BBC Podcasting in 2018

I think of the BBC as a huge, old-fashioned ocean liner. The analogy works a few ways. The ship is beautifully made and it makes going somewhere really worthwhile, but the journey itself can get a bit rough sometimes. Across the sprawling structure, there are so many different teams on different decks doing different things, and they don’t always necessarily know what everyone else above and below is doing. It’s big, and as such, it can be a violent force of momentum and inertia. Once the decision to change course has been taken, the ship will travel quite a lot further in the prior direction before it turns.

It’s this last aspect that I’ve been most conscious of in 2018. Until the spring of last year, the corporation’s involvement in podcasting was largely hands-off, with radio shows repackaged for download and a very small number of original podcast-first commissions that were tied closely to existing formats. Then a shift began, with some new shows appearing that attempted to do something different compared to its existing radio output, such as the drama box set zi and the pop culture deep dive series Unpopped.

Part of this shift came from an increasing recognition internally that younger UK listeners were choosing to go elsewhere for their audio content — to Apple Music and Spotify and to the feeds of independent podcasts like My Dad Wrote a Porno and The Receipts. The regulator Ofcom ruled this year in its annual report that the BBC must do “more and more quickly” to reach these audiences, if the corporation is to keep up its remit as a national public service broadcaster. The ship was turning, slowly.

Then, all of a sudden, everything seemed to speed up. In March, it was announced that the BBC had appointed its first commissioner for podcasts, Jason Phipps. He started work in May, and over the next few months we saw more evidence of this internal shift towards more original podcasting. I’ve written a lot about it in these emails since I started with Hot Pod in September: from the youth-focused Xtrachat showcase feed to this new political podcast from Scotland, there’s been a lot to say.

The biggest moment for the BBC in 2018 was the launch of the BBC Sounds app at the end of  October. It had been in beta since late June, with mixed reviews from those trying to use it and reports of internal confusion over its mission. Was it an attempt to make an alternative podcatcher, which indexed non-BBC podcasts as a way of luring listeners away from their current tech, or a walled garden of purely BBC content, trying to offer a premium content experience like Spotify or Audible? In a move that felt inevitable for those of use who have been observing the BBC for a while now, they did something that looks a bit like both options, sort of. BBC Sounds consists almost entirely of BBC podcasts, radio shows, playlists and archive material, with a very small number of independent shows in there too (I could find six, let me know if you can see more). I’m unclear of the long-term rationale behind this hybrid model, but execs seem bullish about the numbers so far (which of course they would).

In one sense, BBC Sounds has been a success already, because it’s given the BBC a way to properly talk about podcasting. A consistent message has been rolled out across all stations and programmes: presenters who never used to refer to online downloads are now routinely saying “if you want to hear more like this, try X podcast on BBC Sounds.” I remain unconvinced that it will be a silver bullet for the younger audience problem, but I do think it could help to convert some radio listeners who have never tried digital audio before into podcast listeners, which can only be a good thing.

The app itself still has a few glaring omissions to my eyes, chief among them a sharing functionality, although I’m sure that’ll be on the way at some point. I still find it difficult to find shows I know must be there, and the algorithmic recommendations are a bit. . . hit or miss. The same goes for the first slate of original programming. There are some really interesting and innovative ideas in there, such as the spin off audio dramas for the TV soap Eastenders, the podcast-spoofing scripted horror serial I wrote about last week, and music documentary series Live Lounge Uncovered, which takes a popular radio session slot and goes deeper on it. Then there’s also some other stuff that I’m less convinced is worth the BBC’s time, such as the supposedly youth-orientated daily news podcast Beyond Today (that I’m still skipping in favour of the old-fashioned news bulletins on the radio), the Duvet Days interview show (which sounds a lot like the many, many other interview shows that already exist), and The Disrupters (yet another interview show focused around entrepreneurship that has yet to wow me with either its guests or approach).

