Windows Media Enhanced Podcast

Note: This article is here as a historic reference. Microsoft discontinued the Windows Media Encoder.

Apple’s AAC format allows podcasters to create “enhanced podcasts” complete with embedded photos at publisher defined points throughout the podcast. These files are only compatible with iTunes and iPods, leaving a large universe of listeners out of the picture. Microsoft’s Photo Story could easily create something similar, with a voice track narrating beneath a series of images, but the WMV file created in Photo Story isn’t compatible with most portable music players. One alternative that bridges the gap and maximizes compatibility is to create a script enhanced WMA file, These WMA files with embedded scripts play just like a normal WMA anywhere scripting isn’t supported.

The great potential for this feature is to provide people with a walking tour of Websites associated with whatever you are talking about. Many podcasts include show notes with links to all relevant sites mentioned throughout the course of the show, but how many listeners are actively clicking those links as they listen? While one of the great advantages of podcasting is portability, many people are listening to podcasts from their desktop, which means a Web browser is just a click away. Embedding links to relevant subject matter as it’s discussed pops a Web page at the point in a discussion when the Web site is referenced, offering a more immersive experience for the listener. This is also a way to draw more attention to sponsors, by opening an associated Web page when the sponsor is mentioned during the podcast.
To create a Windows Media enhanced podcast, you need an app with support for Windows Media script editing. The free choice is Windows Media File Editor, which is bundled in the Windows Media Encoder download.

To create a Windows Media enhanced podcast, save your audio file as a WMA. If you use an audio editor like Audacity, which doesn’t support WMA output, save the file as a WAV and convert it using Windows Media Encoder.

Open your WMA file using the Windows Media File Editor from Start > All Programs > Windows Media > Utilities

Scrub through your audio file to the first location where you want to insert a link and click the Script Commands button.

Click the Add button, accepting the default option for URL. Be sure to include the leading http:// when entering URLs in the parameter box or you may end up with 404 page not found messages when playing back your file. Click OK twice, repeating these steps until every URL you wish to include is entered in the file.

steps to add a parameter in Windows Media script editor

Each scripted URL added to the file is indicated on the timeline with a green marker. If you decide to change the time for a URL to open later, simply slide the associated green marker to the new location.

Locations of scripts in a Windows media file

When you finish adding URLs either Save and Index or Save As and Index from the file menu. If you include the same URLs at the beginning and end of each show, you could create a custom script set and use the Export header file option to keep those setting for later shows.

The one hurdle to these WMA enhanced podcasts is user education. By default, the Windows Media Player on both Windows and Mac OS X has scripting turned off. To enable scripting in Windows Media Player 10, check the box next to Run script commands when present on the Security tab from Tools > Options. This is also available as a configuration option from the Security tab on the Preference pane of the Mac OS X version of Windows Media Player.

Windows media player options to allow scripts to run in a video or audio file

A huge shout out to Major Nelson for suggesting scripts as a way to enhance WMA podcasts. He offers a regularly updated podcast on Xbox related topics with a great implementation of script embedded URLs. If you have software like Vegas, you can include URLs during the editing process.