James Cridland

The BBC pulls its stations from Radioplayer

In a potential act of oblivion (see above), the BBC has pulled its stations off Radioplayer, the cross-app platform that it helped fund. UK listeners now have to download the BBC Sounds app.

Radioplayer was the thing I spent my last few months at the BBC occasionally working on, and I remember presenting to the heads of commercial radio, demonstrating how the player might look (it was only a web player at the time), and how it might all work. Run very successfully by Michael Hill, the much-admired service is now in a number of different countries, with integrations with car manufacturers, smart-speaker platforms as well as apps. It’s just launched in Finland.

The BBC has pulled some of its podcasts from general release (for the first 30 days), in a “trial” that was announced more than twelve months ago and which, a BBC press person tells me, is on-going with no public end-date. It pulled all of its podcasts from Google Podcasts when that launched, complaining that it didn’t want Google’s player to appear in the results instead of its own. I also hear from podcast commissioners that any success on third-party platforms like Apple Podcasts or Spotify don’t matter when the BBC is judging the success of shows.

After all this, in Q4/22, 188mn plays within BBC Sounds were to on-demand content, excluding music mixes. The corporation also saw 259mn podcast downloads on third-party platforms. In other words, podcasts don’t perform nearly as well on BBC Sounds: that 188mn figure is made up of both podcasts and catch-up radio, after all.

The reason for this is, of course, data. After I worked out the arcane anti-pattern of actually requesting it, I examined the BBC’s data that it had collected on me to discover that it gets data every second I’m using the app: even collecting data for ten minutes after I stop using it.

To force listeners to download an app is understandable if you’re a commercial radio station, where you’d like to monetise the visit as much as possible. I’m not sure it’s the right strategy, but commercial radio can do what it likes, since it lives or dies by the revenue it makes.

The BBC is different, though. Its funding is guaranteed through a legally-mandated TV licence fee: one that gets single mums threatened with prosecution for not paying and was responsible for 50,000 prosecutions for non-payment in 2021 alone. If nothing else, that should mean that its output is made available to the UK public in whatever form the UK public want to listen: rather than forcing a download of a specific app. That, truly, would be a public service.