Although on the surface it looks as if it’s full steam ahead for the BBC and podcasts, I’m still picking up some internal confusions. There is now a full time podcast commissioner up at the top in Phipps, but new podcasts are also being made by existing radio stations as well as by journalists in the local and regional divisions. The messaging about where podcasts come from doesn’t always feel cohesive, and I sense the heat of internal politics and wrangling about who is getting the credit for which podcasts, rather than everyone pulling in the same direction under the same structure and focusing on the external competition instead. There are still unanswered questions about analytics, as well — I understand from various sources that producers don’t get very regular updates about how many people are actually listening to their episodes, and those they do get are on a long lag. There’s also no external verification or publication schedule for these numbers, so when an exec chooses to announce a “record month”, we have nothing to benchmark that against.

At the end of the year, it’s still no clearer to me than at the start what the BBC’s responsibilities are to the rest of the UK podcast market. Obviously, their entry into original programming puts them into direct competition with shows made by commercial and independent outlets, but it’s even less obvious if there should be any controls on what they can and can’t make in order to prevent their state-funded advantage cutting others out of the market. I also haven’t seen the BBC use its new podcast commissions to make much meaningful headway on the issue of diversity, which was another problem point in the Ofcom annual report. The vast majority of the new shows we’ve had so far are written and/or hosted by existing BBC talent or suppliers, with all of the existing structural problems around pay and inclusion that brings.

In conclusion: the BBC is fully on board with podcasting now, which is not a phrase I thought I’d be writing back in January. This new direction is likely going to have some really positive outcomes, and a few negative ones too if the corporation doesn’t actively guard against them. There’s a lot we still don’t know.

What Xtrachat tells us about the BBC’s Podcast Strategy

Over the past year or so, a shift has taken place at the BBC, as Britain’s state-funded public broadcaster has started to think about podcasting strategically for the first time. We’ve seen the appointment of their first podcast commissioner, and the launch of a new app, BBC Sounds, intended to put all their live radio, catch up, and podcast content in the same place for the first time. (It’s still in a beta phase, and it isn’t yet clear what its final iteration will look like. But already, questions have been raised about the app.)

At the start of August, there was another development: the youth-focused BBC digital radio station, 1Xtra, launched their first podcast feed, XtraChat. It is a showcase effort, one that seeks to distribute episodes of both existing and newly-commissioned podcast series. It will also receive a radio broadcast. It’s a smart strategic move by the station, which has a target audience of young black people aged 16-24, to bring in independent podcasters from outside the BBC rather than trying to engineer its own podcast “voice” right out the gate. The first show on the feed, The Receipts, has a very distinctive style, and it would have been hard to generate that relaxed, conversational tone from a standing start.

“I’ve been commissioning podcasts across the two networks from the end of last year,” said Louise Kattenhorn, Commissioner Executive for Radio 1 and 1Xtra, when we spoke recently about the thinking behind the launch. “We started with Radio 1, so we were concentrating on more comedy, and I learned a lot from that, but we’ve always had in the back of our minds that we wanted to work towards a podcast feed or a few podcast feeds for 1Xtra specifically for that audience.”

One of the primary considerations in the planning phase, she said, was the desire to avoid making something that already existed as an independent show. “I don’t want the BBC to come in and artificially create something that’s already out there,” Kattenhorn said. The option was there to make an entirely new show or shows, but she decided against it and rather chose to work with existing podcasts.

As a personal fan of The Receipts in its independent form, she felt that hosts Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez were the obvious choice to start XtraChat off, not least because of their substantial audience (their show attracts about 25,000 listens per episode). Her hunch seems to have been proved correct: the initial run of The Receipts on 1Xtra has been extended from six to eight episodes, and the feed hit the top of the UK iTunes chart after the first one dropped. Whether it can be sustained as different voices and shows take over the feed is unclear — a showcase initiative like this, I feel, will likely encounter consistency challenges.

The aim with XtraChat from the start, Kattenhorn said, was “to do something that brings in new audiences to the BBC, but also allows [the podcasters] to have a platform to a wider audience too.” It’s also part of a broader strategy for the two networks Kattenhorn works on to use podcasting as a way of moving into spoken word content.

