AAC And The Demise Of The Enhanced Podcast


One of the very first podcasts I listened to was the Engadget Podcast, a podcast that focussed on all things technology. What I loved about their podcast was that as they would talk about the latest phone or TV, pictures and links to what they were talking about would flash across the screen of my iPhone. I loved the idea that podcasts could be more than just audio, and be visual and interactive as well. So around the time I rebranded the SciFi Diner Podcast, I began to publish an enhanced feed, as is was called, displaying pictures that coincided with what we discussed on the show. I did this for about 30 episodes, and then closed the curtains on it.

Enhanced podcasts use a file format called AAC which stands for Advanced Audio Coding. Despite it being associated to Apple as their format, it was developed by a conglomeration of companies such as AT&T Bell Labs, Dolby, Sony, and Nokia and meant to be mp3’s successor.  Indeed it is superior in many respects.  An AAC file recorded at a similar bit rate to that of a mp3 file will have a higher quality. And it allows podcasters to add media and links into their podcasts. So why aren’t a plethora of podcasters using it?

Let me posit a couple of reasons:

First, despite the range of devices that play AAC, including Microsoft Zune, Sony PlayStation 3 and PSP, the Nintendo Wii, and mobile phones running Google’s Android OS, there are enough devices, especially older ones, that cannot play AAC files.  That means if you want to reach your widest audience, you need to publish two feeds.  The Scifi Diner Podcast did this for a while.  If you choose to publish two feeds, that means more space is needed to host your files, meaning adding cost  for hosting space.

The other reason I stopped using enhanced podcasts, despite their coolness factor, was due to time poverty.  The podcasting adage says that for every minute of recorded audio, expect to spend four minutes of editting time. I think that might be a bit distorted, but it is safe to say, and I know from experience, that running an enhanced podcast does add to your editing time. Not only do you have to find pictures and links, but then you need to copy and paste them and line them up in your editing software.  If you are trying to reach your largest audience, that means you are rendering your files in both an AAC and a mp3 format. That takes time. It takes double the upload time. Double the configuring time. If you are crunched for time as a podcaster, then enhanced podcasting is NOT the way to go.

And video casting has really come into its own and become more accessible and user friendly in the recent years.  Google hangouts and other applications make it really easy to record a video show and demonstrate products and show pictures. You really want a visual podcast, then put a little more time into vidcasting. People who want to see you and what you are demonstarting on your show will be able to find you on youtube etc.

Seriously, when was the last time you stared at your screen when listening to a podcast?  Its been a long time for me. Podcasts are meant to be audio. People listen to them running, biking, commuting, and in a ton of other situations where looking at the screen would only cause accidents.

95% your listeners, which is an accurate statistic I just made up, will not be able to distinguish between the quality of a mp3 file and that of an AAC.  Most won’t care, the differences are too subtle, and the ambient noise surrounding them too great.

May the almighty mp3 live forever.