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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, Wired News reports.

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 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 such as “The OC" and “Nanny 911.”

The conventional wisdom has always been that TV without pictures is a 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. And besides, she said it would be a dis-service to a lot of shows to just do audio podcats because of all of the video production values.

TV podcast fans should be prepared to soon pay for the privilege. ABC News is considering subscription-based or pay-per-play podcasts in addition to commercials.

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