“We’re a music station, really, and there aren’t many places on the schedule where we can explore exciting speech content,” she explained. BBC Radio 1Xtra focuses on hip hop, RnB and grime, particularly by British artists, and although the presenters do narrate and conduct interviews, there isn’t much non-music content on air. In theory, podcasting opens up that space for them, Kattenhorn said: “That scope to have really in depth conversations that aren’t restricted by time or broadcast slot is really exciting. That’s what I’m really excited about, that we can have this speech content for young audiences that is really resonating with them.”

This is something that could apply to other BBC stations, too. Radio 3, for instance, traditionally focuses on classical and world music interspersed with a few short documentaries (and has an average listener age of over 50), but accompanying conversational podcasts could help it attract new, younger people. Classic FM, a commercial classical music station operated by Global, has had a surprising amount of success with a music-orientated true crime podcast called Case Notes; it would be an unusually bold but welcome move if the BBC’s podcast-first commissions were to start playing with genre in this way as well.

It was clear from my conversation with Kattenhorn that while XtraChat might be a podcast-first product, radio still has a lot of pull over what the BBC does. (Which isn’t that surprising; although podcast take up has grown substantially recently, especially among younger people, live radio still has a 74 percent share of UK listening). She was open about her hope that the podcast feed would help to pull non-radio listeners in to experience the rest of the network’s output, rather than just existing on its own merits — it seems to be a marketing extension for them, in a way. “We know there are a lot of podcast listeners who don’t listen to 1Xtra,” she said. “We’d love to bring them into the network, we think we’ve got a lot to offer them.”

I think this gets to the heart of an ongoing dilemma for the BBC, actually: are podcasts just there to bring more listeners to their radio content, or do they stand alone on their own merits? I’m not sure they know the answer to that yet.


Exploring “The Receipts” on Radio 1Xtra

Since it was launched in August 2002, the aim of the BBC digital station Radio 1Xtra has been to serve a young, diverse audience, both with its spoken and music content — the latter focusing on hip hop, RnB and grime, particularly by British artists. It has a deliberately younger focus even than its sister station BBC Radio 1, which has historically been the home of the corporation’s “youth” output.

With research from RAJAR, the official body that measures radio audiences in the UK, showing that radio listening is declining sharply among younger people (less than a third of weekly radio listeners were under 35 in Q1 of 2018) and the biggest increase in podcast listenership in the last 18 months being in the 15-34 demographic, it makes total sense that 1Xtra should look to podcasting as a way of shoring up its audience.

The result of this train of thought is a recently-launched 1Xtra programming strand called “XtraChat,” which will act as a showcase for both existing and newly-commissioned podcast series. The first show to appear under this banner is The Receipts, a lifestyle and sex podcast with a raucous, infectious conversational style — it’s pretty much impossible to listen to an episode without cracking a smile at least once, I find. The showcase feed practice has been used successfully in the past by other outlets, perhaps most notably by Radiotopia, which debuted limited-run shows like Ways of Hearing and The Great God of Depression in this manner.

Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez, along with producer Renay Richardson, have created a short series of new episodes (originally slated for a run of six, now extended to eight thanks to its popularity) that are being broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 1Xtra on Sunday nights as The Receipts on 1Xtra, as well as being released for download under the same name. Part of the reason for the commission, I’ve been told, is to drive listeners towards the new “BBC Sounds” app, which the corporation is hoping will help them clarify a muddled internal attitude to on-demand audio, although there is little sign of a firmer direction there yet.

The Receipts is a particularly smart pick by the BBC to kick off their XtraChat showcase. The corporation came to them with the idea, the hosts confirmed to me — and given how opaque and lengthy the BBC’s commissioning processes can be, that’s a good sign, I think. It’s not hard to work out why these women attracted attention: theirs is a successful independent podcast in its own right, racking up around 25,000 listens an episode and selling out its live shows. Much of that audience is made up of exactly the kind of people the BBC traditionally struggles to gain traction with: millennials and people of colour. By bringing The Receipts onto 1Xtra, the BBC is hoping that a proportion of their listeners will stick around to hear the next show on the feed, and perhaps even tune into the radio station itself. “It’s a good look for us, and a good look for the BBC” is how the hosts described the collaboration to me.

