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Insider: September 25, 2020

Apple's Tax Problems New Radiolab hosts BBC Sounds scrutinized by regulator... and more!

Will Apple finally have to pay $15 billion in extra tax? True, this story isn’t about podcasting specifically, but I increasingly feel that it behoves everyone in the podcast industry to stay attuned to what’s going on with the biggest corporations in this space these days. So: disputes over exactly what tax Apple has and hasn’t paid in Europe have been going on for years now, in particular as relating to the company’s choice of Ireland for its European HQ and the tax benefits that the Irish government made for the corporation in return.

Back in 2016, the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) ruled that those tax benefits were unfair to other companies and ordered Ireland to collect around $15 billion from Apple to even out the playing field. Apple, of course, appealed this ruling in the courts, and in July 2020 the General Court of the European Court of Justice annulled the decision that made those tax benefits illegal.

Which for a while seemed like it would be the end of the story — but no. The European Commission is not giving up on this one, and is now appealing the decision on the grounds that the court “made a number of errors of law” in ruling in Apple’s favour. They really want that $15 billion, it seems, and given the economic downturn being experienced right now, the decision to pursue this further isn’t that surprising.

Apple did put a statement in response to the appeal: “We will review the Commission’s appeal when we receive it, however it will not alter the factual conclusions of the General Court, which prove that we have always abided by the law in Ireland, as we do everywhere we operate.”

Of course, the most likely outcome here seems to be that this matter will remain trapped in an endless cycle of appeals and appeals of appeals forever, but should they actually have to stump up even some of the $15 billion fine, that’s going to make a bit of a dent in the bottom line, even for Apple.Radiolab taps Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser. The longrunning WNYC show has announced that Miller and Nasser are stepping up to co-host alongside Jad Abumrad following the retirement of Robert Krulwich back in January. Miller starts her tenure with today’s episode, “Coronasomnia”, and both she and Nasser will make periodic appearances over the next few weeks before taking over more fully later in the fall. As part of the changes, producer Molly Webster becomes the show’s first Special Correspondent.

Neither Miller nor Nasser are strangers to Radiolab, of course — the show has very much fished inside its own pool. Miller was the first producer hired at Radiolab back in 2005 and has continued to contribute to the show despite leaving to host Invisibilia, among other projects. And Nasser, of course, has previously served as the show’s Director of Research and hosted the Radiolab spin off The Other Latif.BBC Sounds under review by regulatorThe UK’s broadcast regulator, Ofcom, is launching a public review into BBC Sounds, prompted by fears in the commercial audio sector that the license fee funded app is crowding for-profit competitors out of the market. Commercial providers have been asked to provide evidence of the impact that BBC Sounds is having on their business before the review moves to the next stage, when the regulator will have to weigh up this issue against the public benefit that the platform provides before making recommendations for its future.

As a reminder, Sounds was launched at the end of 2018 as a single destination on web, smartphone and smart speaker for all BBC audio content, bringing together live radio, catch up services, podcasts and music streams in one place. The corporation has invested substantially in its development and now commissions podcast series and streams directly for the platform. It was plagued by issues from the start, with listeners reporting technical difficulties and experiments with making podcasts exclusive to the platform proving unpopular. But during lockdown this year it has thrived and now sees 3.4 million weekly users.

Related: The BBC also announced this week that the BBC Sounds app is finally being made available internationally (previously, only the website could be accessed outside the UK). It will gradually roll out across app stores around the world, apparently, with users who are still on the BBC’s predecessor app iPlayer Radio encouraged with notifications to switch. That app will eventually cease to be supported, with Sounds supplanting it everywhere — the same roll out strategy that was used in the UK.NPR podcast trends for Q2. NPR has put out a report on their podcast performance in Q2 2020. The headline stuff: podcast listening is up 20 per cent compared with the same period last year, and a lot of that was driven by interest in shows about racial justice. There isn’t a ton of detail beyond that, but it’s all in line with the listening profiles for both radio and podcasts we reported on in July — radio suffered during the pandemic and podcasts are booming, essentially.

Another point that caught my eye was Consider This, the new weekday afternoon podcast that evolved out of Coronavirus Daily and which is the site of new experiments in localised news, entering NPR’s internal chart at #12.No case against KPCC/LAist’s Josie Huang. The LA District Attorney’s Office has stated that there will be no case pursued against KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang after she was arrested on 12 September while filming the arrest of an anti police protester — doing her job, in other words, in a public place. LAist has the full story here. Huang has said that she is still pursuing a finding of “factual innocence” that would wipe the arrest from her record.Revolving Door. BBC Radio 1Xtra Drivetime presenter MistaJam is leaving the BBC after 15 years with the corporation. He said on Twitter that he was looking forward to the next challenge and wanted “to thank the entire team both past and present at 1Xtra & Radio 1 for allowing this Black kid from Nottingham a chance to be a broadcaster but most of all, I’d like to thank every single person who’s ever given me their ears.” He becomes the second Black host to leave the 1Xtra lineup in two months, after Sideman quit his show in August over the BBC’s on air use of the N-word.OK, there are two bits of Spotify news: 

(1) Billionaire CEO Daniel Ek said at an online event yesterday that he wants to pledge €1 billion of his wealth over the next 10 years to fund “deeptech” startups in Europe. He wants to make sure European entrepreneurs can scale up without having to sell outside of the continent — Techcrunch has the whole story.

(2) Spotify’s Your Daily Drive playlist feature has launched in the UK. Several publishers have already started repurposing daily news content for inclusion, including the Times, talkSPORT, the Evening Standard and the Financial Times.