The Return to iTunes

While enjoying my day off on June 23rd, 2014 I get the following e-mail from Apple:

“Dear podcast owner,

The podcast located at the URL shown below has been blocked or removed from the iTunes directory as a result of technical problems with the feed.”

The rest of the e-mail is just technical stuff about how to resubmit the feed. I was getting ready to go out to eat, but now I frantically start a quest to fix this problem. Needless to say, I spend the next few hours trying to do just that and miss dinner. Now before I go through the whole story, I’ll cut to the chase first. I’m back on iTunes. My video files for the feed are no longer coming from blip.tv. They now come one of my other websites. It’s all due to finding a WordPress plugin. What follows is how I got to that point.

Let’s go back a few months back. Some time in February I, along with all other blip.tv producers, received an e-mail informing us that blip.tv was ending distribution to iTunes. We had almost a month to come up with a new feed. We could then log into blip.tv to submit the new feed and they would forward it to iTunes for us. Well, I can tell you, this sucked. For many reasons which I’ll detail later. One of my first thoughts was how this would affect TiVo. But since only iTunes was mentioned, I figured the TiVo feed was safe (they get a different feed).

So, I did a bit of digging and decided to see if I could use a different blip.tv RSS feed for iTunes. I found an alternate blip.tv feed that wasn’t iTunes specific and used the form on blip.tv to submit. There really wasn’t any feedback as to if the new feed worked or not, so I decided to wait until the deadline to see if all went well. It did. No issues the first week. Same for the second week and so on. And the TiVo feed was good too.

Fast forward to June 23rd and that email from iTunes. Now I’m concerned. And it’s really not being concerned about losing the few iTunes subscribers I have, but lose the hundreds and hundreds of viewers on TiVo. If one feed isn’t working, then none of the others would work either, right? In my testing of the feeds I was seeing that one would see a short video from blip.tv saying that you needed to use the blip.tv player. Ugh. I was screwed.

I e-mailed TiVo to explain what happened. The let me know they were going to take down the blip.tv feed until I could resolve the issue. Well, I came to find out that somehow the feed TiVo was getting was actually still working, but the damage had been done. By taking down the feed, I lost subscribers. We got the feed reinstated, but my numbers for the episodes after that dropped by almost 80%. One of my TiVo viewers graciously kept testing the feed for me since I don’t have a TiVo box. TiVo doesn’t work with U-Verse. Even if it did, it’s a $200 box that requires a monthly subscription. Not really something I’m willing to do. Besides, I can check the feed on their website and see if the latest episode is there anyway.

But I was still gone from iTunes, and was concerned that TiVo wasn’t far away. I kept researching how to fix this. Is there another feed from blip.tv that I could use? Could I take the blip.tv feed and try to run it through another feed service and make it compatible? Could I use YouTube? Could I use my partner, iFood.tv? Or do I need to find a video hosting site?

I started looking into using the same feed but trying something like Feedburner (it’s still around by the way), to fix the feed. I even enlisted the help of the “Podfather” himself, Adam Curry. Adam kindly took my feed and analyzed it. He let me know that besides the many errors in the feed, that it was too large. RSS feeds in general (not just iTunes) are supposed to be less than 512kb. I didn’t understand what Adam had been telling me at first. Plus he as looking at my site as the source and not blip.tv, so our email exchanges were a little bit frustrating at first. But once I started listening to him, rather than trying to think I knew better (this is the “Podfather” I’m talking to), I started understanding how RSS feeds and iTunes worked.

No matter what service I tried, I got the same result. The feed was too large and had a ton of errors. Now the errors probably weren’t the reason, but it didn’t help. All I could figure out is that one week the feed worked for the 300th-something time, and the next week it didn’t. A long time ago I had set the feed to have either the maximum episodes or I had capped it at 100. I really don’t remember and had no way to even check anymore on blip.tv. The one thing that kept coming up is that 100 entries didn’t help with the feed size. As I eventually decided, does it really need to be more than 10 entries anyway?

