AOL Unveils Podcasting Initiative

America Online is adding its considerable weight to the podcasting phenomenon, offering visitors to AOL.com a full complement of podcasting tools and featured content.

The move comes as online advertisers and marketers keep an eye on podcasting, both as a potential medium for sponsorship and as a vehicle for branded content.

The new AOL Podcasting 101 site has a beginner’s guide to podcasting, prominent access to Web-wide and AOL-original podcasts, and enhanced podcasting search capabilities. AOL has also added a streaming podcast channel to AOL Radio with 24-hour programming.

“Our goal is to make it easy for our visitors to discover some of the best of what’s available,” said Bill Wilson, senior VP of programming for AOL. “The programs we are featuring are great for novices and experts alike. Over the next few months, we will be expanding our podcast experience with more exclusive and original programming — from AOL and from partners — and adding more advanced search options.”

AOL’s first original podcast is “Sports Bloggers Live,” a weekly sports talk show produced by AOL. That podcast does not currently have any ads in it, but AOL has left open the possibility of placing ads in podcasts in the future. Over the coming months, the company plans to add additional original podcasts from AOL Music, Moviefone, AOL Coaches and the KOL (kids) and RED (teens) services.

AOL has also beefed up the podcast search functions in its WinAmp media player. WinAmp now has a podcast directory called SHOUTcast Wire. In addition, AOL has inked a deal with TVEyes to integrate its Podscope search engine with AOL Search this fall.

Podscope uses what TVEyes calls “spoken word indexing” to index every word of a podcast, as TVEyes does with television and radio broadcasts in its other services. Competitor blinkx takes a similar approach with its podcast search capabilities.

“As TV and radio migrate to the on-demand dynamic of podcasts on the Internet, new search tools are needed to make what will ultimately be billions of spoken words in millions of files accessible in a meaningful way,” said Allen Weiner, research VP at Gartner. “Indexing the spoken word has a profound impact on a consumer’s ability to find what they want and get the most out of audio and video search.”

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