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Insider: March 20, 2020

Infinite Dial. Edison Research and Triton Digital published the results of the Infinite Dial 2020 yesterday afternoon, and they certainly make for some interesting reading. In the webinar that marked the release, Tom Webster, Senior Vice President at Edison Research, explained that the research was wrapped in early February before the Covid-19 situation really accelerated in the US, so the report should be considered a snapshot of media consumption prior to the current crisis.

As a sidenote: they are tracking how the current lockdown situation is changing people’s habits for other studies, and I’ll be really interested to see the outcome of this work. From the conversations I’ve been having about this, I think there are broadly two schools of thought out there about a potential coronavirus podcast numbers bump: some think the isolation will lead to increased listening, while others think it’s a situation analogous to the holidays where people are out of their usual routines (no commuting, no driving, less exercising, kids at home etc) so we might even see a drop in listenership. More on this in future weeks, I’m sure.

Anyway, the eye catching figure from this year’s Infinite Dial from our perspective is to be found on the Monthly Podcast Listening page: 37 percent of Americans or an estimated 104 million have listened to a podcast in the last month. That’s a jump from 32 percent last year and I think marks the first time since the study began that the figure has topped 100 million. The percentage of people who have ever listened to a podcast is also up to 55 percent from 51, and podcasting familiarity rose from 70 percent to 75. The gender gap in podcast listening that has been evident before (with more men listening than women) is closing, with 39 percent of men and 36 percent of women having listened in the last month.

Those are just some initial numbers that jumped out at me — you can browse the whole deck for yourself here and we’ll have some more detailed analysis in Tuesday’s newsletter.Changed times. The BBC has now published its plans for keeping its networks on air during the virus lockdown (the title there is a riff on the corporation’s original mission to “inform, educate and entertain”). Several TV news shows including Politics Live and Victoria Derbyshire are being suspended for the time being, while others like Newsnight will broadcast with a smaller technical staff. Radio news bulletins may be combined across different stations for the same reason. Production on The Americast, Beyond Today and The Next Episode podcasts has been suspended, and Newscast has become “The Coronavirus Newscast” — the BBC’s main daily coverage of the virus alongside “Coronavirus Global Update” (formerly the Global News Podcast) from the BBC World Service.

Many staff are already working from home and making only essential trips to the office, with some TV lifestyle and entertainment shows also being hosted remotely (with excellent cameos from pets). A new cross platform arts theme called “Culture in Quarantine” is curating recorded performances and filmed exhibitions, and lots of archive TV box sets and radio series are being reuploaded to BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. Educational programming is also being stepped up, with two new daily podcasts being launched (one for primary school students, the other for secondary) and daily TV broadcasts have been added to help with home schooling. There will also be a weekly virtual church service on Sundays and regular programming marking the lead up to the start of Ramadan, which begins on 23 April this year.

The BBC has also postponed scrapping free TV licenses for those over 75 in light of the crisis (I put that move in its political context back in January, a lifetime ago). Similarly, the planned closure of the “red button” service on TV — a kind of teletext system that also contains extra broadcast feeds, for those not familiar — has been delayed.

Just weeks ago there were impassioned discussions going on about the future of the BBC and how it might be funded in a time when the government seems less than keen to continue the current license fee arrangement. Needless to say, that all seems like a very long time ago now.Good stories. Wondery COO Jen Sargent gave an interview to Forbes this week, and it’s worth a read, especially for her take on the podcast to TV pipeline. She thinks that the IP opportunity runs deeper than that, though, with both podcasts becoming TV shows and films but also podcasts becoming books and events series.Quick startup. A new DAB radio station launched in the UK this week called Health Info Radio. It’s been put together quickly by radio industry veterans Simon Hardwick, Dean Kavanagh, Duncan Barkes and Ash Elford, and is available to listeners online or in a growing list of radio regions including Glasgow, Birmingham, London and (from tomorrow) Manchester. The purpose of the station is to distribute accurate, science-backed programming about the coronavirus outbreak. It is also being carried twice daily on the Podcast Radio station I covered last month.Freelance resources. For those in the US struggling with jobs being cancelled or requests to take on reporting work that might put you or others at risk, AIR are updating this list of resources regularly and you can also reach out to them there for specific advice.Live experiences. Inevitably, a lot of podcast conferences and live shows are being cancelled at the moment and more will follow in weeks to come. I’ve heard some horror stories already around ticketing platforms holding on to money and making refunds for both performers and attendees really difficult, and if you’ve had any experiences with this I’d love to hear about it.