Friday, February 09, 2007


Ok, I’m going to make a prediction here.

Podcasts, especially video podcasts ae the future of TV style entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’ll always be regular broadcast TV (at least the Tivo’d kind), but podcasts will become the dominant form of media.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Look at how TV works. TV shows are only there to make sure you’re in front of your TV while the advertisements are running. That’s why shows with high ratings stay on the air, while shows with low ratings get canned. They don’t make any money in themselves, but if a TV show gets a few million viewers, you can charge much more for an ad spot while that show is on.

That’s why it costs two million dollars for a Superbowl ad, and why the ads for a local car dealership run at 3am on a backwater channel.

This system, while it works, causes problems. TV shows have to appeal to the maximum number of people possible in order to get those “eyes on ads”. So, if you’re into a “speciality” subject, it’s not going to last long on TV.

A classic example is G4. In its Tech TV days, it mainly consisted of shows about hardcore technology. The latest exploits and security issues in major operating systems. The latest cool thing someone got Linux to do.

If you’re a geek like me, you love this type of programming. However, you’re in a very small percentage of people, so the network just doesn’t make enough money. Advertisers just don’t want to spend their hard-earned money to run an ad during a show with a small audience. So best case scenario, you end up with a very watered down version of the programming you like…or worst case, like G4, you end up with a network that completely forgets about you, and just shows what the demographic people say “The kids are into.”

That’s why Tech TV changed from hardcore tech, to G4, which now mainly shows Star Trek re-runs, Street Racing shows and “The Man Show”, with the very occasional gaming show thrown in. It went from “Scientific American” to “Playboy” in a couple of small steps.

However, podcasts can bypass this entire problem.

First of all, they don’t cost nearly as much to make, and they don’t have to be as “big” or appeal to such a wide demographic. You can have very small, super-targetted shows.

Ok, think of it this way:

You’re an advertiser. You can go to a syndicated network and pay about $10,000 a minute to run an expensive ad that’s going to be seen by a couple million people. However, for general entertainment shows, only a fairly small percentage of viewers are going to be interested in your product.

Basically, how many people watching “House” or “CSI” are actually going to be thinking about buying a new car, or need that anti-diarrhea medicine?

It’s “wide net” advertising. You’re showing as many ads as possible, to as many people as possible, in the hope that someone somewhere is going to see something that interests them.

Now let’s look at it from the podcast point of view. Let’s say you have a fairly popular high-performance car podcast. You get about 10 to 20 thousand downloads per show, an audience that is absolutely tiny compared to syndicated television. However, your car podcast is hardcore cars. The kind of thing only really serious car enthusiasts are into.

You can then go to producers of high-performance auto parts, and sell them advertising. You can sell it much more cheaply, because your podcast costs a fraction of what it costs to produce a network TV show, and they want it, because they know their advertisement is pin-point targeted.

In short, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a TV ad, in the hope that a tiny percentage of the audience watching will be interested…or you can spend a thousand or less, to get your ad to 20,000 people who are guaranteed to be interested in your product.

In other words, you’re spending much less, but reaching a larger section of your target audience.

At the end of the day, this means that you can watch shows on exactly the topic you want. With the added bonus that there doesn’t need to be a lot of advertising interrupting your show. Take ‘Diggnation’ or ‘This Week in Tech’ for example, they simply spend 30 seconds at the start and end of an hour long show, saying who that week’s sponsors are, and what they do.

A minute of advertising in an hour long show? Sounds very attractive next to TV (especially networks like TBS and Fox that seem to have 7 minutes of advertising per 8 minutes of show).

The only real downside to podcasts is you need specialist hardware to view them away from your computer. At the very least an MP3 player, or some sort of mobile video player for video podcasts.

But I said this was the future of entertainment, so what’s the solution to this? If I want to watch a podcast away from my computer, I simply don’t want to be watching it on a 4 inch portable screen.

One of the biggest “milestones” for me was the first time I viewed content from the internet on my TV. I’d bought a combination Audio CD/Video CD player. (This was back in the days that DVD writers where prohibitively expensive). The idea that I could download a movie clip from the internet, burn it to a CD, then go to a friends house and view it on their TV was mind-blowing.

In other words, viewing non-traditional media in a traditional way.

So, this technology already exists (Xbox live does something similar, only no podcast support yet). In other words, it’s perfectly possible to play content directly from your computer, onto your TV.

Basically, you’d be able to open up your podcast on your computer, and with a few mouse clicks simply say “play the video in this window on my living room TV”.

Of course, the far more likely solution would be a set-top box that connects wirelessly to your computer, which already downloads your favorite podcasts automatically through an RSS feed. Then at the end of the day, you simply look through a list of your downloaded podcasts through an onscreen menu on your TV to play at your leisure.

Long story short, it’s a form of Tivo for Podcasts.

Like I said at the beginning, there will always be a traditional form of TV (although I see “real-time” TV going the way of the Dodo soon). But podcasts allow the transmission of highly specialized, targeted TV shows that simply can’t exist on traditional TV.

In other words, through podcasts, we’ll be able to construct our own TV “networks”. The hardcore geek like me can watch Hardcore tech, and your gran can watch her own equivalent of the 24 hour crotchet channel.

So let’s recap. With podcasts you get:

  • TV on precisely the subject you want to watch.
  • Far less advertising.
  • The Advertising you do see is guaranteed to be something you’d actually be interested in buying.
  • Anyone with a video camera and an internet connection can make their own podcast, so content on TV will survive due to quality, and not because of network politics, or what the latest demographic says is popular.
  • Finally, no more random flipping through channels in the hope you’ll find something you like. (Although we already have this with Tivo).

In conclusion, the beauty of this system is that right now a show has to be “mainstream” in order to exist on TV. With podcasts we can have TV shows that we, as individuals, love…but don’t have to be widely popular.

1 comment:

MC Etcher said...

sounds great - sign me up!