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Benjamin Oakes

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Hi, I'm Ben Oakes and this is my geek blog. Currently, I'm a Ruby/JavaScript Developer at Liaison. Previously, I was a Developer at Continuity and Hedgeye, a Research Assistant in the Early Social Cognition Lab at Yale University and a student at the University of Iowa. I also organize TechCorridor.io, ICRuby, OpenHack Iowa City, and previously organized NewHaven.rb. I have an amazing wife named Danielle Oakes.

NBC Quietly Discontinuing Video Podcasts

by Ben

UPDATE (2015-02-15): As of yesterday — Valentine’s Day of all days — the NBC podcasts are discontinued. The closest replacement I’m aware of is the PBS NewsHour YouTube Channel or PBS NewsHour Video RSS Feed (not a video podcast, unfortunately).

UPDATE (2015-03-05): The only remaining NBC video podcast is The Rachel Maddow Show, though they have limited it to a 25 minute selection of highlights. I would encourage you to show Rachel Maddow support for this. I doubt it’s a simple coincidence that she’s the only one still offering a video podcast.

I’ve been watching the NBC Nightly News video podcast for a long time. Probably since 2006, and maybe even as early as 2005 (ten years ago!). It’s never been perfect — sometimes they skip a day without explanation, and they clearly cut out some content on occasion — but it’s been an important part of how I’ve gotten news over roughly the last 10 years.

My wife and I will often watch it while eating breakfast together. We were greeted with this notice today:

Soon, this podcast will be discontinued, but you'll still be able to watch NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, updated every evening, at nightlynews.com and the Nightly News app in the iTunes or Google Play Store. Nightly's audio podcast  will still be available.

NBC is dropping all their video podcasts, without explanation. They’re also dropping Meet the Press and Today alongside NBC Nightly News. MSNBC video podcasts, like The Rachel Maddow Show don’t have this notice yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen. NBC isn’t the only one to drop their news video feeds; CBS and ABC seem to have dropped theirs a while ago. At the time of this writing, the last CBS Evening News video podcast is from early September 2014. I don’t know if others like PBS or BBC ever offered video podcasts, but I can’t find any remnant of them if they did exist.

All the audio podcasts remain. This move seems to be about video. That can be said for almost all major broadcasters, like ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS. Seemingly no one is offering video podcasts.

So is NBC Nightly News stopping their video podcast really that big of a deal? Well, not specifically. My concern is really about the systematic reduction of the video podcast as a format.

Especially when I didn’t have a TV, I used to watch Nightly News on a laptop. Eventually, I added watching the podcast on a TV and my smartphone. It was (and is) great, because I could watch it whenever I wanted, often with breakfast the next morning. No waiting for downloading, no navigating extra menus. At one point, I even wrote a little Ruby script to automatically play it on my laptop in the morning. It was ready next to my coffee (which had also started automatically). There’s something nice about that.

That’s the thing about podcasts: they’re malleable. You can do so much with them. After all, a video podcast is just a file with a link to a DRM-free video file. There are very few restrictions to how a podcast consumer can use that file; you can play it on an old “unsupported” computer or your video game console. You can burn it to DVD. You can save segments you want to keep. You can use content in all sorts of interesting ways, moving it easily between devices. In the end, that’s probably exactly what NBC and other broadcasters don’t like about video podcasts.

The problem is, podcasts can’t really be replaced by websites and mobile apps. Those options force you to a specific interaction, a specific user experience. That’s much less interesting because those options are only useful to you if your usage happens to be one of the ones they considered and designed. To make it concrete, this means that you can’t watch this specific NBC content on your Apple TV, Roku, etc. anymore because NBC doesn’t want you to — although you could when it was a video podcast. Forcing the content through an app is a step backwards.

Marco Arment of Instapaper fame described this well when he wrote about RSS, the technology behind video podcasts:

This isn’t an issue of “openness”, per se — Twitter, for instance, has very good reasons to limit its API. You aren’t entitled to unrestricted access to someone else’s service. Those days are gone for good, and we’ll all be fine. We don’t need big web players to be completely open.

