Articles of Interest

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Networks Tout Podcasting

From AdWeek IQ Interactive, April 10, 2006

Networks Tout Podcasting
NEW YORK Sometime this summer, Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ron Moore will sit his writing team down at an undisclosed location to begin mapping out the upcoming season of the Sci Fi Channel hit. And before the team gets started, someone will hit the record button to tape the session for a future podcast.

Moore typically records a weekly podcast and fans eat it up (2.4 million Battlestar podcasts have been downloaded to date). Witness this comment, recently posted on iTunes: "For diehard sci-fi fans, it's as if Gene Roddenberry called you after each original of [Star] Trek and told you what he was thinking that week."

Podcasts -- once solely the domain of small-time content producers -- are increasingly being embraced by traditional media players. In fact, the top 20 list of podcasts on Apple's iTunes Music Store is regularly littered with big names from cable: As of April 7, Cartoon Network's three-week old AdultSwim.com video podcast was ranked No. 2 overall. In the last few months, podcasts from VH1, Nickelodeon and ESPN have made regular appearances in the top 10.

"The demand has been phenomenal," said Marc Horine, general manager of new media for ESPN Radio, which hits in the million-plus download range. To answer that demand, today ESPN is launching PodCenter, a new podcast-centric hub located on ESPN.com, along with 11 new podcasts, ranging from an audio version of Pardon the Interruption to originally produced podcasts built around specific pro sports as well as poker.

While ESPN's content is a close cousin to sports talk-radio, most TV content producers are experimenting with producing DVD-like content in podcast form. "We know our audience has a voracious appetite," said Dave Howe executive vice president and general manager of the Sci Fi Channel. "Podcasting is an opportunity to dive deep and get more into a show."

For Adult Swim's new podcasts, fans are able to watch the creators of Robot Chicken banter, while also getting a look at how the show's twisted puppets are actually built. According to Paul Condolora, vice president and general manager of new media at the Cartoon Network, this sort of fare plays a dual role. "It's definitely marketing in the sense that it is tied to on-air shows and is used to build awareness," said Condolora. "At the same time, this content is definitely sought out."

Steve Youngwood, executive vice president of digital media at Nickelodeon, added that Nick has deliberately released podcasts for big events like the Kids Choice Awards or the recent release of the Zoey 101 movie. "We usually don't do these things in isolation," he said.

In terms of a business, Sci Fi's Howe said an ad-supported model will likely evolve, though it's early. Advertisers are watching closely, particularly video podcasts, according to Greg Smith, executive vice president of director of insights, planning and data analysis at Aegis Group's Carat Fusion. "We're actually teaching our network people to buy video in all forms," he said.

For ESPN, an ad model has already taken hold, as most podcasts carry both a 15-second pre-spot and a 30-second post-content spot, from "blue-chip advertisers," according to Horine, who acknowledged that his company's built-in radio infrastructure provides a major sales advantage. "We've already spent the big money," he said, adding that podcasting has been "very profitable." It's likely that most programmers will need to bake in advertising to offset production costs, despite their low-budget reputation. "There are resource and production issues absolutely," said Condolora. "It's not just flipping a switch."

Still, most agree quality podcasting can only tighten TV's hold on viewers. "The more immersive the experience, the more people will bond with your content," said Howe.

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