Issue 241,  published January 14, 2020

Breaking Down the BBC’s Latest Numbers

Just before Christmas, the BBC put out a press release announcing “record listening on BBC Sounds” and hailing “a surge in podcast listening.” There are now three million weekly users for “the BBC’s digital home for all audio,” it said, a major increase on the 1.3 million figure announced in June 2019.

For the first time, it has also given listening figures for individual podcasts, noting that (among others) Brexitcast/Electioncast garnered “more than 14 million,” That Peter Crouch Podcast “around 12 million,” and daily news show Beyond Today saw “around 8.5 million.”. But it’s worth noting that these are combined figures across BBC Sounds and all other audio distribution platforms, both in the UK and around the world.

I’m sure the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted why this approach makes it a little difficult to assess the thing that everyone wants to understand better: actual podcast listening in the BBC Sounds app. That weekly users figure includes things like radio catch up and music playlists, and also isn’t broken down between the BBC Sounds app and the BBC website (the audio portion of which was rebranded as “Sounds” also.)

The stats for individual shows are a welcome step towards greater transparency, but the lack of a breakout number for BBC Sounds (app and/or website) versus the entire podcast ecosystem again makes it hard to really comprehend the progress made with podcasting on the BBC’s flagship audio project.

It does make me wonder, given that the numbers seem to be going in a healthy direction, that a more detailed breakdown wasn’t made available? The official response from the BBC on this is that the stats are presented this way to provide the greatest possible accuracy. BBC Sounds will be included in Ofcom’s annual report on the BBC for the first time in 2020, so perhaps there will be greater clarity offered there — that report is expected in October.