In more traditional media, the notion of schedule is very strong. The origin of this is likely bound to the requirements of publishing, whether it be the minimum profitable cycle for printing and delivering magazines or newspapers, the advertising expectations of television broadcast or the audience location expectations of radio broadcast.

Over time, people who consume and produce media come to regard that schedule as a necessary part of the media. They rely upon it, particularly when there is little media to choose from, or the cost of having lots of media means that limited choices must be made.

But is that still true? Or more accurately, does it apply to newer media, particularly digital-based, globally-accessible media such as podcasts?

There appears to be still considerable advice in this direction. Producers are often strongly encouraged to maintain a regular and reliable schedule of production. But the advice is also muddled, as there is some desire to encourage amateur producers to produce at their own rate. Audiences, too, sometimes react negatively to irregular schedules — particularly the audiences of podcast fiction, who are desperately in need of the next fix, another chapter to get over the hangover of the cliffhanger ending of previous one. But most seem to offer the reassurance that timeliness is less important if its not a core component of the production. (“Daily” newscasts, for example, aren’t much use if not produced each day.)

The relationship of new media to time is further complicated by the easy international scope of the producers and consumers. What does it matter if a podcast is released on 5pm on Tuesday, when that is 1am on Wednesday somewhere else?

Television is the most prominent media of our day. (It’s slipping in impact and importance due to the Web, but its influence is still a legacy.)  The concept of a “season” for a television show marks a beginning and end for a collection of episodes — even if there is no particularly thematic reason to bundle them together.

A typical television season starts in the fall and runs until the next summer. (Summer itself is either considered unimportant or a separate season, strangely.) Interestly, this model has been getting disrupted for a while, possibly strongly impacted in particular by the dubious early cancellation practices of some networks and the near-total creative shutdown from the writer’s strike a few years ago, introducing more commonly what were once rare schedule change-ups such as the “mid-season replacement” and the “short season”.

Other breaks in the scheduling could come from a planned or unplanned hiatus, appearing due to technical production reasons or consumer-impact (and therefore advertising profit) maximization.

But what do these mean to podcasting?

Podcasting is new, but it has been trying to find itself models to emulate. In some ways, it is extremely free, as there is no central standard. Each show can implement their own solution, can decide their own course.

A podcast can determine that it must keep to a rigid production schedule (barring exigent circumstances), or might determine that the schedule is unimportant and that each episode is released when it is ready, and not sooner.

A podcast might follow the television schedule and season model, with episodes produced weekly from September to May, with a brief hiatus in December or for other holidays. Or it might follow a magazine-like season model, where each year is one “season”, starting in January and ending in December, with a possible hiatus in the summer.

Or, you might decide none of these things, and suddenly people are wondering if you are podfading. The term “podfading” refers to the unexpected end of a podcast. Strangely, while the term implies a gradual reduction in the podcast output, it really reflects the gradual realization by its audience that the show hasn’t updated in a while.

This is interesting, because it highlights another problem with the notion of schedules, one that television itself is also facing: the time of production and the time of consumption aren’t necessarily coincidental.

Or, put more simply: “when an episode is published, it’s not necessarily consumed by the audience right away”.

In my own practices as a podcast consumer it is not uncommon to collect several episodes of a podcast together and then listen to them in rapid succession. I’ve heard others say the same.

So, what does it mean to a schedule? At one time, that was the synchronization point between producers and consumers, the hand-off from one to the other of the product. Television gained the desynchronization feature with videotape, but TiVo made it much easier.

Podcasting was born with this ability. It was also born into a world of seemingly limitless choice, a struggle that television found itself discovering when the “500-channel universe” came into existence.

To the best of my perception, television hasn’t solved this problem, but struggles with it constantly. Podcasting offers an interesting testing ground for all sorts of timing theories for media delivery and consumption, and allows much more niche solutions to survive.

What do you think?

  • What different timing solutions have you seen?
  • How important do you think a schedule is? More significantly, why is it important? What does it make possible or prevent?
  • Are seasons important? In some cases, this is obviously true, particularly with drama where a season is a unit of dramatic tension and resolution. But what about it in other cases? Would the Understanding Podcasting podcast, for example, benefit at all from seasons?
  • Since there is no cost to staying subscribed to a somewhat dormant feed, is there ever really such a thing as “podfading”? Or is it really just a long delay between episodes or a podcast having ended?

Admittedly, this is not necessarily one of my more coherent posts. I’m a little rusty, and the thinking arose out of trying to find some way to indicate that Understanding Podcasting is not only not gone, but is still an ongoing interest and concern of mine, and will be returning.

However, I realized that I fell into the trap of requiring a schedule for the podcast, and further that the schedule was unrealistic, given my actual available time.

So: Understanding Podcasting has not ended or podfaded, just been on an unexpectedly long hiatus. It will return, however, without a regular update schedule. Instead, it will have a promise that more episodes will appear, as well as more blog posts.

However, in order to make this easier, I’m going to ask something further of you, the audience:

  • What theories, ideas, possibilities, standards, errors, issues, good practices, bad practices or other media thoughts or questions do you have in regards to podcasting? What are you interested in? What do you think I should look at and comment on?

Thanks for your patience. New episodes will return soon (ish).

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