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Insider: September 6, 2019

- The closure of the BBC iPlayer Radio app will begin on 16 September - NPR names veteran media executive John Lansing as new CEO - Acast has become the latest publisher to switch to using IAB v2 guidelines for measurement

Farewell, iPlayer Radio. The BBC’s Director of Radio and Education, James Purnell, has confirmed in a blog that the closure of the BBC iPlayer Radio app will begin on 16 September. This app was launched in 2012 as the way to access BBC live radio, listen again services and podcasts on a smartphone; it was superseded in October 2018 by the launch of the BBC Sounds app, but the two have been run in parallel for almost a year while the latter went through various changes and updates.

Now, Purnell says, “this feels like the right time for us to have a single place for all of our audio content”, and so the iPlayer Radio app will be wound down by the end of this month. However, since BBC Sounds is not yet available internationally, iPlayer Radio will remain for listeners not in the UK for now — it’s just those in the UK who will have to switch to the Sounds app, use the website, or only consume their BBC content via a radio beyond the end of September.

I’ve written before about some of the teething issues with the BBC Sounds app and the corporation’s experiments with making shows Sounds-exclusive as an incentive to get listeners to move over. Several updates have been rolled out in 2019, adding more features and fixing bugs, but as the comment threads under Purnell’s blog and responses to my own tweet about this indicate, not all listeners agree with the BBC that “BBC Sounds now matches the major features and functionality of iPlayer Radio”.

BBC Sounds Director of Product Dan Taylor-Watt has written about the latest update to the app here, but listeners are still pointing out that the high quality radio feeds, full show descriptions and connections with other playlist and streaming services that were present on iPlayer Radio have not yet fully arrived in Sounds. Additionally, the BBC spokesperson has confirmed to the Telegraph that any downloads in the former app will be lost when it is switched off and cannot be imported into Sounds.

Any new app launch inevitably attracts discontent from those who have long been using a previous version (see also: old twitter vs new twitter complaints). But BBC Sounds has seemed to attract a particularly strong note of disaffection, attracting poor reviews on app stores and pretty regular questions on social media about when missing features will arrive. (The BBC has responded in the past to this by saying that “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly positive with over three quarters rating it as excellent or very good in independent research”.)

The switchover is a crucial moment for BBC Sounds, which is a central part of the corporation’s plan for the next year, and a test to see whether the app has improved to the point where diehard fans of its predecessor are willing to give it a go. No figures have been published for the number of users still active on iPlayer Radio, but losing them would be a major problem, since the BBC has a publicly mandated responsibility to make its content as accessible as possible. This is surely something that regulator Ofcom will be watching carefully.

NPR’s New CEO. NPR has appointed John Lansing as its new CEO. Lansing joins from the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), where he was the Obama-appointed chief executive of the government agency that oversees international broadcasting platforms like Voice of America, Radio and Television Martí and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, among others. (My understanding of this is that it’s a kind of soft power diplomacy tool, similar to the BBC World Service, but do correct me if I’m wrong.) Prior to USAGM, Lansing worked at Scripps for two decades, beginning as a station manager in Detroit and ending up as president of their cable networks company. He started out in media as a teenager, working as a photojournalist.

Lansing replaces Jarl Mohn, who is stepping down at the end of his five year term to take up a new role as NPR president emeritus & co-chair of the 50th anniversary campaign. As Nick pointed out when Mohn’s resignation was announced at the end of 2018, the outgoing CEO leaves with a mixed legacy: an enviable podcast operation and strong ratings, but also the fallout and handling of the Michael Oreskes sexual harassment crisis. According to the write up from NPR, Lansing’s two priorities from the start of his tenure will be fundraising and increasing listenership.

Lansing has worked outside of public radio for most of his career, and I’m intrigued to see how his experiences leading a government agency will translate to NPR. At USAGM, Lansing built a reputation as a staunch defender of a free press, highlighting the plight of imprisoned journalists around the world and establishing the USAGM Employee Association, described as “a support network for fallen and injured journalists and their families”.

Nick’s Note: Butting in here for a quick call-for-opinion: would love to hear what you think, particularly if you work for a local member station. Just reply to this email.

#Podstrike. The global climate strike organised by Greta Thunberg for 20 September has acquired a podcast arm. Freelance podcast producer in the UK Kate Taylor is pulling together an audio campaign called #PodStrike, in which podcasts run a trail publicising and endorsing the strike on or around the day. So far, shows including The High Low, Griefcast, The Guilty Feminist, Ctrl Alt Delete, The Great Indoors, How to Own the Room and others have signed up to participate. Follow developments with this and find out more by following Taylor on Twitter @KateTaylorLDN.

Numbers go up and down. Acast has become the latest publisher to switch to using IAB v2 guidelines for measurement. In an email to their podcasters this week, they warned that “many Acast podcasters will see a change in listener numbers — in most cases a decrease”. This is of course something that plenty of shows have already been through as hosts like Libsyn, Audioboom and Podbean made similar moves over the last couple of years. Welcome to Night Vale’s Joseph Fink posted this thread on Twitter about how galling it can feel as an independent creator to see numbers go down because of decisions beyond your control — I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else has a perspective on this, hit me up.

Have you heard it? The BBC have signed on George Mpanga (aka George the Poet) for a second series of his show Have You Heard George’s Podcast? after the first swept the board at the British Podcast Awards earlier this year. All ten new episodes will drop on the BBC Sounds app in November as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and 1Xtra. Interesting deal to me, this — a relatively rare instance I think of the BBC picking up an externally successful podcast and funding its continuation, rather than funnelling the talent into making new, entirely BBC-owned, projects.