The bigger problem is that they’ve abandoned interoperability. RSS, semantic markup, microformats, and open APIs all enable interoperability, but the big players don’t want that — they want to lock you in.

[…]

RSS represents the antithesis of [vendor lock-in]: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople.

I can’t tell if video podcasts just didn’t get the traction in the market that they needed or if audio podcasts are just preferable because broadcasters really want to protect their video. The same could be said for terrestrial broadcasts (i.e., those you get for free over an antenna), which no longer seem to be a major priority for broadcasters either. I’ve considered getting a PVR to record video in lieu of video podcasts, but NBC isn’t available at our house (though several other stations are). Would we have been able to receive NBC here in the pre-cable era? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer were “yes.”

The entire television and online video industry is in a weird, transitory state right now. The number of options that used to be completely free and open are dwindling — even those that include advertisements. I don’t know if I’ll like how this transition ends, but in some ways, I can’t wait for the transition to be over.

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This Week in Google

(also available on YouTube)

This post was briefly featured on This Week in Google #285, starting at about 1:26:30 and running for about a minute. It didn’t get as much attention as exploding kittens, but hey, it’s the second time something I’ve done has been featured in a podcast. (The first was when Maid was on Ruby5.)

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Chava says:

I’m irritated and disappointed about this. This is also how I get my news.

Josh L. says:

I’m sorry to see this as well. I’ve been a fan of this podcast, and the Rachel Maddow Show podcast, for quite a while. I agree that the MSNBC podcasts will likely be next. I’ve watched them sometimes on a computer, other times using a Roku with the Nowhere Cast app. On the bright side, there is a PBS NewsHour podcast on the free PBS app on Roku, though it has the same issues with appearing late or not at all as the NBC podcasts did.

Lament Ing says:

I have been watching Nightly News on ROKU for years. The original ROKU NEWS APP worked wonderfully until suddenly, JUST the NBC NEWS was broken down into MINI PODCASTS that no longer made sense. Then, I added NOWHEREMAN in order to get the NIGHTLY NEWS. Later, I had to PAY for NOWHEREMAN in order to get THE NIGHTLY NEWS. Now, once again, JUST THE NIGHTLY NEWS is being discontinued. The claim is that one can watch the PODCAST via ITUNES APP, but the same notice of discontinuation is being announced on the ITUNES PODCAST SITE. Trying to watch the news is starting to become as difficult as nailing jello to the wall. I am not opposed to having attached ads or paying a small sum for the news, but I ask the question: what good is news journalism that is hidden like some secret? I think NBC CEO’s have lost perspective, if not their minds! Since I can watch NBC on free antenna, that could be a choice, but because of this close-mindedness, I will vote with my remote, and it won’t be for NBC!

Josh L. says:

I’d like to correct something I wrote above. There is no PBS NewsHour video podcast. It is available as a video on demand in the PBS app on Roku, with ads, but it’s not a podcast.

Jon S says:

It’s pretty disappointing. We watch the podcast on our Roku (though Nowhere TV or other podcast aggregators) and it has been part of our happiness with not having cable. Of course, now that NBC is owned by Comcast, that is probably part of the reason they are limiting the ways that you can watch it. Boo to them!

George Rachor says:

Very disappointed with this podcost going away. They was always my backup to watch nbc news when the local affiliate chooses to present the local NBA game instead of the news.

NBC is simply driving me away as a viewer.

Jef says:

So, so so extremely sad about this…. I’m overseas, so will be almost totally disconnected from American news….. extremely saddening and heart-breaking.

Brett says:

Very much agree with the coments…..the video pods cats have been great and I have been watching for years this way, haven’t missed the tv at all. I wouldn’t even mind if nbc tried to put national ads into the pod catsts as I understand everyone needs to make money, however just killing the pod casts all together is a bad idea. And then telling you the audio pod casts is still going to be downloadable? Have you ever listened to the audio, in which people throughout reference the pictures you cant see, stupid. I will likely drop nbc nightly news even though I enjoy Brain and the programming, even on bad days Brain makes some clip closing reference or something to make you still feel human while listening to unhaman lilely things. Really going to miss that. Time for some more radio pod casts in my future.

