First there was a radio show. Then there was a podcast. Eventually Leo Laporte turned on a webcam and TWiT.TV was born. Now Leo is trying to grow into a sort of CNN-for-technology. With the rise of online video Leo believes that he can now deliver to the masses content which they can get as easily as turning on the TV.
We spoke to Laporte at Blogworld about a variety of issues related to TWiT.tv (previous interview here), and wanted to share some of the best nuggets from that interview. I've also outlined the best parts for those who prefer text below.
Adding Video Increases Audience Size
I'll let Laporte explain why TWiT decided to add the video format:
"I've come to the conclusion that live, real-time is just more compelling… however, much more inconvenient… I think podcasts are very difficult to figure out. You've got to figure out where they are, what they are, how to download them, how to subscribe… 'Subscribe? Do I pay? Is it in an actual store? Does it cost me money?'… And there's a group of people willing to go to that effort–and that's wonderful–but I think ultimately it has to be as easy as turning on the TV or turning on the radio. That's why we started doing video, doing real-time streaming."
TWiT does 175,000-200,000 downloads of its audio and about 5-8,000 watching live when they added video with an additional 25-50,000 downloading and watching later. That's all on top of the standard audio numbers as people are choosing one or the other so it was a growth of about 20% overall. So the addition of video hasn't simply moved a portion of the audience from one format to another—it's actually increased the audience.
They have about 40 hours a week of live video now as he said they start at 11am each day and shut down around 5 or 6pm. Leo does a lion's share with maybe 30 hours. But it also required them to hire on new hosts to help out.
Making Tough Bandwidth Choices
Video was also added because the users were asking for it—and Laporte knows that it's simply good business to give the customers what they want. But video uses up a lot more bandwidth than audio. Bandwidth has always been an issue for TWiT, even before video entered the picture, but now they're obviously using much more.
Finding The Right Streaming Quality
"One of our big challenges is how much bandwidth—how high quality to put out our video. And that's what it really comes down to: the more quality we put out the more bandwidth it requires. And people have limited bandwidth. So we just experimented.”
With regard to streaming quality Leo said they experimented with 1.5Mbp but was too much so then they lowered it to 1Mbps which works for high-quality. The next is 500Kbps for lower quality. He commented on the fact that most people, even if they have stated 10Mbps connection, can't get enough bandwidth to watch full 1Mbps streams consistently.
Long-Form Vs. Short-Form
Most of the "conventional wisdom" still suggests that short video works better online than long-form video—though there are exceptions even in the viral video world. Laporte looked at the conventional wisdom, and then went the complete opposite direction:
"Our videos are long. Everybody also told me 'Short form, short form, short form'… we do long, hour sometimes 2-hour shows, and nobody ever says 'short.' So, I would say people are more tolerant of long-form video if the content is right."
Video, he continued, is expensive to do as well–not only in terms of dollars, but also time. And it's hard to do good video. He still thinks blogging is the quickest and cheapest way to communicate information, and they still do audio so that they reach most of their fans. After that they do video and video is not really edited all that much post. They tack on a beginning, and end and some intermediate stuff and that's about it.
And yet they're seeing success. They're seeing growth. Here is a business that began and succeeded long before video was a blip on their radar. They've adapted quite well to the video craze, if you ask me, and there are an awful lot of old-school companies out there that would do well to follow Laporte's lead.