Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What Makes Podcasts Work: Does Size Matter?

Over time, certain timing conventions developed in traditional broadcast media. In TV its The 30 minute sitcom, the 60 minute drama, the 120 minute movie of the week. Even on HBO, where there are no advertisers, the 60 minute show is still pretty standard.

You can argue as to whether these are effective or whether we're just trained to watch TV in these kind of clumps, but by watching the ratings programming executives can see when viewers drop off and how long they're willing to stay around.

The same goes for commercial news radio, where the 22 minute wheel has become common. I recently heard WBZ radio adopt WINS' long-time slogan "Give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world." Even NPR operates on a sort of wheel, where the same information gets repeated again and again. Yet, then there is Howard Stern, whose show seems to last forever.

So I'm wondering what length conventions may arise in podcasting. This will depend in large part on the feedback people get.

I happen to like the podcast For Immediate Release, hosted by Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz. They do a great job of giving me plenty to think about in the area of PR and communications, especially on many of the topics I write about here.

But strangely my one complaint is in the amount of content they put out. In fact, Shel recently addressed this on one of the podcasts, commenting that he and Neville worried about the length--which regularly exceeds an hour--quite publicly. The feedback he received was to stop talking about it and just do the show.

The listeners were right. I hate hearing podcasters talk excessively about how they do their podcast. Frankly, I don't care, just give me the podcast.

In any case, maybe it's me, but I find it nearly impossible to keep up with the mountain of content they put out. Yes, I can skim through some of it, but while a nice dog walk can get me through most, if not all, of a Cinecast, I need an hour-plus of dog walking to get through For Immediate Release. What's more, they put it out twice a week.

Many weeks I just skip it altogether, and it kills me because I know there's good stuff I'm missing.

So, what's my advice? Let me soften it a bit.

Back in grad school I attended the Columbia DuPont awards. The show was pretty tight, with each recipient having a small window for thank yous, and it worked. That is, right up until the end. The second to last recipient made a political speech about East Timor, going a minute over his allotted time. So when Fred Friendly was presented his lifetime achievement award by Mike Wallace, he had no time for a thank you.

After the show a professor of mine asked Fred what he thought. Fred replied that the guy did the right thing, and Fred would have done it himself.

But, he said, the guy needed a better editor.

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