Shoneye, Indome and Sanchez are also adept at promoting their show on social media. (I think their extremely active #TheReceiptsPodcast hashtag is one of the best examples of how podcasters can interact with listeners beyond audio.) The animated, chatty energy of the podcast feeds off its audience’s enthusiasm, and now, via the XtraChat feed, some of that fervour is being directed towards a BBC product. After the first episode of The Receipts on 1Xtra was broadcast, the show hit the number one spot on the UK iTunes chart, and the hosts told me that they have added thousands of daily listeners to their own feed since, as new listeners from the 1Xtra broadcast have started diving into their back catalogue. As a collaboration, this seems to be benefiting both parties.

There is one other aspect that makes The Receipts on 1Xtra a very encouraging move by the BBC. Producer Renay Richardson pointed out to me that this is the first podcast both hosted and produced by women of colour to make it to the top of the UK iTunes chart. The BBC’s own in-house podcasts tend to reflect the whiteness of the industry as a whole; it’s really good to see the corporation using its substantial power and reach to amplify these voices. Initially during recording, Shoneye told me, the hosts felt “very aware that we’re on the BBC and someone’s mum might hear it,” and were inclined to temper their usual loquacious, no holds barred style into something more conventionally “BBC”-sounding. However, they were assured by the staff at 1Xtra that their own style was exactly why they were asked to appear on XtraChat in the first place, and the final episodes fizz with all the usual irreverent over-talking familiar from the original Receipts podcast.

XtraChat appears to laying down the foundation for how a big established public broadcaster can work with independent podcasters beyond just encouraging them to pitch for existing radio or podcast segments. This is, ostensibly, a better, and more collaborative model, which recognises that a podcast created outside the auspices of the BBC can also be successful on the larger platform, and that drawing on popular shows from the widest possible field can do much to help bridge the gap between an establishment body and the audience that isn’t always that interested in its traditional output.

Slow Radio?

As Nick highlighted in yesterday’s Insider, BBC Radio 3 has launched a “slow radio” strand for the autumn, with monthly programmes featuring ASMR-esque sounds from “night time at the zoo to the sounds of Durham Cathedral.” Which is good news for all of us who like using random background sounds to tune out the noise in our own heads.

Radio 3 controller Alan Davey explained the move thus: “We feel strongly about offering the public a mindful experience, a place, a haven, where they can lose themselves in audio and sonic experiences.”

However, this isn’t Radio 3’s first foray into slow radio: past efforts have include a real-time broadcast of a walk along Offa’s Dyke (a historic earthwork on the English-Welsh border) and the sound of silence inside a monastery. It could also be argued that much of Radio 3’s programming can be described as slower, if not slow — the regular slot Words and Music being one such example, in which selections of classical music and literary readings on weekly themes such as “Sunday” and “nostalgia” are woven together for 75 minutes.

There’s been a similar move in BBC TV commissions in the last few years, too, with the highbrow factual channel BBC Four broadcasting an occasional series called BBC Four Goes Slow, with subjects including glass blowing and birdsong. I also have fond memories of the All Aboard! strand, which featured real-time, hours-long near-silent footage of journeys through different landscapes. There was a snow-covered Sami postal route shot from the viewpoint of a traditional sleigh, a trip on a British canal boat, and a ride through the countryside on a bus. (All of which pales in comparison for length and scope to this extraordinary programme made by the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK — they filmed 1,000 reindeer for 168 hours and live-streamed the whole thing.)

