MSNBC Likes the Sound of Podcasts

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The cable news wars could spill out from television screens and the Internet to iPods and MP3 players as networks seek new ways of delivering content to information-hungry viewers.

NBC News has said it will offer content from MSNBC via “podcasts” — audio-based files that can be downloaded to such devices as Apple Computer Corp.’s popular iPods.

Via MSNBC.com, NBC will make available for download clips from such MSNBC shows as Hardball and Countdown, plus interviews from NBC’s Today. Original content is also planned.

NBC News Internet and technology consultant Jeff Gralnick calls it a natural progression for NBC and MSNBC. NBC also offers a robust lineup of content from various news shows for download via MSNBC.com, cell phones and portable media devices.

“Podcasting is a technology that’s ready to be explored,” said Gralnick, who wouldn’t predict how many people will actually try it. “We’re creating the technology and saying to people who want their content delivered in different ways, 'Here is yet another platform that you can access information from.’ ”

MSNBC and CNBC apparently are the first cable-based news networks to offer content for podcasting. ABC News offers similar audio-based content derived from such shows as Nightline.

Others don’t see a need to jump into podcasts yet.

“I think theoretically, podcasting is an interesting idea, but oftentimes theorists are ahead of the practicality,” Fox News vice president of affiliate sales Tim Carry said. He isn’t sure enough of Fox’s target 35-to-54-year-old audience would be interested in something that tends to attract younger users.

A Cable News Network spokesperson would only note the number of CNN audio services on mobile phones, CNN.com and CNN Radio: “We’re constantly expanding our palette of networks and services, taking advantage of all new technologies.”

Rather than repurpose clips of programming that has aired, Carry said Fox recently reached a deal with Sprint PCS to offer live streams of the network to wireless cell phones (joining MSNBC, CNBC and other content providers on MobiTV.)

“We kind of view [Sprint] as a new MSO and distributor,” he said. “Our thinking is: Why don’t we leapfrog over this V-casting concept and move directly to that, because we think that’s where the business is going?”

Gralnick said NBC’s podcasts will start out commercial-free, but eventually will have an advertising element, likely before or after segments.

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