Podcasts, Congress, and Cable TV: The Happy Medium

Right now there’s a bit of discussion in the blogosphere about podcasting the US Congress. Attorney Ernest Miller started this ball rolling on his Corante blog: See Questions for Congress He asked:

“Why doesn’t every single darn committee, subcommittee, whatever, have a podcast (in the future, broadcatch) of its hearings? Why isn’t there a floor podcast?”

It’s a great question, and the audience for this might be larger than you’d expect…

Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis expanded on this suggestion. In Podcast open the doors, he wrote:

“I’ll take it down a few levels and suggest that every town board and school board should be podcast. I’ve long wanted to see local services enable citizens to video these meetings because, ironically, the very reason I care most about what happens in them – I have kids – is the reason I can’t attend them. But I’d watch them, I used to say.”

On the face of it, this idea is intriguing. I know that many public hearings and events of federal, state, and local government are already being recorded (audio or video) – typically on tape, but that can be transferred to digital media. It’s a matter of public record – and it’s a necessary step in the process of creating transcripts.

So in many cases, the audio already exists. The issue then becomes repurposing for alternate delivery.

Over at Business Week’s blog blogspotting, Heather Green doubted whether podcasting the government would be very useful or practical. In Podcasting Congress?, she wrote:

“Faster access to digital transcripts, yes. RSS feeds for those transcripts, sure. But podcasts? When less than 4% of U.S. housholds will be listening to podcasts by 2008, according to Forrester Research?”

It’s a fair criticism – but I think Green (and the others, so far) are overlooking the evolutionary potential of podcasting, as well as who might be listening to such audio programming, and where.

First of all, let’s look at the big picture. Technology evolves, merges, and emerges quickly and constantly.

For instance: In many areas, cable TV systems offer audio channels as well as video (usually music programming, but it could be any kind of audio content). Combine that with on-demand ordering tied into the internet (kind of like Web TV), and you might well have a sizeable market for podcasts – leveraging an existing, installed, and popular base of technology.

I don’t watch much TV, but often when I’m doing housework I’ll leave C-Span on so I can listen to it. I’d venture a guess that I’m not the only person who does this.

So, mentally, just take the “pod” out of “podcasts” and you’ll see that there are tons of ways that independently produced audio programming can be distributed. “Podcast” is actually a limiting misnomer for this type of media. I’ve never liked it. (Here’s why.)

However, we aren’t chained to the geeky, clunky delivery method that podcasting uses at this early stage. Think bigger. Think simpler. Be flexible. I wouldn’t be surprised if smart cable companies weren’t already working on a solution to deliver podcasts to customers’ TVs.

…Furthermore, podcasts of government activities might well appeal to a huge audience of businesses, nonprofits, and institutions – you know, they kind of people who either spend megabucks on lobbyists, or who wished they could afford that? So I don’t think the under 4% statistic that Green quoted necessarily paints a fair picture of the market potential.

While we’re on the subject of market potential: If cable companies carried government podcasts, well, they could carry any kind of podcast. Hello!

I appreciate Jarvis’ motives in wanting school board and local government podcasts. Personally, I think that’s just asking too much of small local governments – although it might be possible and even desirable in metro areas. Certainly state governments could and probably should be doing this, too.

Anyway, I don’t think this concept should be disregarded. I think we all just need to broaden our view, look ahead, and look around us. There are many connections waiting to be made.