But does anybody actually want slow radio, or is it just a stunt that broadcasters like to pull because it grabs headlines? I think they do, and the evidence seems to back that up — there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to ASMR content with millions of views, and over a million people tuned into watch a bus trundling around the Yorkshire Dales on BBC Four in 2015 (for context, that channel’s audience is more often in the thousands than the millions). And given the state of the world, both then and now, who can blame them?

As a side note, it was interesting to see how different UK outlets reported the news of Radio 3’s new slow radio series, according to their own agenda and bias: the left of centre Guardian led with “the sounds of Irish cattle being blessed by a priest”, while the right-wing Daily Telegraph preferred to tell its readers about “recordings made from battlefields decades or centuries after the fighting stopped.” It has something for everyone, I suppose.

[Editor’s note: I fuckin’ love ASMR media. Long live scratchy sounds.]

Google wants to do for podcasts on Android what Apple did for podcasts on iOS

GOOGLY EYED. You might have already heard about Google’s new strategy around podcast servicing on Android devices — I briefly linked to it last week after my whole spiel on the Apple HomePod — that the search giant announced through the content marketing blog of Pacific Content, the Canadian branded podcast studio. The announcement was broken out into five parts, and if you haven’t read them already, you absolutely should. You can find the first entry here, and then work outward from there.

But if you need a TLDR: Google’s apparent mission statement is “to help double the amount of podcast listening in the world over the next couple years,” and by that they mean to do to the untapped masses of potential podcast-consuming Android users what Apple did to potential podcast-consuming iOS users back in 2015 when it started distributing the stuff through iTunes. Of course, Google will try to do so via the strength of its specific Googlean skill-sets. (Also worth noting: this is separate and apart from the podcast stuff on Google Play Music, which didn’t really seem like it amounted to much?)

FWIW, my gut reaction to the news is about the same as when I heard about Pandora wanting to “double down on podcasts,” which is “cool, cool, let me know how that goes.” Because, really, I could say something like “man, this is (maybe) totally going to change everything!”, but that wouldn’t be particularly useful, and by all means, whether everything changes or not, it’s still worth adhering to Google’s inclusion guidelines to gain whatever listenership will be driven by this initiative.

Anyway, there are a fair few elements to Google’s podcast strategy, but I’ve come to view its heartbeat according to these building blocks:

(1) Capture. The most immediate development is how Google has already begun listing podcast and audio episodes in search results at a level similar to text, video, and images within the Google app on Android devices. This is being referred to as an effort to make podcasts a “first-class citizen” within Google’s search architecture, and it’s also a move that widely expands Google’s presence as the top-of-the-funnel option for all future podcast/audio discovery pathways among potential casual listeners noodling around on their Android devices.

(2) Contain. But here’s the most notable development, IMHO: Podcast consumption and management can now be handled directly on the Android Google app, through a user experience that’s baked into the app environment itself called “Homebase.” Based on the posts, it’s sort of an app within the app, and the significance here is that listeners can theoretically discover, listen, and subscribe to podcasts within the same app experience.

This would presumably reduce the number of steps that many assume are major pain points preventing adoption. Previously, an Android user bumping into, say, Wooden Overcoats for the first time while tumbling down a search rabbit hole would have to figure out which third-party podcast app to download on the Google Play Store — or head over to Spotify, I guess — learn how to use that product, and then start habituating with said third-party app in order to formalize their relationship with the show. By sliding in as the listening layer itself, Google theoretically collapses the distance between the point of discovery and the point of listening. (Speaking of which: pour one out for third-party podcast apps that primarily made a living serving the previously underserved Android market. Godspeed, fellas.)

Interestingly, some of the write-ups around the announcement seem to possess an expectation that the podcast experience will likely be broken out into its own standalone app at some point in the future. I don’t know about whether that’s actually the case, but…isn’t the point to reduce the number of steps to begin with?

(3) Cover. And then there’s all the stuff about connecting and syncing all these podcast consuming experiences between Google’s Android app and the Google Assistant, the company’s Alexa competitor. If you’ve been reading this newsletter for any period of time, you probably know what I’m going to say at this point: I think the potential here should be viewed less as a smart speaker thing and more as a voice-first computing thing, as the Google Assistant is likely going to be spread wide across a wide expanse of interfacing surface areas (cars, smart homes, dog collars, public restrooms, etc.)

