A podcast is not the same media form as a video podcast a.k.a. vlog

I’m totally on board with audio podcasts. They have effectively replaced the car radio for all but the shortest drives. Perhaps that’s because I prefer "talk radio" in the car and the podcasts I subscribe to are most akin to talk radio and on business related subjects.

I’ll put up with inconsistent quality in an audio podcast – after all, it’s only taking up part of my attention. That is the crucial point with audio. We can listen to podcasts and drive the car, or go to the Fitness Center or Gym (and I should listen to more podcasts there) or do housework. The audio is only taking up part of my attention span.

But add video to it and you’re now demanding 100% of my attention while the video is playing. I can’t drive and watch a video; I can’t watch it while moving around the fitness center because the screen needs always to be in front of me; I can’t watch it while I go for a walk or do housework. Video assumes I’m going to give it, if not 100% of my attention, my primary attention.

If it’s not necessary to watch the video portion to get the value from a program, then dump the video and just go with audio.

I don’t normally subscribe to the highly regarded and very popular This Week in Tech a.k.a. TWiT, but a friend recommended a specific episode and suggested I get the video version. That one hour program has sat on my hard drive for six weeks waiting for me to have time to watch it. In that time I’ve listened to more than 15-20 hours of very similar programming. I’m still wondering why my friend had me get the video version: it’s just four guys sitting around a table in an infinite black set recorded by three cameras.

The video adds nothing. Apart from a short glimpse at an iPod Nano (is it really that old?) there were no props; no visual aids; no graphics; nothing that justified all my attention. Put the four faces in the artwork for the feed and I’d have had the same benefit.

Just because we can deliver video as enclosures in an RSS file, doesn’t mean we should. Bad video is easy. Good video is hard, and consistent regular production is very hard to do. I was talking with Scott Sheppard of Inside Mac Radio and Inside Mac TV about the difference in what he’ll have to carry to a trade show to get interviews for his iPod video show, compared with his weekly and daily audio shows. For audio: Marantz solid state recorder, microphone. For video: video camera, tripod, a basic lighting kit, microphone, radio mics, receivers… Instead of fitting in a shoulder bag or backpack with his laptop he’s now wondering whether he’ll need a custom cart to lug around – or an intern. This is, of course, because he’s trying to make the show up to something that uses the video well. You can find more ranting on this subject in an earlier post of mine: What makes good visuals

There are some programs, like Tiki Bar TV – always high in the new subscribers ranking in iTunes – that really try. While it may not be scripted in detail, it has good production values and I think I see some Apple LiveType and Motion effects in there – appropriately edited in the Final Cut Studio.

Bad video is easy. Good video requires considerably more equipment, effort, talent, skill and, most importantly, the need for video. Because if we don’t, we’re going to bore the market to sleep before they adopt any form of non-mainstream content as being valuable.

So, even though audio and video podcasts are superficially similar by their use of RSS and enclosed media files, they are not the same medium. Video requires a much higher commitment from the viewer than audio does from the listener.

Here’s a question for all the budding video podcasters out there: Is your content so valuable, compelling and well produced that I’d be happy to pay $100 an hour to watch it? If you wouldn’t, consider that is exactly what you’re asking me to do. OK, I don’t pay that to watch a "Hollywood" movie (but then again, I rarely watch them) but my time has a value and you’re asking me to give up that value to watch your program. With audio, it adds value to my time – redeeming time that would otherwise be wasted.

One media adds value to my time; the other robs me of it. That’s why they’re not the same.

5 thoughts on “A podcast is not the same media form as a video podcast a.k.a. vlog”

  1. Hey Philip,

    Great blog post. I agree completely with you as to the audio and video podcasts being completely different media forms.

    As you point out: The beautiful thing about audio podcasts is the ability of the listener to do other things simultaneously. Even so, I’ll admit that as a video content creator, I am preferential to video as a communications medium.

    The example of This Week in Tech (TWiT) is a good one where an audio podcast is perfectly useful and appropriate. But the advantage of an available video version, especially new listeners, is being able to identify the guest speakers on this show, which is a freeform roundtable format and there are often a lot of voices talking on each other (or at least in quick back-and-forth banter). They don’t stop to identify themselves each time they speak.