Kirsty says:

I too am saddedned by not being able to watch Today show podcasts. Whilst I can access Meet the Press via CNBC I will not be able to now keep up with American news as a UK viewer, other than that – selectively – broadcast on BBC or SKY. A poor decision if ever there was one.

Brian says:

I agree with this article and the suggestion of embedding ads/commercials into the podcasts — that would have been acceptable for me instead of discontinuing the podcasts. I believe NBC is trying to steer us to using their app, but you have to watch each segment separately within the app instead of a continuous podcast. I would listen to the podcasts in the shower. Now, within the app, this is not tenable. Bottom line, they will lose market share and viewers like me who only used this channel (podcasts) for daily news.

MacAddict says:

Very sad thing. I’ve been watching NBC nightly news since 2008 via their video podcast. I currently watch it on my appletv. Hopefully there will be a way to get the video onto a big screen after this transition is complete.

Barry says:

The ability to watch asynchronous content moving around was a disruptive change in my viewing habits. Being a grey-haired over the hill guy, I have each day remembered services coming and going from the internet and, in the process, suffering great behavioral change. So, I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. I don’t think any will have affected me as seriously as this particularly disturbing development. I will now return to getting my news in “print” from the NYTimes and other sources. When driving, it will be the audio podcast until that goes, too. This piece is so right in all respects, hanks, Ben.

Gary W says:

ending the video podcasts of nbc nightlynews, meet the press, and the today show among others is such a mistake. It also discriminates against our service men and women overseas who would be unable to see these broadcasts otherwise. We often have access to wireless for a limited period during the day and must download the broadcasts then. PLEASE reconsider and continue this valuable service that benefits our military and diplomatic personnel overseas.

Darrel says:

As an expat American, just about the only way to keep up with the American news is watching/listening to podcasts, which I have always preferred to do on the morning subway ride to my office in Hamburg. I’ve also been watching Nightly News, Meet The Press and TRMS for just about as long as they’ve been offering podcasts of theses shows. Now they want to force me to their website or use some app on a smartphone, meaning that my subway ride will for the time-being only be spent listening to, not watching the news since it will take some time yet for internet connectivity to be offered on public transportation. Maybe I will try the website for the video, but I suspect they will be filling it with 5 blocks of commercials that can’t be skipped. At least I’ll still be getting the audio, but I can’t image for very much longer.

Iain S. says:

I’ve been watching all of these from the UK for five years. Quite sad to see them go – & audio’s no fun! The BBC online have ABC’s World News Tonight, occasionally seen in the past but it now looks like being a staple diet, with breakfast.. The BBC do have some video pods under News on their site. I prefer to mix US news boradcasts with the Beeb as they are muuch more punchy – the Beeb is a little paunchy now, slow, egotistical, self-indulgent, partial – often I’ve got more facts from the US on UK stories, more quickly, from NBC! Darn.

Sonia says:

I podcaster several (MS)NBC shows because I don’t have a TV and I live in Korea and it was a way to stay informed. Apparently keeping people informed is not high on their list of priorities. I do highly suggest Democracy Now! They still video podcast, and were always at the top of the heap.

[…] a little searching and found this article om Benjamin Oakes’ blog: NBC quietly discontinuing video podcasts. Benjamin says, “NBC is dropping all their video podcasts, without explanation… All the […]

Kelly says:

I’m more than disappointed about NBC dropping podcasts, and about podcasts fading away in general. Is this to satisfy advertisers? NBC is just driving viewers away. I’m tired of having a million different apps cluttering up my devices, their app doesn’t work on my old ipad, and I can’t stand their roku channel that offers the news only as a series of clunky clips instead of the full broadcast. Between this and the Brian Williams thing, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, if not the head. Booooo NBC! :(((((

Kim Cowley says:

This is a fundamental flaw in cloud-based or online delivery: you have to have the right connection in the right location in order to access your information or entertainment.
I’ll miss MSNBC in particular, which has accompanied me when working late hours in offline locations.
In the end of course, it is the networks’ content and they can restrict access as they choose. For me as a viewer, it’s just one more nail in the broadcast coffin.
At least I still have books and FM radio!

