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TV experiments with audio podcasting

Podcasting is turning conventional wisdom about TV broadcasting on its head as thousands of people sign up to download and listen to free, audio-only versions of their favorite shows or special MP3-only programming.

A weekly podcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press” regularly makes the iTunes list of the top 100 podcasts. ABC’s “Nightline” has lured a regular audio-only audience of listeners content to take in the show without commercials. ABC News also offers “The AfterNote,” a podcast-only show about politics based on its influential newsletter, and ABC “News Shuffle,” a random mixture of news stories about a wide variety of topics.

The trend isn’t limited to the news and talk shows. Tens of thousands of people recently downloaded a DVD-style Battlestar Galactica episode commentary by the show’s executive producer, and Fox Broadcasting offers brief episode recaps of shows like The OC and Nanny 911, Wired reported.

The conventional wisdom is that TV without pictures is a big waste of bandwidth. But even with the rising popularity of podcasting, TV networks aren’t free to repurpose all programming wholesale, often due to copyright issues. In many cases, the music on TV shows is cleared for a few broadcasts, but not to sit forever on someone’s hard drive or iPod, Elisabeth Lewin, publisher of Podcasting News, told Wired.

An executive at Fox TV acknowledged that rights are one potential hitch in preventing podcasts of entire episodes of the network’s shows. But the bigger issue is that Fox wants people to watch TV, not listen to it, said Carolyn Gray, vice president of new media at Fox.

However, Wired reported that the approach has been successful for the Sci Fi Channel and its “Battlestar Galactica” podcast commentaries. The number of downloads of a commentary for the final episode of last season grew from about 30,000 before iTunes embraced podcast technology to 80,000 a week later, said Craig Engler, general manager of

ABC News, for one, is exploring subscription or pay-per-play podcasts in addition to commercials.

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