Even when I got the feed size down as far as restricting it to the last 10 posts, I kept getting errors and rejection e-mails from iTunes. Something else was happening here. It took a lot of research, but I eventually figured out that blip.tv as actually preventing iTunes from downloading the video file. My RSS reader was able to download the files, so I didn’t really understand this. I had help from Apple on this actually. They were able to help me see that it was blip.tv itself.

During all of this I was also exploring various video hosting solutions. I checked out the top 3 video hosting sites for podcasts. They each offer a lot of services geared toward podcasting (video and audio). They all provided unlimited bandwidth according to their sites. I just needed to limit how much I uploaded. All 3 were going to charge about $80/mth for 1.5GB of storage. Well, that’s the file size for just one of my shows. Doing 4 a month was going to be a bit difficult. So I emailed them all. Basically they all said I needed to sign up for a “professional” account. These accounts had higher storage limits that could probably accommodate me, but the killer was that they all charged for bandwidth. And while a few dimes per GB doesn’t sound that bad, when you multiply it by my TiVo numbers, its starts getting in the $500-1000 per month range. Not gonna happen. Remember, I’m not looking to just get back on iTunes, but also move TiVo to the same feed.

I also looked into some other storage solutions. Places like Amazon S3, Rackspace, and Cachefly. Also too costly. I even try to figure out how to get my videos on YouTube. No matter what I try I can’t get the videos to work. No matter what the internet said, it can’t be done. I checked out using Bit Torrent to distribute, but that gets tricky and I had to get approved by basically the only service out there that I could upload my files to. That never happened. Even Bit Torrent Sync was out. Adam Curry told me, and I confirmed this, BTSync has too many issues.

I contacted iFood.tv. They have been very supportive of me. They regularly feature my show on their web page. I’m on their iWine.tv channel. And they also monetize my show. I’ve actually made more money from them than anyone else. Maybe they could help. Well, the couldn’t. Not that they didn’t want to. They are working on being able to do what I need, just not right now.

It began to look like I had no other choice but to pick one of those 3 podcast hosting companies and force my files into the 1.5GB monthly storage limit. What was especially concerning about these guys was they each suggested an enterprise account to handle the anticipated bandwidth but still have the low monthly storage limit. Actually one of them didn’t have a monthly storage limit. They would charge me about $100/mth + bandwidth. So my concern was if I went with an $80/mth plan with unlimited bandwidth, was that bandwidth really unlimited?

And then there was the question of monetization. They all talked about it, but none of them really explained it well. I sent each of them basically the same e-mail asking how it works. Only one of them actually replied. Let me tell you, the numbers needed to earn anything are way more than what I currently do. So my hope to offset the monthly costs was gone.

Through all this I even reached out to someone that handles hosting of an audio podcast I listen to. We had a good e-mail exchange. One of the gentlemen was supposed to call me on a couple different occasions, but the phone call never happened. I honestly don’t think they could have given me a deal any better than the 3 hosting companies.

Also during all of this I get another option. I’m hanging out with my friend Christian. We get to talking about my situation. He works for my hosting company for my website, Pressable. He lets me know that I should be able to upload my files to their servers and run the feed from there. I’m a bit skeptical about this. He says that it’s part of my account and bandwidth doesn’t matter. So the next day we start working on it. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. Still back to the 3 hosting companies. But I’m waiting for the other two to respond.

I’m basically getting ready to choose one of those companies when the break happens. In Safari there is a Reading List. Kind of a bookmarks thing, but it’s meant for storing websites to read later. I’m cleaning up this list one day. Getting rid of some of the the video hosting research I’ve done plus other sites. I get to near the end of the list and I find a link titled “So you want you YouTube vodcasts on iTunes huh?” Remember I’ve gone down this path already. It’s impossible to have YouTube as your RSS feed. But this site says he did it. And I had added it to my Reading List a few months ago. Probably back in February.

So I go to it. The title is misleading. It doesn’t tell you how to pull the video from YouTube for the RSS feed. But, what this guy does say is that he is hosting his video files on his WordPress site. Well I also tried that and it didn’t work. I even had the guys who run my site tell me how to do it, but no dice. What was of interest was that he said he was using a plugin called PowerPress. Well, I have that plugin too. And no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the plugin to work with my video file.

