Saturday, November 04, 2006
Podcasting Technology Creates New Ways to Enjoy Television
An offshoot of television technology that's been available for a while but hasn't really caught on is audio only television. Television without a picture may seem like an oxymoron, but special radios that play just the sound from over the air television channels have been around for decades. (Actually I have no idea if they're still around, but I remember seeing them decades ago.) While having access to the audio from a television show provides some semblance of actually watching it, in general it doesn't do justice to the whole experience and for that reason it tends to frustrate people. Even television news broadcasts are somehow emptier when all you can hear is the audio.
More recently though, against conventional wisdom and in some cases good judgment, television producers are experimenting with audio only versions of their programming and distributing them in the form of podcasts over the Internet. Although the result has been mixed, there has been a surprising amount of interest in the podcasts among television fans.
Several success stories can be found at ABC. ABC News Shuffle is a mixture of news stories specially designed for podcasting, and The Afternote is a program based on a political newsletter. The success of both programs can be attributed to the fact that neither are really verbatim audio versions the news broadcasts with pictures, but rather sound bites edited and compiled to be palatable in audio form.
While customizing the content of television shows to be more friendly in an audio only format seems to go a long way, there are examples of television shows that are unedited before being available in podcast form. One is Meet the Press which frequently ends up on iTunes' top 100 list. Another is Nightline.
There are also instances, both good and bad, of popular entertainment television that have been adapted for podcasts. In most cases they're recaps of individual episodes of various shows. Fox does this with a number of shows. The Sci-Fi channel has taken a slightly different approach by providing an episode commentary, similar to what you'd find on a DVD, by the executive producer of Battlestar Galactica.
While the Battlestar Galactica download has proven popular, some audio only summaries of shows just fall flat. One example is a recap of Fox's Family Guy that just consisted of a summary lacking any audio from the actual show whatsoever.
Podcasts related to TV shows promise to have some benefits both for viewers and for the producers of the shows themselves. Since podcasts are more portable than TV shows, fans can follow the plot lines of their favorite shows even when they don't have the time to watch them. This comes from the fact that the recaps of the shows are often summarized and in the form of podcasts they can be listened to nearly anywhere: on the subway, in the car, even while doing something else that would be too much of a distraction to pay attention to a screen. Another thing that makes the podcasts attractive to TV viewers is that they often don't have commercials.
For producers, podcasts have the potential to create interest in the shows. Someone might listen to a recap and think: "I'll have to watch this next time it comes on." It's also good for producers because, especially in the case of news programing it may be possible to sell subscriptions for the downloaded programs.
In any case this is another great example of how newer technologies are influencing the way we watch and enjoy television.