

Oddly FedEx didn’t make me sign for it. In fact the driver left it on my front step. Considering I had to sign for the $17 cable that arrived last week, and the $25 remote a few days after that, it seemed odd the $300 iPod was left on the stoop. So be it.

I had some video material waiting for it. I had purchased a U2 music video from iTunes and also compressed some client material and a bunch of stuff I captured from my DVR. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the user experience viewing video on the iPod. The image looked much better than I expected a 2.5″ image to look. The real test was hooking the iPod up to an NTSC monitor. Some had posited that the 320×240 image would look like VHS because due to the similar vertical resolution. It didn’t quite get there. The was blockier, but still acceptable for many uses. As expected full screen images shot with a locked down camera looked better than handheld material.

Cruising around the video section of the iTunes store I happened upon a Sub-Zero/Wolf cooking series. In iTunes the video looked like not very well compressed MPEG-4. The video wouldn’t transfer to the iPod because it wasn’t a valid .m4v file, though the Get Info window stated it was H.264. The content was available in the podcast section, but what good is a podcast that won’t play on a pod. At first I thought it was a terrible screw up Wolf’s part, but I’m not sure that’s their fault. Apple’s published specs don’t seem to be correct. It doesn’t appear that anything but 320×240 .m4v files gets uploaded to the iPod via iTunes. Maybe a future version of iTunes or iPod software will address this, Wolf should recompress it anyway. It looks terrible as it is.

It’s a shame. Here was content I was interested in having in a portable format. I could have the iPod with me at the grocery store, in the kitchen, or I could peruse recipes in the family room during half time during Patriots games. The one place I’m definitely not going to watch cooking podcasts is on my Mac or PC in the office.

The Sub-Zero content was subpar. The product tie-ins were exceptionally painful. “Now place the steaks in your Wolf broiling pan.” The stuff played like it was right out of Madison Avenue circa 1954. The company charges $6,000 for a fridge. It can afford a good media development firm. But somewhere I guarantee some analyst will herald this as the future of advertising. It’s not. The future of advertising is far more engaging. Madison and Vine is my favorite book on the topic.

Of course I had a discussion with a client about podcasting this morning. Since the Apple announcement I’ve approached babies in strollers to extol the virtues of video podcasting. Anyway, this client is an NPR producer who refuses to let his content be podcast. His case against NPR’s podcasting model boiled down to his belief that free podcasts lower the value of his content. He can’t repeat it as frequently, and it discourages listeners from tuning in to the broadcast. (What does it matter where they listen to it and when? As long as the underwriter gets its name out there everyone should be happy.)

My counterpoint was that in the age of TiVo and iPods and PSPs, people want content where and when they want it, and that he’s limiting his audience substantially. Ironically he brought up Desperate Housewives. “Folks have to watch it on Sunday so they can talk about it on Monday.” Of course, those who need to can catch up on Monday for $1.99 via iTunes, and watch it while on the treadmill at the gym. ABC seems to have decided that a podcast the day after air isn’t going to hurt ratings or future DVD sales.

We could have gone back and forth on this for a while, but I realized I ran the risk sounding like those arrogant dot-com kids in the 90s declaring, “You just don’t get it.” It turned out a lot of those old guys did get it. Maybe my client’s right, but somehow I can’t imagine that PSPs and iPods and phones aren’t going to change the media landscape forever.

Rooting for the good guys

IndieFlix is a business I really want to succeed. Today’s NY Times featured an article on the company. It’s an internet-based film distribution company. The independent filmmaker submits the film, IndieFlix authors a DVD, markets the film, and handles distribution. Films typically cost $9.95 with the filmmaker getting 1/3 off the top. It’s better than most distribution deals available to indies today, but IPTV folks are promising better so I hope they can gain traction quickly.

So why route for Scilla Andreen and Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi? The Times article quotes one of the principals as doing this to give something back to the community. From what I can tell the principals are really talented with the Emmy bling to prove it. But neither ever struck it big. I’ve been around lots of folks like that who, rather than focusing on the positive “hey this is a terribly cool way to make a living even without the fame and fortune,” choose to focus on the fact that they never reached the potential their 11th grade English teacher predicted and are bitter and cynical.

For those who need another reason to pull for this pair, go to their obligatory business model virtuous cycle diagram. How can you not root for a company that uses the word moola in its PowerPoint presentations? Kip and Uncle Rico would be proud.

Their site is still in beta, and the Times exposure is going to get them some traffic. Good luck.

From the mailbag

A former Scient buddy sent this to me. It was just five years ago this actually worked as a strategy for publicly traded companies. Cue Barbara Steisand’s “The Way We Were.” The tears are welling up.

IPTV delays mean opportunity

ABI research released a report today on IPTV. The overall findings aren’t surprising. IPTV rollout in North America is behind previous projections. The telcos were expected to be the primary drivers, but they have fallen behind schedule, citing excessive regulation among other factors. Even where the telcos have begun rolling out IPTV services, true IPTV services are not available. ABI notes that Verizon’s video service is no more than an RF overlay. If that’s the case, then the telcos have nothing to offer over existing cable services. That leaves them to compete on price. Considering the pounding their voice revenues are taking, one would think they’d rather offer premium services at premium prices.

The telco delay also keeps the pure play IPTV companies in the game a little longer, running the risk that someone will gain traction. Among the gang of three – Brightcove, Akimbo, and Dave – Brightcove has the best chance. First, it’s got good leadership. Second, its initial go to market strategy did not include a proprietary set top box. (Akimbo and Dave are moving away from STBs.) Brightcove has instead hitched its wagon to Microsoft Media Center technology that requires networking the TV and the PC. How many non-geeks are going to try that? Who wants more wires and devices in the living room? This is a recipe for glacial adoption rates.

But what if Brightcove could untether the TV from the home network? Then they might have something. Develop a solution that gives users the option of burning content to DVDs or Video CDs. The digital rights management can be similar to that of online music purchases with the customer is only allowed to burn one or two discs of a downloaded program. Since Brightcove is initially focusing on shorter form, long tail content, this can be a viable alternative. The client application can be designed to download, decompress, and burn in the background. It might add some time to the process, but its service isn’t for the instant gratification crowd anyway.

Back in June, Amazon bought CustomFlix – an on demand DVD distributor. It’s not a leap to imagine a download service evolving from this marriage. The fact is that the longer the telcos delay real IPTV rollouts, the greater the chance they’ll miss the opportunity. What if the likes of Amazon or eBay partner with a Brightcove? The telcos will remain stuck in the dumb pipe business.

%d bloggers like this: