Ben Pettis

What's the Deal with Video Podcasts?

Beside the Rabbit Hole - Season One Trailer

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An photo of a mint green iPod nano with a video playing

In this first season of Beside the Rabbit Hole, I’m already going meta with the podcast and considering what a podcast actually is. That’s right – it’s a podcast about podcasts.

Podcasts are everywhere these days! There’s countless podcasts representing countless subjects and providing something to serve countless interests. And with this ubiquity of podcasting, there is also an unspoken assumption that we all know what podcasts are and how we consume them—that is, we all know that podcasts are things we listen to, right?

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be like this! Audio podcasts just happen to be the most popular form of the medium, but there are other possible formats as well. In fact, in the mid- to late-2000s there was the possibility that the “future of podcasting” would arrive in the form of video podcasts. Apple promoted video podcast capabilities on their newly video capable iPods, the new iPhone, and as the natural extension of their recently revamped iTunes Music Store – now just the iTunes Store.

But video podcasts never really took off. Though we have an astounding amount of video content available in today’s internet, podcasting remains wholly separate. Why is that? What were video podcasts? What could they have become? And why did they ultimately fail?

Over the next few episodes—most audio, but some video, and maybe even some in other experimental formats—I’ll dig into those questions, and more. I’ll look through promotional materials from the time to see how video podcasts were described. And then I’ll try and recreate the experience of mid-2000s video podcasts with what I’m calling a “technological reenactment.”

If any of that sounds interesting to you, I hope that you’ll consider joining on my journey. Or if you know a friend or family member who might into this, please feel free to share this with them.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Get in touch with me - bpettis@wisc.edu or see my website www.benpettis.com

Our theme music is:
Voxel Revolution by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/7017-voxel-revolution
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

This episode also includes short clips from the following podcasts:

  • 99 Percent Invisible
  • This Day in Esoteric Political History
  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me
  • Just the Zoo of Us
  • My Brother My Brother and Me
  • No Compromise
  • Serial
  • Up First
  • The NPR Politics Podcast

Listen to the trailer here:

Transcript:


[Music]

Ben:

This is beside the rabbit hole, a new podcast coming soon to an RSS feed near you.

[Music Ends]

Ben:

Throughout my time in graduate school. There is a phrase that I have heard many times and have actually found myself saying here and there. And that is the sense that we need to be careful of not going “too far down the rabbit hole.”

In other words, we don't want to get too caught up debating the specifics of some particular definition. And we want to do everything we can to not go off on some particular tangent and lose sight of the topic at hand.

But at the same time, I also think that there can be value in keeping site of the rabbit hole, not ignoring it entirely. If the definition of something has such a contested meaning, I mean, it must be pretty important then, right? Or at least it's a sign that there might be something interesting going on.

[Music Fades Back In]

Ben:

I’m your host, Ben Pettis and in this series I'll be exploring topics that have the potential to become complex and unwieldy, where there's always this danger of going too far down the rabbit hole.

But rather than jumping in feet first, I'll instead walk us right up to the edge and see what we can find in that space between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

In this first season, I must apologize because I'm already going a little bit Meta and trying to consider what a podcast actually is. That's right. It's going to be a podcast about podcasts.

[Montage of podcast trailers and introduction]

Montage:

[Theme music from Serial]

Before we get started, an update from another show in the Radiotopia family

[Theme music from Up First]

[Theme music from Just the Zoo of Us]

Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts

Ben:

Podcasts are everywhere these days. It seems like there's a podcast on just about any imaginable topic which I can satisfy any imaginable interests

[Montage Continues]

Montage:

And they’ve put together a podcast every weekday

A member of Radiotopia from PRX

Also this show isn’t for kids. Which I mention only so that babies out there know how cool they are for listening

[Theme music from No Compromise]

Subscribe now, wherever you get your podcasts

[Montage Ends]

Ben:

The cultural practices surrounding podcasts are pretty well established and well recognized. Click button, listen to show, tap button, listen to audio, or some variation thereof.

Regardless of the device that you're using or even the specific app on that device to listen to the podcast. There's tends to be this kind of general consensus of what it means to listen to a podcast and what a podcast is. Throughout that there's this almost unspoken assumption that podcasts are audio. Podcasts are things that we listened to and we don't consume them in some other way.

But it doesn't necessarily have to be this way, depending on how you define podcasts, the audio file delivered over the Internet is just one possible mode of what it means to “do podcasting.”

In fact, in the mid to late 2000s, there was the possibility that video podcasts would take off as the next big thing. Apple had recently announced changes to the iTunes music store—now just the iTunes store— and began selling TV shows and movies for users to watch on their own devices. Their Mac laptops, the newly video capable iPods. And soon after, the very first iPhone.

But the video podcast never took off. And ten plus years later, we still really think of podcasts as primarily audio, even as mobile video technology has improved and it has increasingly become a thing.

That's the sort of thing I'm hoping to dig into in this inaugural season of Beside the Rabbit Hole. What we're video podcasts? what might they have become? And why might they have ultimately failed to take off? Was it just because of the convoluted user experience and the limited technology at the time? Or does it even have something to do with the inability of a video podcast to fit into the audience's life in the same way as an audio one? Maybe a bit of all of that.

Over the next few episodes—mostly audio, but some video and maybe even some other experimental formats— I'll dig into those questions and more. I'm going to look through some promotional materials from the time from Apple's website, the iTunes music store, using the Wayback Machine to get a sense of how video podcasts were described and promoted.

And then I'll try and actually recreate the experience of mid 2000s video podcast with what I'm calling right now, at least the technological reenactment.

Ben (Aside):

Ugh, I really need to come up with a better name than that.

Ben:

This isn't a show about necessarily trying to come up with an all encompassing definition of what a podcast is or isn't. So instead of going down that definitional rabbit hole, I want to think about how podcasts, however broadly we want to define that term, represent a very specific, an intimate relationship between media producer and media consumer.

But by considering how video podcasts had the potential to become the next big thing and get ultimately fell short. I wonder if that might help us to identify what our relationship to podcasts is today, here in 2021.

[Music Fades In]

So if any of that sounds interesting to you, I hope that you'll consider joining me on my journey. Or if you know a friend or family member who might be into this, please feel free to share this show with them.

This first season of beside the rabbit hole will be released later this year and can be found in the same place as this trailer episode you're listening to right now or coming soon to an RSS feed here you.

Beside the Rabbit Hole is written and produced by Ben Pettis and uses music from Kevin MacLeod. This trailer also use brief clips from several podcasts, including 99% Invisible, This Day in Esoteric Political History, Wait, Wait… Don't tell me, Just the Zoo of Us, My Brother, My Brother and Me, No Compromise, Serial, Up First, and the NPR Politics Podcast.

You can find more information in the episode description.

[Music Ends]

Ben (Aside):

Laughs

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