Podcasting Apples

Well that was fun…

I’ve just returned from a meeting at Apple’s Europe HQ in London about podcasting. Admittedly, it was a Apple-biased view towards the technology behind podcasting, and they made the sweeping claim that ‘podcasting’ was a merging of the two words ‘iPod’ and ‘Broadcasting’. Hmm … they say it like they own it!

The day long event took us through the many new an innovative ways podcasts are being used in education, the museum sector and plebs like you and I. It was interesting to see so many universities there, with worried looking IT staff who have obviously been tasked with ‘catching up with the bigger uni’s’ before the start of September term.

What was encouraging is the reinforcement of how simple a podcast is – from a technical point of view. It’s just an audio, video or other media file … and a little bit of XML. OK, so I knew that before I went all the way to London (don’t tell my boss!), but I had one of those lightbulb moments sat there in the conference room. A year or two ago I pretty much decided that NMeM wasn’t going to be streaming any big videos from their website, as the money involved (i.e. renting space on an streaming media server) usually worked against the constraints of the project (i.e. a project with no money!). So, I resigned myself to thinking of lower-bandwidth ways of delivering content. Audio seemed the most sensible, since we could host the files on our own web server. This worked fine, but as podcasting became more and more popular, it seemed to make sense to wrap these audio files with the necessary podcast XML. That way people could subscribe, blah blah blah … you get the picture.

My ‘lightbulb’ moment is that I’ve been looking at audio-only solutions for too many months now. Whilst I’ve had my head down the world has moved on, and video podcasting is becoming increasingly popular. So – why not go back to hosting full-length videos? With podcasting there’s no media streaming to worry about. OK, yeah – so there’s a hit on bandwidth if you have a particularly large file that proves to be very popular, but not to the point of crippling our server.

I have to admit though, I’m not sure I’d fancy watching a 90 minute interview or documentary on that tiny iPod screen. But still … I have seen the light.

It was also interesting to note that pretty much any file can be embedded into a ‘podcast’. In theory you can deliver PDF or even word documents to your subscribers. Not much use for what I had in mind, but a great idea for delivering educational packages.

And then … Apple talked about Podcast Producer.

Podcast Producer – although it wasn’t made terribly clear at their presentation – is a service that will ship with OSX Leopard Server, and it looks set to make podcast production (on a mass scale) much easier. You simply create templates (using XML) for each type of podcast (audio, video or otherwise), and once you’re setup you can integrate the service into your ‘production pipeline’ (I put that phrase in quote marks, as it makes me cringe whenever I use it!). Then, in theory, you can simply post a finished file to the server, and it will not only set about encoding the various versions you want, but it’ll also make use of Qmaster or XGrid to speed up the process. Cool!

So that got me thinking … to the point of asking the technical representative from Apple,

“There seems to have been a lot of hard work and development poured into
creating a solid, scalable encoding solution … for making tiny MP3 files. Is this
likely to be a technology that we’ll see Final Cut Studio v6 making use of?”.

He admitted that he had no idea what was going to be included in the next FCP release, but he did point out that Podcast Producer is extremely flexible, and is designed to fit into existing production workflows. That would explain the support for both QMaster and XGrid. But still, this new technology looks far to good to leave out of the Final Cut suite. We shall have to wait until NAB to find out if my guess is correct!

Anyway, regardless of NAB and Podcast Producer, NMeM looks set to take podcasting it’s events a little more seriously if I have my way. Watch this space! ;o)