I’ll show my bias here and say that the podcasting stuff here is a little less interesting to me than the notion of Google beginning to dabble with realizing a search engine for atomic units of audio experiences on an aurally-represented internet. Sure, we’re talking about podcasts now, but are we really only talking about podcasts with the kind of infrastructure that’s being built here? Come on, are you really going to use all that fire just to heat cans of soup? Get outta here.

A couple of other thoughts specific to podcast stuff:

(1) When I first started outlining this item, I had this whole bit reheating my skepticism about good search functionality being the answer to podcast discovery: I’m just iffy on the notion of a significant discovery pathway into podcasts that runs through subject- or topic-oriented searches.

But then I recalled that search is only part of the picture when it comes to Google these days, which now appears to hang on the twin principles of going “from search to suggest” and being “AI-first” as illustrated in this essay by Andre Saltz, which has been pretty helpful for me to think through these things. I’ve evoked it before in this column.

(2) As a veteran digital media executive recently told me: “There’s one fact of life that has remained constant — that someone is trying to game the system.” That person was talking to me for another story about another situation that I’ll publish next week, but it’s applicable here with whatever the audio SEO framework is going to look like, of course. On a related note, I’m looking forward to “What time is the Super Bowl?”, but for audio.

(3) Related to this idea of “gaming the system” is the heady, navel-gazing, but actually really interesting question of how platforms impact publishers and vice versa. Having a new system from which to extract value always offers new opportunities, but I think it’s an open question whether Google’s moves with search here will actually lead to better outcomes for the existing spread of publishers.

What’s less of an open question is the probability that we’ll see new kinds of publishers playing to the new system that Google’s endeavors here open up. Look, if I were an enterprising young person who wasn’t particularly romantic about the Way Audio Should Be Made, I’d be working hard to game the shit out of the system with new forms of content that’s sticky to its rules. (We already see versions of this enterprising spirit in the Apple Podcast charts with the spread of true crime podcasts.)

(4) Speaking of whether Google’s podcast endeavors will actually lead to better outcomes for existing podcast publishers, I’ve been hearing that the search giant has been in contact with some publishers over the past few months as it builds out its podcast features. Like many other configurations of such interfacing in the past (publishers and Facebook, publishers and Apple News, etc. etc.), I wouldn’t put too much stock in the…proposed symmetry of that relationship.

Alrighty, let’s move along.

Meanwhile, over on iOS. “Apple’s podcasts just topped 50 billion all-time downloads and streams,” reported Fast Company last week, highlighting a milestone for Apple’s long-documented history of intimacy with podcast-land.

In the piece, the benchmark came accompanied by data points that Apple has publicly provided in previous years:

  • In 2014, there were 7 billion podcast downloads.
  • In 2016, that number jumped to 10.5 billion.
  • In 2017, it jumped to 13.7 billion episode downloads and streams, across Podcasts and iTunes.
  • In March 2018, Apple Podcasts passed 50 billion all-time episode downloads and streams.

Note that the numbers for 2014, 2016, and 2017 all refer to downloads and streams that took place in that year, while the March 2018 data point refers to all-time numbers — which is to say, downloads and streams that took place since Apple began serving podcasts in 2005. (A pretty straightforward switch in framing, but one that tripped me up the first time I scanned the article. Which reminds me: I should schedule my annual vision exam soon.)

Strung together, these numbers paint a vivid picture of accelerating podcast activity across Apple platforms. But here’s what I find even more interesting: consider just how much of Apple’s all-time podcast download and streaming activity apparently took place between 2014 and now.

Now, we don’t have 2015 numbers, but let’s assume it’s somewhere in the midpoint between the 7 billion in 2014 and 10.5 billion in 2016: say, a conservative 8.5 billion. What we have, then, is a situation where 39.7 billion (7 + 8.5 + 10.5 + 13.7) out of Apple’s all-time 50 billion podcast downloads and streams took place between January 2014 and March 2018.

