Tech Tips: Hosting Podcasts


Choices for Hosting Podcasts

There are two main tasks involved in publishing podcasts; the production work involved in actually creating the podcasts, and hosting the podcasts — that is, making the audio program available to users online. This is a brief tech note on how we are performing the second task at 7 Generation Games.

There are many options available for hosting podcasts; which option you use depends to some extent on what resources you already have available. For people starting out without any online resources, there are various services that will allow you to upload your podcast and will make an RSS feed available, with the necessary additional meta data required to have your podcasts available on popular sources of podcasts such as iTunes and Google Play. These services are the easiest way to publish podcasts as you are not required to have your own server and all of the details are taken care of for you.

However, our company does have online resources: we have a WordPress web site  and other business server resources hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS). I decided to look into the ways to host podcasts on a WordPress powered site.

Of course, you could simply create posts with the audio files offered as assets on each post, but to make your podcasts available on iTunes et al. you also need to have an RSS feed with the required meta data for each service (this meta data gives the service your podcast title, a description, file size and duration and possibly other items).

It turns out that WordPress out of the box is capable of serving your podcasts in an RSS feed — but it is not capable of providing properly tagged meta data without additional coding. You can do this coding yourself (there are examples available on the web) or, of course, you can resort to plugins.

Seriously Simple Podcasting

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that there are many plugins available to provide this service. However, many of the most popular plugins are actually associated with the aforementioned podcast hosting services, and these plugins assume you are hosting your files on the associated service, so I eliminated these from consideration. Of the remaining plugins that were suitable for self-hosting the podcast files, I settled on a plugin called “Seriously Simple Podcasting”. This plugin is one of the more popular of the self-hosting plugins and was well reviewed. When I tried it out I found that it did exactly what I needed it to and no more. It was exactly what we were looking for.

The plugin implements podcasts the “right way” for WordPress: it defines a Custom Post Type called “Podcast” and you get a Podcast group that appears on the left hand menu in the admin panel, separate from the Posts and Pages groups.

When creating a new podcast, you get a page that looks just like the page you get when creating posts. Below the editor box where you would normally put your post content, there are a series of fields where you put the link to your podcast field and fill in the meta data.

One major caveat; if you want to publish to iTunes et al. via RSS (and if you don’t want to do that, you don’t really need this plugin) then the box where you would normally put the post content should be left completely blank. If you want to have a podcast archive with an image and a description for each podcast, use “Set Featured Image” to specify the image and use the “Excerpt” field provided by the plugin for the description. These will both show up in the archive entry and the individual podcast entry (see here for an example).

The problem with putting anything into the main post box is that, although that content will show up fine on your own web site, the HTML version of what you put there will be sent as the description to iTunes, for example, which will then exhibit what will look like gibberish to most people as the description next to your entry.

Where to Put the Actual Podcast File

Seriously Simple Podcasting will allow you to either upload your audio file or else specify a complete URL (beginning with http://) pointing to your file. You can upload the files if that works for you, but there are some reasons to do it differently:

  1. Depending on the details of your hosting site, there may be a limit to the size of files you can upload this way.
  2. If you do a lot of podcasts, the amount of storage you are using can get large and there might be a cheaper way to store this data.
  3. If your podcasts are popular, then every time someone listens to it you will incur transfer costs and your server is also involved in each transfer which might end up costing more than other alternatives.

Since our site is hosted on AWS in an EC2 instance (that means a virtual server) it looked like it might be worthwhile to store the podcasts files in Amazons S3 storage. This can save on storage costs and the server doesn’t get involved in transfers so it seemed like the most cost effective way to do it.

A one-time setup is required to create an S3 bucket and make the files in the bucket externally available on the Internet. This required setting up a subdomain of 7generationgames.com with our domain registrar and pointing it at the S3 bucket. I won’t go into further details here, but it was pretty simple.

Now, we just upload each new podcast to the S3 bucket (episodeNNN.mp3 for example) and in the WordPress podcast entry the URL is entered as http://podcast.7generationgames.com/episodeNNN.mp3

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