Vodcastic

by , Sep 5, 2006, 3:15 PM
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Nearly a year after releasing the video iPod and a new distribution vehicle for video content via iTunes, Apple may be poised to move the model forward one more frame. Rumors abound that Steve Jobs will broadcast a corporate announcement and product rollout on September 12 that will include new Mac and iPod iterations, as well as the opening of the iTunes movie store. In addition to $1.99 TV episodes, it looks as if Jobs has started securing Hollywood cooperation to sell downloadable full-length movies, perhaps for $9.99 to $14.99. There are additional stories that Wal-Mart is peeved about this, seeing it as direct price and distribution competition with its huge DVD retail business.

For all of the pomp, press, and PR that accompanies these new distribution models for mobile video, I think the media critics are missing the real story--video podcasting. The creative action in mobile video is not taking place in the iTunes TV store but in the podcast area, where big and small media are experimenting nobly with the nano-movie format.

Take CNN. Their "In Case You Missed It" daily video news review strings together clips of the top stories without newcaster narration. The two- to five-minute roll simply lets the video or the reporter on the ground tell the story--no context or lead-in. Not only is it a great quick review of what you might have missed if you hadn't been near a TV that day, but it is also one of the first mass media products I have seen that really conforms to and embodies the complex ways many of us experience media now. The daily roll seems to presume that you know the daily news agenda, and you probably have scanned the headlines in your inevitable online travels. This video update dips into the headlines to show you what you are already aware of. It seems designed to complement the random, inevitable, but superficial news-gathering we now do all day online.

Another interesting Vodcast genre is the magazine staff video show. Ziff-Davis's 1Up Show turns the mastheads of its video game books into characters in mini-dramas where editors banter about recent games. This conceit works very well for the topic and in this medium. Games get reviewed but in a conversational way, and the video element allows scenes to run in background during the banter, so we aren't bored by the sight of pasty-faced game geeks shooting the bull. ZD vodcasts, which also include CrankyGeek and DL.TV, tend to run too long, however, and I wish they had evolved a bit more by now. Over at Jane magazine, 20-something staffers go out into the street to do snap polls for instant "makeunders." This is good pod TV that gets the media brand's character and energy across and imparts bite-sized information.

Conde Net is doing some very interesting things with its Style.com videos. The recent Vogue cover shoot of Kirsten Dunst gets turned into a behind-the-scenes rock video that has all of the lush production values of the magazine.  City Magazine did a great stop-motion video of staff members putting together compact, foldable furniture designs they solicited from professional shops. I think it is interesting that of all the media contributing vodcasts, the magazine category is the one that is putting its own editorial staff forward as cast members, often turning the making of the media into its own kind of accessible reality show.

There are tons of other Vodcast curiosities, of course, and almost all of them are more interesting to discover and watch than any of the repurposed TV and film over in iTunes' video store. There is Tiki Bar TV, a weird skit involving drink recipes and someone's home bar. "Goodnight Burbank" is a satire about a local news program that is one of the best send-ups around of both the news and the shallowness of newsmakers.

Don't get me wrong, the iTunes video store is a welcome way to discover shows in a 500-channel universe. I never would have bothered with "Monk" or "Weeds" had it not been for the free sample episodes here. But the iTunes Video aisle is at heart just old media searching for a new distribution channel. The podcast aisle is where you see old and new media actively thinking about the medium, experimenting with its natural strengths. I should also say that there is much more fruitful experimentation going on here than in the world of "mobile TV," where Fox, CBS, and a series of startups are filling the VCast and Sprint PCS decks with underwhelming "mobisodes."

Just imagine if iTunes had an extra little button that sent some of its genuinely innovative programming to your phone instead of your iPod. Everyone yearns for an Apple iPhone in the hopes that Steve Jobs' crew will finally get the phone interface right for us. In fact, I think the big promise of an iPhone would be that it could easily tie into one of the most packed, diverse, and beautifully evolved mobile content portals we have, iTunes, and a platform that is fueled by creativity, not VC cash. 

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