"You mean he's going to hit on her?" I ask.
"No, like I said -- he's a wolf, Dad. In the second book, he...." Sorry, but watching "Twilight" with a teen fan of the Stephanie Meyer vampire epic is an eye-glazing experience. Much of the movie was spent listening to her project the characters forward to the remaining three books of the series. As someone who lived through Barney, Power Rangers, every Disney cartoon princess, and Nicktoons, you learn to be parentally respectful of kid-culture early on. So you nod through their retelling of the back stories and watch, and think, "Is there a column somewhere in these two hours of James-Dean-lookalike-vampires?"
Well, not quite a column -- but a segue. My daughter and her generation's passion for this teen vampire series bore fruit recently for a fledgling and interesting mobile media model called BlogTalkRadio.com. This interesting service lets anyone create a streaming audio show from their phone that in turn can be accessed online or by phone. When its Wal-Mart-sponsored "Starfish Radio" show included an interview with "Twilight"'s besotted Jacob (aka actor Taylor Lautner) the live show drew 27,000 listeners and another 100,000 post-event downloads.
"It's fully democratized radio," says CEO and co-founder Alan Levy, the former COO of telecom company Viatel. "Anyone can do it." In fact, this network of audio blogs and regular programming runs the gamut, from lone wolves posting ad hoc shows to branded audio channels from the Pentagon, Sun Microsystems and Hachette Book Group. BlogTalkRadio serves both individual users with a free audio blogging platform as well as corporate customers who set up private and public audio networks for consumer outreach or internal use.
Essentially it is an online radio platform without a downloadable client or even any materials costs. A blogger can create a live show using a phone and invite up to five participants. Listeners can access the live feed on site or via a separate phone number. While calling in to listen, a single button press alerts the show host that the listener wants to ask a live question and can patch the listener through.
The site is about a year old and gets 1.2 million uniques a month, according to Levy. About 800 live programs run every day and the site aggregates it all into the long tail. Users and makers can embed the shows into sites, Twitter notifications, download them into iTunes, etc. An iPhone app is coming, but the WAP interface at m.blogtalkradio.com is pretty good already. You can access featured archives and search the full range of shows, listen to them via the data channel or on a click-to-call link into the voice channel.
The ad options for marketers are interesting. Like Wal-Mart, you can essentially create branded media. In the case of "Twilight," the promotion was part of a retail push for the DVD release, and so young "Jacob" was made available to fawning teen girls. The program has already elicited over 1600 user comments. Advertising also can accompany the BlogTalkRadio player as it gets embedded around the Web.
Marrying the new reflex of blogging to the mobile audio channel is an interesting prospect. Theoretically, a blogger could use the phone to make audio posts throughout the day just by calling them in. On the other end, subscribers could access the entries anytime simply by dialing into the voice channel.
But extrapolate that model to brands and marketers. Promotional events, film premieres, celebrity interviews -- just about anything that can be recited -- could be turned into an on-demand call-in blog. Just about anything we already do via text and images on Web blogs could be made immediate, vocal, fully mobile by putting the content into the voice stream.
The voice channel remains under-utilized and under-imagined on mobile. Cool and interesting ad campaigns pop up here and there that leverage a celebrity call-back, IVR or some kind of call-in content. But generally, the voice channel has been marginalized by the rush to replicate the online messaging and Web experiences on handsets.
If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you have a decade of Internet experience, then every new device looks like another opportunity to extend the old models. But the voice channel matches the inherent intimacy and nuance of the device so well, it is a shame we haven't seen more innovation here. And, frankly, it still isn't clear that users want to access content via the voice channel on their phones in any consistent way. Levy says that the mobile listening piece of BlogTalkRadio is only getting started, so about 5% actually access the shows that way now.
Of course, who needs a discrete voice channel when you have a daughter simulcasting from the couch. "Then Bella and Edward are apart and Jacob moves..."
"Like a wolf...see, I told you he was just another horny kid."
"DAD, listen, Jacob is sweet. But then Edward and Bella get back together, and..."
Life was easier when we could get through an evening watching "Beauty and the Beast" for the 30th time and call it a night. That I can follow.