Jon S. says:

They just discontinued the Rachel Maddow podcast, so that is another nail in the coffin. Very disappointing.

Adam says:

They’ve now limited The Rachel Maddow Show video podcast to highlights-only.

Ben says:

Thanks for the update on The Rachel Maddow Show. It’s not a surprise that they changed it, but at least they’re still offering video content as a podcast.

Mark says:

I was sad, but not surprised, when NBC announced this. When MSNBC announced the same TRMS, my raaction was the same – sadness but no surprise. The bottom line is advertising. Advertising drives television. Corporations are addicted to profit, and when they grow in size, they need more profit to sustain themselves.

Mark says:

I also was surprised by these really bad news. I used the podcasts to “stay in touch” with US Tv since we came back home to Hamburg/germany one year ago (Hey Darrell, so we both Suffer now in the Subway;-)) It was a good way to stay informed and used to the language. I miss it.

Ben says:

While I agree NBC probably dropped the podcasts because they weren’t generating any profit, I would have preferred that they add ads back to the podcasts. They used to advertise other NBC shows, and even threw in a few “real” commercials on occasion. Many podcasts worth listening to have ads and I don’t think adding ads would have affected overall viewership as much as dropping podcasts completely. I’m sure they have their reasons for the decision, but regardless, it seems very shortsighted. I know my opinion of NBC was damaged by this, and others have told me the same.

Rachel says:

Very upset to lose the MSNBC podcasts, but not upset enough to order cable or satellite. Wish I could just pay a fee to get msnbc on roku.

susieH says:

what i don’t get is why it is so hard to get info on this change of policy. It’s a worrisme development, i think in response to the FCC decision re net neutrality.

Judy Tergis says:

The worst part of trying to watch Rachel Maddow from msnbc.com is that they split the ad segments up with video shorts from the show so it is hard to fast forward past the ads. We’ve stopped trying to watch her and we really miss her show.

JVan says:

Whomever is designing the Nightlynews.com portol has generated a bad user experience. Aside of seeing the same ads over and over between segments on the same evening thread, segment starts and stops seem jumbled together. If one just wanted to see last nites uninterrupted news (even with ads) it’s a random exercise trying to figure out if and where it’s available. Seems like downloaded print media is winning. The news papers should be happy.

Barry says:

I’ve now dusted off Calibre eBook manager and reverted back to digital print media for everything. Pity, as I could have easily been forced to sit through ads. Bedtter for my cerebral development, for sure, even if I will never know who white my shirts can be.

Conor says:

Is there an issue with the Rachel Maddow show audio podcast or has it been dropped as well? The audio podcast is usually available pretty promptly but it’s May 27th and the last audio episode available is Friday 22nd of May.

I’ll be very disappointed is this has been dropped as well. I don’t have cable TV so I watched the video podcast, until it was dropped, and switched to the audio podcast. If that has now been been dropped as well then I’ve run out of ways to listen to her show.

Ben says:

Not sure, Conor. When I checked it today (May 29th), the episode seemed to be from May 28th.

We don’t have cable either, and while I like listening to Rachel Maddow on occasion, I’d prefer some ads in the podcast to paying for cable.

Gary says:

I used it for my current events class so I would not have to depend on the network First week back from the summer and already got the spinning ball. Will have to go back to taping it. Did I say taping?

Frank Lipsky says:

These moves by NBC and other networks are based on a faulty/obsolete paradigm!
With information of all kinds being available in real time on the internet;waiting for information on a schedule determined by the content provider or by the purchaser of content aka networks is selfish and ultimately self defeating. What better example than the decline of newspaper publishers
This writer is a physicist and communication systems expert!BS LEHIGH
Frank Lipsky
PS I was decoding radio transmissions while I was on a troopship bound for Japan in 1953
Moral The American publics including networks are incredibly ignorant

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