Podcasts need to be portable to be relevant
Thu, Aug 21, 2008 (midnight)
Illustration: Robert Ullman
Even for me, even with all that I say and write and do to evangelize the cause of digital media in this city, it was a stunning, perplexing, delightful moment.
My husband and The Strip Podcast co-host Miles Smith was similarly surprised. He arrived a little late, and, looking around the room, he asked me, “Are all these people here for this? Are you sure they’re not just hanging out here because they saw the lights were on?”
No, they were all there for “this.” And, in doing so, they proved something I’ve been insisting for three years now: Vegas enthusiasts and media consumers in general are thirsty for quality digital content by providers who respect them. They also want to be able to listen to, read or watch it wherever and whenever they want. And when these people find it, they’ll go to the ends of the Earth to support it.
The “this” that Miles referred to was the first-ever Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza, which he and I participated in on Saturday before an overflow crowd at the Palms. We performed a half-hour version of our weekly celebrity-interview show after a live half-hour version of Five Hundy By Midnight, a tourist-centric weekly show hosted by Minneapolis couple and Vegas obsessives Tim and Michele Dressen. And after us came The Vegas Gang, a twice-monthly program in which a panel of five gaming-industry experts mull business news.
None of us knew quite what to expect, and nervous “I hope people come” text messages flew between us on Saturday morning seeking mutual reassurance. We got a bit of a late start promoting the thing because the idea only occurred to Vegas Gang moderator Hunter Hillegas, owner of RateVegas.com, around Father’s Day, and details were only nailed down around the Fourth of July. We timed it to occur during the New Media Expo, the year’s largest podcaster convention, because Tim and Michele were attending that, and we figured that fellow podcasters, at least, would show up to support the effort.
But it didn’t go like that. There were a couple of folks from the conference, but then there was the couple from Oklahoma City who planned an impromptu vacation around it. There were the folks from Miami who gave away tickets to the 6 p.m. Mamma Mia! to come see us instead. And there was the guy from Southern California who flew in and out that night. Not to mention the countless folks who watched the proceedings via the streaming Internet video provided at VegasTripping.com by owner Chuck Monster, another Vegas Gang panelist.
I don’t mean to merely prattle on about this to brag about our success. But our impressive attendance underscored that I’ve been right all along. Each of the producers of the three shows at the Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza knew the sizes of our audiences, and we knew from e-mails, blog posts and voice messages that our listeners are quite engaged. Still, it was a mental twist to see so many of them in the flesh.
Why it is taking so long for Las Vegas’ mainstream media to figure out that the future is in content that can be consumed whenever and wherever the user wishes is baffling.
The Review-Journal, for instance, has finally begun to offer some multimedia content, but none of it is created to be used either on any portable media devices or, for that matter, to be embedded on other sites such as blogs or social-networking spaces.
They’ve created a weekly video show helmed by columnist Doug Elfman in which several of the features writers discuss what’s coming up that weekend in their discipline, but you have to watch it on the website, and if it’s not promoted on the front page, good luck finding it. I’m bullish on this feature even as I hope they tweak the format here and there, but I also wish they’d realize that it doesn’t need to be video. The content would be just as good and more user-friendly as audio-only, and that way they wouldn’t have to represent the food critic Heidi Knapp Rinella as a sock puppet to protect her ability to review restaurants incognito. Some of the participants might also relax a little more since they’re clearly uncomfortable on camera.
But, either way, why is this feature not available for subscription on iTunes so we don’t have to fish through the hideous morass that is the R-J’s website?
KNPR, too, has a spotty record. They podcast some content, but I’ve long since given up on figuring out what they’ll offer, in which of their feeds it’ll appear or how long after it airs it’ll be posted. The station also provides no web-only content even as NPR itself has been visionary about doing so.
In a similar vein, Vegas PBS thinks they’re offering Nevada Week in Review as a podcast, but they’re not; they’re offering the show—often with a two-week lag, by which point the timeliness has been defeated—as a downloadable video file. But you can’t subscribe to it and have it come regularly to you, so it’s not a podcast.
The Las Vegas Sun (owned by the same parent company as Las Vegas Weekly) has done the best at creating professionally produced and journalistically impressive web-only content, but they, too, have portable-media problems. Their superb Vegas-history video series is available in a podcast feed, but it was dumped into iTunes in May, and nothing’s been added since. Part of the notion of podcasts is that there’s regular, new content that keeps the listener or viewer engaged.
Each story on the Sun’s website has the option to be downloaded to an iPod, but the instructions to do so, at least using a Macintosh, do not actually work for most recent iPod or iPhone models. And I’m delighted their TV collaborations with Las Vegas One are available as video podcasts, but why not also offer Jon Ralston’s Face to Face show as an audio-only podcast? It’s just a discussion; there’s no need to tie the user down to a computer or the little video iPod screens to watch content that can be enjoyed just the same while driving or walking the dog.
None of the local TV station call letters pop up in an iTunes search except KVBC, which was offering video podcasts of some newscasts for a time but apparently gave up in June 2007.
It is telling that you get Five Hundy and The Strip, two independently produced shows, under “podcasts” when you enter “Las Vegas” in the iTunes search. Enter “New York” and the top two come from The New York Times and New Yorker magazines, and both are original made-for-web programming.
Until the rest realize what they’re missing, there’s always us. But it’s my hope that by the next Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza, perhaps there’ll be some quality shows from the mainstream media to showcase as well.
If not, the field remains wide open all for folks like us. Thanks, guys.