    You do a great job on your Digital Production Buzz show of communicating to the listener who is speaking during your guest segments, but TWiT is an example, where if you were a brand new listener and weren’t familiar with the voices and people on the show, the conversation might be difficult to follow from a standpoint of who is saying what.

    Having said that, I will cede that after one has familiarized themselves with the people and voices on the show, the video is no longer necessary. If one has the time to devote to watching it with nearly 100 percent of their attention, they will likely have a more engaging experience with the subtleties of visual human communication, but will essentially walk away from it having consumed the same information (the spoken content).

    Note: in more recent editions of the show, I’ve seen them starting to add more video content to support that which is being discussed, but it’s still fairly minimal.

    I have become a regular listener to the audio-only TWiT podcast, and never miss a show (the beauty of having podcasts cached in iTunes, ready and waiting when I want them). But I figure, since Alex Lindsay and Pixel Corps team are working so hard to deliver it in video form, that when I have the time to devote to it, I’ll go ahead and enjoy the video podcast. It *is* a richer experience, even if the ‘hard information’ is the same.

    I frequently work in my office with a wall-mounted TV tuned in to the news. Often, I just listen while I work, but if I hear something interesting, I turn and look. Video content like TWiT can be consumed in much the same way, whereas video podcasts like Tiki Bar pretty much *do* require full attention.

    The other thing I find intriguing about TWiT video is their use of BitTorrent for the distribution of the video version. It’s exciting to see the ‘legitimization’ of BitTorrent starting to happen as a means of distribution (now if only there were better ways to track listenership/usage…oh and iTunes integration! we’d really have some opportunity there …but I digress)

    The other fascination I have with video podcasts is more ‘global’ in scale. I believe we are are witnessing the pre-dawn era, about to burst into sunrise on ‘IPTV’ and the exciting possibilities and opportunities this emerging distribution model will bring. The ability to aggregate a substantial global audience for niche content is mindblowing!

    BTW I think the IPTV revolution will take many forms and video podcasts are just one of them…albeit one of the most exciting and ‘viable’ of seeing mainstream acceptance to date. I’m finding myself sampling content I wouldn’t otherwise be drawn to, just to witness what people are doing with the medium, and using this to figure out what works, what doesn’t and how the whole medium can best be optimized. These are fast and exciting times.

  2. Hello Philip,

    I have to tell you that I agree with you 100% about video podcasts. In fact, you could really be of great assistance if you let your friend Scott Shepherd know that the Inside Mac podcast needs to be one feed, and the video podcast needs to be a separate feed. I can’t tell you how annoying it is that I am stuck downloading these huge files which I have no interest in watching just because I subscribe to Inside Mac Radio. I like his show, but I can’t stand that they just started forcing me to download video, or unsubscribe (that will happen soon if they don’t change their approach to this!)

    That said, I think it would be a great addition to the Digital Production Buzz podcast to have a seperate feed with the occasional video podcast. Maybe a short tutorial, maybe just some examples of production techniques you talk about on the show. But I think it could be a worthwhile thing to do.

    Thanks for doing such a great program, keep up the good work.
    Oh, and thanks for answering my Compressor 2.0 question on the pick our brains segment a few weeks ago. If you have any more info on what I can do about the problems using VBR in Compressor 2.0 please feel free to email me, or talk more about it in a future pick our brains segment. I understand the need to use CBR instead, but I am not too happy that this expensive tool does not work as advertised an I’m wondering if Apple is going to take care of the problem.

    Thanks a lot,
    Tim O’Brien

  3. Thanks for commenting Tim. I’m sure Scott has something in mind for those who don’t want all three programs in one feed, but it will take a couple of weeks. I end up never watching the video feed and deleting the daily news, so I understand what you’re saying.

    We’re always considering what ideas are possible to put into action and it’s usually a balance between what we want to do and what we can do 🙂

    Philip

  4. Looking at the podcasts I subscribe to, I’d say they’re 90-95% audio podcasts. The few video podcasts I subscribe to (rocketboom, TikibarTV, Jerry Time and Total Training Guru Lounge) all have visuals that add to the story.

    It’s what I tell our clients – if you don’t have a script with good visuals, you’ve got a radio script. And if you’ve got a radio script, make it an audio podcast.

  5. At the moment, we are only just scratching at the surface of what we can do with these technologies. The potential for podcasting and related developments is amazing – we will see big changes soon.

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