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Platform Neutral: Google v. BBC?

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Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

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Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/quote JSHandle@object

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

PAGE LOG: Block validation: Expected token of type `%s` (%o), instead saw `%s` (%o). StartTag JSHandle@object EndTag JSHandle@object PAGE LOG: Block validation: Block validation failed for `%s` (%o). Content generated by `save` function: %s Content retrieved from post body: %s core/paragraph JSHandle@object

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.

Well that’s interesting. The BBC has pulled its podcasts from parts of the Google Podcasts ecosystem, meaning that the People’s Programming is, at this writing, no longer accessible via Google Assistant on Google smart speakers and devices. In a blog published on Tuesday morning Kieran Clifton, the director of BBC Business and Development, explained the move thusly:

Last
year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve
also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google
has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its
own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party
services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is
not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns
about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but
they have refused.

I
believe that this mainly refers to the integration of the Google
Podcasts app with Google search and the rest of the Google ecosystem.
Since Google’s much-publicised re-entry
into podcasting last year, it’s been the case that when you search for a
show using Google, you get a “recent episodes” component to your search
results with play buttons beside each one that uses the architecture of
the Google Podcasts app. As Podnews noted in its early reporting
on this story, the BBC is now using robots.txt on its podcast server to
prevent Google indexing any episodes published after 19 March in this
way. You could, perhaps, read this as a classic publisher-platform
dispute: the BBC now considers Google a competing distributor, one that
uses its search dominance to push users towards their own podcast
product. (I mean, welcome to the internet, I guess?).

For
the background on this, we should examine how the BBC distributes its
content and the rules that govern that. Later in his blog post, Clifton
references the BBC’s Distribution Policy,
which doesn’t address this topic directly but does set out the
conditions under which the BBC allows its output to be made available
via other companies’ platforms. The broad headings are: prominence,
editorial control, branding/attribution, quality, data, free access, and
value for money. This policy appears to agree with the BBC’s regulator,
Ofcom, the body which scrutinises the BBC’s operations to make sure all
is as it should be.

Given that the BBC is funded by the public through the license fee — read my explainer on how that works here
— how the corporation creates and distributes content is constantly
monitored to make sure that it is, well, providing value for money while
being as accessible and representative a broadcasting service as
possible. In light of this public remit, it’s a big deal for the
organization to pull a substantial part of its audio output from a
platform as huge and widely-used as Google. 

But
just how big a deal is it, though? Smart speakers (and audio
distributed via Google Podcasts) may only be a small segment of the
audio market so far, but Google Podcasts is now preinstalled on every
Android phone, giving the platform vast theoretical reach. Ofcom will no
doubt be looking into this decision in detail to determine whether it
is justified, and for what it’s worth, its guidelines do allow for the
BBC to stop working with a third-party platform in cases where there is
“an objective justification” for doing so. “Objective justification,” of
course, is where the rub lies.

Meanwhile, there’s another strand to this that’s worth looking at too: the BBC Sounds strategy. As I’ve covered extensively
over the past few months, the BBC’s bespoke audio app — their biggest
product launch in a decade — has had a somewhat rocky start since its
launch in autumn 2018, with mixed reviews and experiments with show exclusivity that proved unpopular with some listeners. However, the BBC has consistently doubled down on the app’s benefits, putting out statements
about how “the response to BBC Sounds has been overwhelmingly
positive,” and continuing to trail it on radio and TV. Essentially, the
BBC seems to remain convinced that it’s worth trying to move podcast
listeners into their own app, rather than trying to reach them on
whatever platform they currently use. For what it’s worth, Chris Kimber,
a BBC product manager working on BBC Sounds, tweeted
that the removal of BBC shows from Google was “unrelated to any
exclusivity trial,” which makes sense — this is a more fundamental issue
of how the BBC interacts with third parties over its own app.

The part that I think is particularly relevant to this matter with Google first emerged in an interview
that BBC Sounds launch director Charlotte Lock gave about the negative
audience reaction to the Fortunately. . . with Fi and Jane podcast going
temporarily Sounds-exclusive back in January. Lock made the point that
when listeners consume BBC audio content through the BBC Sounds app,
rather than via RSS feed on a third-party platform, the BBC is able to
capture more audience data. She spun this as a positive for listeners,
because it enables the BBC to offer better “tailored recommendations”,
although at the time I was a bit sceptical that “corporation wants more
data about you” was going to be a strong motivator for listeners to use
the app.

This line of argument has now been applied to the removal of BBC shows from Google by Kieran Clifton in his blog post. The key section:

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

My
reading of this situation is therefore as follows: the BBC wanted
Google to direct listeners straight to BBC Sounds (which also has a web
version which is accessible internationally; the app is UK-only), rather
than prioritising the fact that they can play the shows through Google
search or on other Google platforms. Google, unsurprisingly, refused to
make this substantial exception to their own business model. As a
result, the BBC deployed their robots.txt and is now presenting this
move as a beneficial one for listeners, who will give the BBC more data
by using Sounds instead, thus influencing the long-term direction of BBC
audio content. Clifton’s blog even describes the BBC’s actions as
having been taken “for the good of listeners.” “For the good of BBC
Sounds, internally thought to be good for listeners” might be more
accurate.

Unfortunately,
I don’t think this reasoning quite stacks up. It’s logical enough for
the BBC, which is desperate to make BBC Sounds work after all the
resources and effort that’s been poured into it, but I think the
benefits are more on their side than on that of the listeners, who now
just have fewer outlets where they can access BBC material. The BBC’s
gamble is that listeners love their content enough to follow it to the
Sounds app, but I would guess that a reasonable proportion — especially
those who do the bulk of their listening on a Google Home for
accessibility reasons, say, or through Android Auto while driving — will
just switch to other podcasts that are available on their platform of
choice.

As
a strategy, this would be fine if the BBC was a profit-making private
company; you sacrifice some listeners in order to get greater value from
the really loyal ones who are willing to use your app. It’s a familiar
move. However, the BBC has this obligation to be as open and accessible
as possible, and so far I’m not convinced that “we can do better
recommendations if everyone uses BBC Sounds” trumps the necessity of
distributing their audio as widely as possible, although ultimately that
will be for Ofcom to adjudicate on. It’s worth remembering, too, that
BBC Sounds has been cited by BBC execs
as a way of re-engaging younger demographics who are turning away from
BBC radio in favour of other streaming platforms. I will await the
regulator’s view on this with great interest too, especially since that
the corporation’s failure to reach young people was a major part of
Ofcom’s latest performance report for the BBC.

This
wrangle between the BBC and Google is by no means over, though, and
this could all still change. Clifton notes in his blog that “we are in
discussions with Google to try and resolve the situation and will
continue to work with them to try and come to a solution that’s in the
best interests of all listeners”. I can’t help feeling that this is just
an early skirmish in the chess game: the BBC called a bluff and pulled
their shows. Your move, Google.