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Podcasting

Corporate television comes to life on the Internet.

The word "podcasting" (pod from IPod and casting from "broadcasting") was not only included into the New Oxford American Dictionary in December 2005, but was also selected as the Word of the Year for 2005.

"Podcasting" means regular publishing on the Internet audio and video materials of one's own making. It can also be referred to as an audio blog or video blog. Often podcasting is associated not only with viewing a video clip on the Internet, but also with subscription-based automatic downloading (most commonly via ITunes software), followed by remote listening/viewing of the clip in the metro, in a traffic jam or anywhere else - beyond the Internet.

This new and very democratic method of communications has been adopted by firms and corporations as early as two years ago. They have long harnessed textual blogs, which, in effect, have become supplements to corporate press, and currently they are actively developing corporate "radio" and "television", thanks to the fact that signal propagation (the second major problem of TV and radio broadcasters) has become practically gratuitous - via the Internet. Whereas their first major problem - that of providing interesting and quality content - not only did not disappear, but quite the reverse, has become painfully obvious.

All corporate podcasting projects can be tentatively divided into: mass podcasts (sponsored), internal corporate podcasts (company news for employees), topical podcasts (something interesting for customers, which is akin to the company's activities), video clips on products (clarifying their benefits, specifics and advantages), and clips for investors.

Mass podcasts. It presupposes maximally broad coverage of its audience. The task is to design an exciting video clip that millions would download and watch. Few people manage to achieve it. Still fewer people manage at least to repeat their success, let alone to constantly produce interesting content.

Mass podcasts. It presupposes maximally broad coverage of its audience. The task is to design an exciting video clip that millions would download and watch. Few people manage to achieve it. Still fewer people manage at least to repeat their success, let alone to constantly produce interesting content.

A popular option is to invite a celebrity, let's say once a week, to have a gabfest. This is what American Airways does when it every week publishes on its Web site the insights of a famous writer and TV anchorwoman - Michelle McKinney Hammond.

Throughout last year the STS TV Channel daily (!) aired short stories (about a minute and a half) by Evgueniy Grishkovets, for which we designed its pictures. This is a classic example of a wonderful video blog that, in my opinion, was a bit out of place on television. However, these stories do not age and in all probability we shall see them again - on the Internet. Possibly, next to a well-known brand.

Anyway, attempting to reach the mass audience is the most challenging tactics of all, and it is precisely here that we witness most failures.

For example, a podcast of non other but Starbucks' (the largest world-wide coffee houses network) evidently drew a blank when they came up with an idea of making radio versions of "coffee conversations" - dialogues which were supposedly overheard, but in effect were staged. The idea was good, but no such luck - the dialogues sounded stilted and uninteresting. Authentic overheard conversations would have been, I believe, by far more interesting, but, if we think about the consequences, they would have cost a pretty penny. After making this mistake, Starbucks is presently launching specially scripted programs about coffee - under the same name - "Coffee Conversations". That means they have narrowed down the niche to "topical video clips for customer" that we shall discuss below.

Niche broadcasting is by far a less risky undertaking, if only for the reason that the scope of interests of its audience is more precisely outlined. The most wide-spread option is internal corporate podcasts aimed at employees.

A good internal corporate podcast is made as follows. You find an employee who has always dreamed about becoming a TV or radio journalist. He or she is given a free hand to a certain extent - in terms of finding out on behalf of all employees those things that employees are interested in. He or she can interview managers or any other people that employees find interesting. Even customers. The cost of making such products in the course of time tends to be the same as a salary of this employee, whereas the product's efficiency can be quite high. Of course, the question of what exactly we should consider to be efficiency is a moot one, but such podcasts in Europe are watched by up to 90% of corporate employees. Naturally the podcast's authors discuss their objectives and tasks with the management of internal PR Service, but they solve these tasks on their own.

An official corporate podcast can be quite effective as well (news/strategy/challenges), and it is certainly easier to venture upon. As the company news, even if poorly presented, are always interesting for the employees, most such projects come out successful.

Topical programs for customers. These can be fishing programs made by a fishing equipment manufacturer or stock market updates by a company providing investment services. As this environment is more competitive than producing corporate news for the company's employees, the inherent risk is higher.

If a company happens to find a person who will produce a more interesting content than competitors (including professional mass media) - it will succeed, otherwise - it will not. Besides, the narrower is the niche, the higher is the likelihood of success. Moreover, podcasting can fill the narrowest niches, thanks to it being relatively cheap. Outsourcing production of such podcasts is a new market for TV and radio broadcasters, as well as for free-lancers. Among such products we could name the already mentioned new podcast by Starbucks' - "Coffee Conversations", which, unsurprisingly, is devoted to coffee. And IBM launched its own podcast "About the future…" through which the corporation communicates its vision of various spheres of life in the future.

Video clips promoting products' advantages (it is not quite advertising proper, but it is very close) are also rater successful. Video guidelines, comparisons, clarifications - these are very promising lines of business. For example, have a look at Michelin's podcasts. I think that day is near when instead of a paper user manual you will receive a video file with interactive navigation. One can download it on the Internet or find it inside the box on a cheap "one-content" video player.

Video clips for investors are a very promising niche, which is extremely well-developed already. There are portals specialized in publishing such podcasts. They are used to publish video versions of annual reports, presentations of new projects, press conferences and other graphic investment promotion materials. And a very efficient promotion method it is, as feedback shows.

As XBRL format develops, along with it software evolves which is used to visualize and compare this information and often becomes a fragment of investment oriented podcasts.

***

Now, what "Mercator" can do in this area. As we produce corporate visual materials, the subject of video podcasting is dear to us.

First of all, corporate films aimed at a broad audience are published by our customers on the Internet. This solution is very simple, but at the same time it increases return on investment into the film. The same fate will await video versions of annual reports.

Secondly, one can order from us a design set for corporate news. Captions, cut-ins, backgrounds - all in all, a trademark video style.

Thirdly, we have a system of operational graphics for corporate news. It enables immediate visualization of standard digital information (in order to build telegenic graphs/columns/pancakes/etc. of any type).

And fourth, we can render consulting services with respect to kick-off and follow-up on a podcasting project, and also perform certain outsourced activities on the project.


The article is based on facts from reports made at the Corporate Podcasting Summit Europe (19 - 20 March 2007), and the books - Podcasting Bible, www.podcastingnews.com, www.podcastusermagazine.com, as well as on personal observations.

Andrey Skvortsov
CEO, Mercator group


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