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podcasts: good, bad, and ugly

Today: video podcasts.

I don’t think anyone has figured out how to do a good ministry-related video podcast yet. The devices we watch/listen to podcasts on are too small, and video takes too much space, so I can’t imagine video podcasts have a large enough natural audience to justify special content. As a result, most (all? I’m still looking for an exception) ministry video podcasts are sermons or talks with video of the speaker, possibly augmented by PowerPoint bullet lists or Scripture quotes. They’re cheap video versions of content the ministry is already producing, and they look it. I don’t see an upside to doing this;  I do see lots of downside.

First of all, most ministries don’t have a media strategy and don’t need one, but getting ministry content to translate to video requires some forethought and, for lack of a better term, programming. I watched the Cornerstone Community Church (Simi Valley, CA) video podcast for a while, and while the continuity of ministry may have been apparent to someone who was there in person, I got the impression of a church in crisis with no real message (other than some variation on “Cornerstone is a great church and God is doing great things here”) that was doing pulpit by committee and just kind of wandering. In retrospect that’s more or less what was happening, since founding preacher Francis Chan was deciding and preparing to leave Cornerstone.

Second, church attendance is an immersive experience, and video podcasts are not. Church services lose a lot in translation to television, especially if along the way the are cut down to just an edited version of a sermon along the way. They typically lose their music for copyright reasons, and most everything that takes place offstage (the offering, any sort of greeting, etc.) don’t make for gripping viewing. They get even smaller and stranger when they become video podcasts, since they no longer have the authoritative presence they had when they were on a piece of furniture.

Third, video tends to make a speaker’s quirks harder to overlook. The Desiring God video podcast is just a single-camera shot of John Piper at the pulpit plus end cards, and the effect of his long and elaborate prayers, earnest gestures, vocal ticks, etc. tends to overwhelm the content of what he’s saying. It’s possible to get used to almost anything (lots of people still listen to J. Vernon McGee, and his accent makes him something of an acquired taste; Erwin Lutzer’s occasional peculiar pronunciation of “God” can be distracting) but it’s easier for an audio medium than for a video medium.

Fourth, video doesn’t admit multitasking the way audio does. James White mentions repeatedly how he listens to debates, speeches, sermons, whatever while he’s riding his bike. Why he still does video for so much of his content I can’t imagine.

Fifth: ministries don’t generally understand that podcasting isn’t a broadcast medium the way radio/television is. It’s also more naturally archival. I think that’s something we all learned the hard way from the Ergun Caner situation.

Finally, there’s always the danger that accommodations to video will overwhelm the message. I haven’t seen any of this yet in ministry video podcasts, but I suspect it’s just because the audience is still so small. It’s important to remember that McLuhan and Postman are basically right: television is primarily an entertainment medium, and video podcasts are at best television writ small.

Oh yeah: I don’t currently watch any video podcasts, but I’m always open for suggestions. Someone is eventually going to try to do something cheap, inventive, informative, etc. and I’m open to being wrong above. Well, except for the multitasking part.

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  1. September 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm

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