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Already a formidable trend in the online world, podcasting is storming into the mainstream now that Apple has added podcast subscription capabilities to its iTunes application. Some of the major television networks are even dipping their toes into the podcasting waters, with mixed results.

NBC’s experiments in podcasting indicate some imagination at work, with audio files that add value to the shows. While not all NBC series offer a podcast, those that do use them for different but effective purposes. Las Vegas, for example, offers episode-specific commentaries with cast members, writers, and producers of the show. I Want to Be a Hilton has spawned Kathy’s Hip Tips to the High Life Podcast, with Mrs. Hilton’s advice on such topics as pets, publicity, and manners. The point is not whether you could pay me enough money to listen to her, it’s that people who are watching the show are likely to be interested in learning how to emulate Paris and Nicky – without their genetic gifts of beauty and money, I presume.

The Fox network has launched Foxcasting (“aka podcasting,” they helpfully tell us) to present audio recaps of selected shows, including Arrested Development, Hell’s Kitchen, House, and Family Guy. Oooh, so close, Fox. Good idea, wrong content for the medium. Narrated by Michael Krogmann (who it seems I should have heard of, but haven’t), the recaps are very similar to the text recaps that appear on the show-specific sites. There is no compelling reason to bother with audio when the content is as dry as this. There’s no banter, no cast or crew participation, just a straight narrative of what happened on the episode. Including clips of memorable moments seems like a no-brainer, but only a few contain actual audio from the show. If you’ve seen the episode, there is no added value here. If you haven’t, the text summaries are the less-hassle way to get caught up.

Another strike against the Fox attempt is that the podcasts are on a stand-alone page linked from the main Fox site, but not from the show-specific sites, where fans desperate to fill their iPods would have another opportunity to stumble across them.

Still, the baby steps shown by Fox and decent strides by NBC are likely to lead to improved TV podcasting initiatives in the future. At least, I hope they will, as networks explore more ways to break television free from the box, and better leverage the Internet to add entertainment value to consumers and marketing value to themselves.

(Updated and posted to Blogcritics)

“For the first time since we began tracking these activities, younger Canadians are spending more time on the Internet than watching TV.”
– Catherine Rogers of Ipsos Reid