What began as an innovative way to market Indianapolis over the Internet has gained enough of a following to grab the attention of a local cable television provider.
The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association started streaming video on its Web site last year and since has recorded nearly 50 episodes that promote the city's attractions.
The "Doing Indy" campaign is geared toward the younger set and features newmedia technology to spread the message. The video streaming, or video podcasting, uses a video file distributed over the Internet that can be viewed on a Web site or downloaded to a portable media player or computer. All the podcasts are available at www.indy.org.
"Our mission is to get more visitors to Indianapolis," said Bob Schultz, the ICVA's director of communications. "In that effort, we need to identify as many opportunities for exposure that exist. And one of those areas is the use of emerging technology."
The five- to 10-minute clips that can be viewed on the ICVA's Web site, as well as the popular outlets MySpace and YouTube, are about to hit the television airwaves.
Bright House Networks will begin airing the episodes this month on its free video-on-demand channels, available to digital-cable subscribers. VOD lets viewers watch programs whenever they wish.
The cable company is creating an ondemand channel featuring only local programming. The rise in the number of people accessing the clips online, from roughly 2,100 per month a year ago to more than 20,000 per month today, helped get the attention of Bright House. The popularity of the series has been driven by word of mouth, with little advertising.
"We just felt like this would be interesting programming," said Al Aldridge, director of public affairs at Bright House. "If you're going to keep it on a server, it has to be halfway interesting."
Indeed, the face and voice of the videos belong to Seth Hancock, a 36-year-old Indianapolis native whom the ICVA hired in January 2006 as its video marketing manager. The Indiana University graduate, who has a background in marketing and advertising, lived in several cities before returning to Indianapolis with his video-production company in tow.
His acting abilities are bolstered by a two-year stint at the Second City comedy troupe in Detroit.
"We want to create a show that's fun," Hancock said. "We want people to say, 'Wow, Indianapolis has that! That's awesome. I want to go out and do that.'"
The first season, in which Hancock taped 40 episodes, hit the region's major attractions: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and Conner Prairie, among several others.
This season, Hancock is digging deeper to unearth the city's hidden treasures. He's visited Oakleys Bistro on West 86th Street and the Indianapolis Arts Center, for instance, where one can learn the art of cooking or blowing glass. The latest clip explores downtown living.
The target audience is both out-of-towners who might trek to Indianapolis for a visit, and locals who can act as ambassadors for the city, Hancock said. But while the ICVA created the promotion for leisure purposes, officials have attracted an unexpected audience as well.
Convention planners are using the podcasts as an additional tool to pitch the Circle City as a potential meeting place. Using pictures instead of words to tell the city's story is much more effective, Schultz said.
"Indianapolis is a destination that, until sampled, you don't have a sense of what its flavor is," he said. "Meeting planners come here and tour our city and believe that this would be a good place. But they have to convey that to their members."
The ICVA could be the first convention and visitors bureau in the nation to embrace podcasting. Associations in Anchorage, Ala.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Galveston, Texas, are dabbling in the technology. Others are beginning to follow suit, but the ICVA seems to be setting the standard, said Kristen Clemens, spokeswoman for the Destination Marketing Association International trade group in Washington, D.C.
Clemens is withholding judgment on whether interactive advertising will replace traditional marketing methods. But she conceded it's a valuable tool that should be considered in the mix of choices.
There's little doubt podcasting is carving out space within the media realm, however. An Internet search shows various seminars addressing the topic, including one later this month from the Advanced Learning Institute Inc. in Chicago.
The session to be held there addresses blogging and podcasting as ways to reach customers and build brand recognition.
Hancock, meanwhile, is unconcerned about running out of new material for his podcasts. Before the Indianapolis 500, he plans to take a trip around the track in a two-seat Indy Racing League car.
"There really is so much for us to do here," Hancock said. "The way I look at it, we've barely scratched the surface."
If all goes well, his video library should surpass 100 episodes sometime next year.