The BBC’s plans for ads on podcasts in the UK

The BBC is, the BBC reports, to put ads on its podcasts.

The BBC has had ads on its podcasts for some time outside the UK, but now the BBC is to put ads on its podcasts inside the UK.

Listen on a third-party service (aka “open RSS”) and you’ll hear ads in BBC podcasts in the UK - which goes for Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or hundreds of others using open RSS. You can avoid the ads (in the UK) by downloading the BBC Sounds app.

The Corporation is presumably arguing that this is no different to BBC Magazines, BBC Books, or BBC DVDs, or Dave. Shows are made by BBC Studios, the commercial arm of the BBC, so they can monetise them how they wish.

I’m not entirely sure this argument works. BBC Books or BBC Magazines are additional information from a show, not the show itself. BBC DVDs, or a reshowing on Dave, are only made available after transmission. But putting ads on a “first-release” (if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts for example) seems a quite different thing to me.

It also sets off a few interesting questions:

  • Assuming six ads, a podcast on Apple might earn £90 per thousand listens - so, £90,000 for a one-million-download episode; but that same show earns nothing on BBC Sounds. Does that make the listener on Apple Podcasts more valuable?
  • What does this mean for BBC Sounds, where they’re giving away their content? Will there be pressure to promote the “wherever you get your podcasts” thing, rather than solely promote BBC Sounds?
  • I understand that off-platform plays are simply ignored by BBC commissioners when deciding whether a podcast has been a hit or not. Will the revenue mean these plays are considered as part of a show’s success?
  • Following the same idea, could they put ads on BBC TV shows when you watch on Sky, but offer people the same shows without ads on iPlayer? If not, why not?

The BBC’s release also says that news podcasts won’t have ads on them. I wonder whether the people who made that decision at the BBC are aware of the BBC News channel, which carries ads? Why does audio not get ads while video does?

Commercial companies are already suggesting that this will mean a significant change to everyone in podcasting, with the arrival of a ten-ton gorilla like the BBC into the podcast advertising space.

Yet, the BBC has no sales team of its own; so it’s likely to subcontract this to a third-party. The sensible choice would be Acast: partially because Acast has already been representing the BBC’s podcast output outside the UK for many years, so it’s already got the tech setup and the understanding to make it work for the BBC; and, better yet, it’s already responsible for some of the UK’s largest titles.

Perhaps, then, the concern is that this further solidifies Acast’s position as a leader in the UK. But I’d much rather that than, say, see Spotify cockily walking up to hoover-up the BBC’s account.

It’s also possible that this piques the interest of more ad buyers, and that it ends up pushing more money into podcasting as a whole. That’ll especially be the case if Acast does a good job promoting its entire network, not just the BBC’s shows.

Anyway - I sure hope someone at the BBC has thought this one through.