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Insider: May 15, 2020

BBC Sounds Data Times Radio Hires Audio in China... and more!

BBC Sounds is up. The BBC has released listening data for its BBC Sounds app for Q1 of this year, and it shows that audio listening on the platform has increased compared with Q4 of 2019. The period January to March 2020 saw 275 million “plays of all audio”, up 25 million on the previous period. Around half — 123 million — of those plays were for on demand radio and podcasts.

A reminder: BBC Sounds contains live streams of BBC radio stations as well as all radio catchup services, some music streams and podcast content (some of which is exclusive the app and some of which duplicates what is distributed via RSS elsewhere too). The release also notes that “during the first weeks of the lockdown” the app reached a weekly audience of 3.5 million, a record high. It remains unclear in this release whether the figures refer just to the BBC Sounds mobile app (which is geolocked for UK users only) or if they also include streaming via the BBC website, the audio section of which is also branded “BBC Sounds”.

This increase in use of the platform in this period isn’t that surprising, especially once the lockdown got underway in March. The BBC has been using Sounds heavily to promote its homeschool strands, for instance, as well as uploading archive content to give the quarantine fatigued another option for entertainment.

The part of the release that was intriguing to me, though, was the note near the end that says “there were 230 million downloads across the world of the BBC’s on-demand audio this quarter, the same as the previous quarter.” This refers to podcast content distributed freely internationally via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and so on (the BBC is still not using Google’s podcast ecosystem, though, see our coverage of that here to refresh yourself on that still-running dispute).

The podcasts that are distributed outside of BBC Sounds saw no uptick in audience, then, even as the content in BBC Sounds was attracting more listeners. It’s impossible to separate this effect from the onset of the pandemic, of course, but it begins to look as if the strategy of pushing new podcast launches into Sounds first, and emphasising the radio catch up and music stream offering alongside the podcast content might be working. We’ll have to wait for the Q2 figures to test this hypothesis, though, since that’s the period that will truly reflect how people have been listening to BBC content during lockdown.More radio data. The Rajar MIDAS release for Q1 for UK broadcasters also came out this week, and showed that a couple of flagship BBC morning radio shows have seen a decline in listenership. Zoe Ball’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 has lost a million listeners since she took over from the previous presenter, Chris Evans at the start of 2019, although Ball still has the biggest breakfast radio audience in the UK.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme has also lost around 200,000 listeners compared with Q4 of 2019, although given that there was a general election in Britain in early December this one is perhaps less surprising. Beyond the BBC, commercial radio overall now has its largest reach since records began, with an audience share of 47.8%, up from 45.7% a year ago.Revolving Door.Les Hollander joins digital audio advertising service DAX (part of the UK radio company Global ) as Chief Growth Officer for DAX US and Canada. He comes from Spotify, where he was Head of Global Audio Monetization.Murdoch’s moves. Times Radio, the new national current affairs speech radio station from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK corporation, has been doing some hiring recently. The two major moves that were announced this week both see established journalists from other Murdoch properties jumping over to the new enterprise, with Matt Chorley from the Times taking the week day mid morning slot and Tom Newton Dunn from the Sun leaving the paper after 16 years to serve as the station’s chief political commentator.

When I wrote about Times Radio back in February, it was very much in the context of what seemed to be a brewing fight between the BBC and the government, with the new station poised to scoop up listeners lost in the fracas. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has put a completely new spin on this situation, not least because the BBC and the government seem to have mended their fences recently. Turns out, during a national crisis, having a trustworthy public broadcaster that can carry daily press conferences, debunk fake news and support a nation of new home educators is rather helpful.

The threat to the licence fee model seems to have evaporated, and government ministers are once more happy to appear on BBC shows. Although the planned job cuts in the BBC news division have been put on hold, there has been a suggestion that the corporation will have to find £125 million in other cuts in order to make up an income shortfall as people struggling with job losses have to stop paying the license fee.

So where does that leave Times Radio? Well, the launch seems to be on schedule for now, with the station due to go on air later this year. But when it does, it will be into a different media climate to the one in which it was first conceived of. The BBC now looks like it’s not going to give up its listeners without a fight.Podcasting in China. Always a hot topic this — ever since that “FOMO in China is a $7 billion industry” from Marketplace in 2018 put the paid for audio market there firmly on the US industry’s radar. Owing to my lack of language skills and a general lack of centralised data, it’s not always easy for me to report on this accurately, but there are two new reports about podcast consumption habits in China that came to my attention this week and are worth perusing for those interested in this topic.

The first, from a survey conducted by PodFest China, looks at demographic and consumption data among respondents. The skills acquisition impulse still ranks highly as a motivation for listeners, and they tend to be people with some higher education who are based in cities. The full report is available here.

The second comes from the quarterly report by Tencent Music Entertainment, a spin off of the Chinese music streaming giant. Chief Strategy Officer is quoted there as saying the company has “made significant progress in expanding our long-form audio content offering”. Analysing the report for Techcrunch, Rita Liao says that although Tencent is often called the “Spotify of China”, in practice the platform has many different facets and the spoken word segment operates more like an audiobook platform than anything else. It’s fascinating stuff, I’d recommend reading her piece in full.