Then a moment of inspiration. What if I searched for something like “transfer files to media library wordpress.” I can’t remember the exact search. But I stumbled upon a WordPress plugin called “Add From Server.” This plugin allows you to move a media file from your server to your media library. You use FTP to upload your video file to a folder on your server. When you run the plugin, it asks you where to look for your file. I have a folder called Podcasts that I FTP to. I select the video and it moves it to my Media Library. This is important. The URL associated with that file is what you need for the PowerPress plugin. The URL from the Podcast folder I set up wouldn’t work. Once I used the plugin to move the file, BAM. Everything fell into place.

I uploaded my 5 most recent files. It was a bit tricky. We coincidentally had internet issues at the house. Had to get a new gateway. FTP can be finicky too. Trying to upload 5 1.2-1.5GB files at the same time seemed to overload things. Failed uploads. But I got them all up. Plus this week’s show for 6 files. I validated the feed. Tested it in my RSS reader and iTunes. You don’t have to use the iTunes store to subscribe to a podcast. All you need is the RSS feed. This was how it was done before the iTunes Store. Everything worked. Sort of. I still have some download and streaming issues with iTunes, but it looked like my connection and not anything to do with getting the file from my site.

I was set. I submitted the new feed to iTunes. I eagerly waited for the Yea or Nay e-mail from iTunes. Finally late in the afternoon on 7/14, I got it:

“Dear podcast owner,

Your podcast, located at http://www.videowinereviews.com/feed/podcast/, has been approved. You should expect to see it on the iTunes Store within the next few hours. When it’s available, you will be able to access it with the URL below.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/1337-wine-tv/id898641013

You will be able to find your podcast through a search on the iTunes Store within the next two days.”

I was stoked. It didn’t even take 2 days. It was there. In the iTunes Store. Again. I am the ONLY video wine podcast on iTunes that is in current production. Let that sink in for a minute. No one else is on iTunes. I don’t care if I’m the only subscriber to it. I’m on it. Not even the wineries out there who have blogs. Not the professionally-backed internet video shows. There are quite a few that used to be in production. But most haven’t produced a video in years.

It’s a matter of principle that I’ve pursued this for three weeks. Like I said already. My iTunes views are low compared to any other outlet. But being able to say you are on iTunes is a bit of legitimacy. Now that I’m using the PowerPress plugin and signed up for Blubrry’s Stats service (they make the PowerPress plugin), I’m listed on more than just iTunes. I’ll be part of a directory that any podcatcher (iTunes isn’t the only way to get podcats) will see. And this should also include TiVo. I’m sending the e-mail to them to see if they will switch feeds when I finish typing this.

I’ll no longer be at blip.tv’s mercy for iTunes, and hopefully, TiVo. And that’s OK. I don’t pay for my account. They monetize my videos with ads of which I see a fraction of a penny per view.They distribute to YouTube for me. But that’s about it. They used to have a ton of distribution channels. Now it’s only a few. And even those I don’t know if they are still valid. Like Roku. Their channel is gone there. Vizio, Samsung, and Sony TVs? They still show as distribution places. And, yes, even iTunes. Even iTunes has shown up every week since iTunes told me my feed was rejected.

But I’m back on iTunes. Courtesy of Pressable, my WordPress hosting company. Thanks to people like Christian, Kai, Robert, Heidi, and, of course, Vid, the CEO. People I personally know. Some of which I can pick up a phone and call directly if needed. Even Vid. I don’t abuse it. If I have an issue I use the ticket system. But I get FAST responses.

I thank you for reading. Hopefully this will help those who need to know how to host from their WordPress site. Granted, it helps that CDN (Content Delivery Network) is included in my account with Pressable. Only pageviews count. If your hosting company charges for bandwidth, then consider Pressable.

This is not an ad for them. I told them over the weekend that I was writing this without them asking. And that I would let them review it first. They are happy to have me share this. I’m not being shady in using them to host my files. It’s part of my account and I thank them for it.

Mark V. Fusco, CS, CSW

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