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Waiting for "Eye"-Pod

As rumors heat up around Apple’s launch of a video iPod, here’s a look at how it could create a new mass medium: video podcasting.

As the days of summer heat up, they’re sizzling in more ways than one. For the last couple of weeks, there’s been a hot topic among media-watchers: Will Apple announce a video-capable version of its iPod music player?

Of course such an announcement would be exciting to users of iPods – those wildly popular music players. But it has ramifications beyond just adding movies to portable entertainment fare: it could give a huge boost to one of the hottest areas in the expanding universe of participatory media: podcasting.

“It’s absolutely possible to create a video podcast,” says new-media enthusiast Derrick Oien, president of the Association of Music Podcasters. And, if Apple came out with a video iPod, “you could see a big boom in video blogging,” Oien says.

The rumors of a video iPod gained new momentum on July 18 with a Wall Street Journal article reporting that Apple was in discussions with music labels and other companies to license music videos for its new device. According to the article, Apple claimed it would be announcing the device by September.

Then, on August 2, the blog Macrumors pointed out that the trademark for Apple’s iPod had been changed on June 18, so that it now read: “portable and handheld digital electronic devices for recording, organizing, transmitting, manipulating, and reviewing text, data, audio, image, and video files” [italics added].

If Apple does launch a video iPod in the near future (a company spokesperson declined to comment on the trademark change or the possibility of a video iPod), it would arrive into a far different world than did the first audio iPod in 2001.

Since then, the concept of participatory media has exploded, most notably in the form of blogs, wikis (user-modifiable websites), and podcasts, in which an individual can create and disseminate his or her own “show” over the Internet. (The term “podcast” is itself derived from the iPod, despite having no connection to it – a telling tribute to the Apple product.)

And now, in 2005, a small but burgeoning community of videobloggers has emerged, distributing its offerings via RSS (“really simple syndication”) feeds – the same technology used by audio podcasters.

Jay Dedman, one of the leaders in distributing video blogs using RSS, through an application he co-created called FireAnt, says that the beta version of FireAnt has already been downloaded “about 20,000 times,” since it was launched in January 2005. 

Dedman hosts around 600 videoblogs (awkwardly dubbed “vlogs”) on his site, AntisnotTV.com, and says that number would explode if Apple releases a video iPod. “Audio is boring. It’s boring to make a radio show,” Dedman says. “The reason [videoblogging] is not that hot yet is because we don’t have a device to shift the video on to. If Apple does it, it will be pretty big.”

On August 9, the online activist group Downhill Battle will launch its “Participatory Culture” player and website, which will make it easier to distribute video and audio content on the Internet. One of its directors, Nicholas Reville, says that a video iPod “can only have a really strong, positive effect…It would bring a level of credibility – the same thing Apple brought to MP3 players and audio podcasting.”

When Apple announced its support for audio podcasting in June and began listing the mostly amateur radio segments within its iTunes Music Store, podcasting saw its biggest boost to date. Just two days after podcasts were made available, more than one million people subscribed.

So what content will drive the adoption of video podcasting:  fringe talk shows, progressive commentators, obscure sporting events? If the past is a barometer, it will be another category: pornography. Video podcasting – essentially short video files discreetly transferred to a device – seem like a natural for the skin trade. There’s already an interest in erotic audio podcasting. A report by Digital Podcast in June found that the most-requested category by listeners to its podcast hub was “Erotica.” Ironically, though, fewer erotic podcasts were available on the site than any other category. But that won’t last long. 

Midwifing a new media such as video podcasts is likely not Apple’s motivation in launching a video iPod. After all, the device would command a steep retail premium. Further, with individual music videos reported to be offered for $1.99 each on the iTunes Music Store, according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple could make money through licensed video content sales as well.

Still, the unveiling of a video iPod could be the flashpoint for video podcasting – adding to the already-strong momentum in what might be the 21st century’s most significant technological development thus far: do-it-yourself media.

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