ESPN does podcasting right (but also wrong)

In the 1 & 1/2 years of regularly listening to podcasts, I’ve probably gone through about 50-60 different shows during that time.  Each day I have 3-5 podcasts in my “can’t miss” category, where I go out of my way to listen to.  Of those 3-5, 2 of them have become ESPN podcasts.

Two things have primarily kept me interested in podcasts: 1) I can pick topics that I’m passionate about: technology, sports, drumming, music business, etc; 2) The media is portable and I can listen to it on my terms – whenever I want, wherever I want (including at work or at the gym).

The independent nature of podcasts both inspires and intrigues me, but as I listen to more podcasts, the more I appreciate hosts who are media-savvy.  While there are very intelligent and passionate people who host podcasts, many hosts just don’t have the experience and professionalism to present their media effectively. This creates an opportunity for traditional media – such as ESPN – to capitalize in podcasting.

I’m a huge PTI fan, and that is the show I’m most eager to download and listen to each day.  I won’t miss an episode of PTI.  At the same time, I only watched the show for the first time last week, and haven’t seen it since.  I can honestly attribute my interest and fandom of PTI solely to podcasting.  PTI gained me as a fan because of the ESPN PodCenter, because their show delivered the content I wanted, when & where I wanted it.  PTI gets me through the gym.  I’ve also started listening to Around the Horn as well, again because of their podcast availability.

It is through these efforts that I believe traditional media will continue to thrive in podcasting, and ultimately take podcasting to the next level.  Podcasts need PTI a lot more than PTI needs podcasts, but both can help each other succeed.  Old and new fans appreciate the different avenues to get the content they love, and large media outlets like ESPN gain more fans – just like they gained me. 

At the same time, if people who get the media through traditional methods enter podcasting through shows like PTI, they’ll discover the tip of a very big ice berg – “You there’s a show about <insert favorite topic here> out there??  Sweet!”.  It’s important for smaller podcasters not to look at these large media companies as intruders, but as partners in promoting the medium as a whole.

At the same time, traditional media conglomerates like ESPN have a lot to learn about how to deliver a podcasts.  One of my greatest annoyances has to do with their delivery of the content.  ESPN has all of their podcasts grouped on their Podcenter site, but when you go there you only have three option: Play/stream, download the mp3 and subscribe through iTunes.

Memo to large media companies new to the podcasting scene: Mix in an RSS feed that we can access.  I understand iTunes is convenient and easy for people to use, and I also suspect that ESPN’s round-robin relationship with Apple (ESPN > DISNEY > STEVE JOBS > APPLE > ITUNES) has something to do with their iTunes marriage – but all this does is further the notion that if you don’t have an iPod then you shouldn’t be listening to podcasts.  I only managed to get the PTI RSS feed by subscribing through iTunes, exporting my OPML file and importing it into my podcast downloader (see abandoning iTunes post).  It wouldn’t hurt for ESPN to use ID3 tagging for their files as well.  It’s little things like this that could make them a positive presence in the community.

Large media and independent podcasters could learn a lot from each other.  The independent podcasters can learn how to present their content effectively (and maybe talking about yourself for the first 10 minutes of the show is not a good idea), while the large media companies can learn to deliver their content effectively in this new medium.  One thing is certain – if podcasting is to become mainstream, then both side are going to have to learn to play together.