Which is to say, from these numbers, it seems that almost 80 percent of all podcast downloads and streams on Apple platforms took place over the past four years.

Let’s hold our horses for a hot second, run that statement back, and think this through. Shouts to RadioPublic’s Jake Shapiro for helping me kick up some much-needed caveats:

  • These numbers should not be taken to suggest that almost 80 percent of all podcast listening on Apple platforms took place over the past four years. As always, keep in mind that a podcast download is no direct indicator of actual listening; after all, an episode can be delivered but not literally consumed.
  • It’s also worth asking, in general, whether we can take Apple’s tracking of all-time podcast downloads and streams to be consistent all the way across time back to 2005 — that is, whether measurement of earlier numbers were processed with the same rigor as measurement of more contemporary numbers — and consider the possibility of earlier activity going untracked. I see no particular reason to suspect inconsistency, but the potential bears keeping in mind nonetheless. One can never be too careful.
  • Also, we don’t have much of a clear picture of actual Apple podcast activity for any of the years before 2014.

Even with these caveats in mind, I’m still comfortable with the original takeaway: that a considerable majority of Apple podcast activity took place over the past four years.

What is the significance of this? For one thing, it further solidifies 2014’s status as the crucial pivot point for the podcast ecosystem, resulting from a combination of Apple bundling the Podcast app into iOS by default and the catalyzing awareness-raising effects of Serial as a cultural phenomenon. For another, it gives us a sense of the pivot point’s scale.

Other than that…I dunno. Purely an academic observation, and it’s one I’m squirreling away if I ever get to write the Big Book on Podcasting.

The BBC partners with Acast for international monetization. The deal, announced Tuesday morning, will see the Swedish podcast technology company take the lead on generating revenue off the downloads that BBC podcasts are currently enjoying outside of the UK.

According to the press release, podcast episodes from the BBC are downloaded over 30 million times a month outside the UK. It’s unclear how much of that is within the United States, where podcast advertising is significantly more mature. The podcast portfolio for the big U.K. public service broadcast includes Radio 4’s In Our Time, repackages of the BBC World Service, The Assassination, and the recently released Death in Ice Valley, a true crime collaboration with Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

The deal doesn’t cover every BBC podcast, however. A spokesperson told me that it only covers “most” of the organization’s English-language podcasts. Some will be excluded for either rights-related or specific editorial reasons. One example: the historical audio fiction epic Tumanbay. In September 2017, the BBC forged a deal with Panoply to bring Tumanbay to American earballs where the latter also serves as a co-producer of the project. That relationship still stands.

The BBC does not monetize its podcasts within the U.K.

On a related note: just a reminder that the BBC recently tapped Jason Phipps, previously head of audio at The Guardian, to be the organization’s podcast commissioner.

This week in #Brands. Squarespace, the ubiquitous podcast advertiser, is launching an extended campaign with Gimlet in the form of an American Idol/Project Greenlight-esque competition, Casting Call, a national talent-seeking endeavor in which the winner gets their own show on Gimlet. The process will be documented as a podcast (what else?) that will be released in September. Judges include Gimlet’s Nazanin Rafsanjani, the great Aminatou Sow, and Squarespace founder/CEO Anthony Casalena. Submissions are open starting today.

A little hokey, but I’ve always thought there should be more things like Radiotopia’s PodQuest and WNYC’s Podcast Accelerator. In any case, shrewd move from Gimlet to take lessons from those initiatives and build a whole revenue engine around it.

On a related note: Should the day come when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, pray it does not look like a brand.

The latest on WNYC’s inappropriate conduct imbroglio: An investigation by the law firm Proskauer Rose has apparently found “no evidence of systemic discrimination at the organization,” which is…peculiar. Here’s the WNYC News piece on the development, and further observations and analysis can be found in this 22-minute segment on the Brian Lehrer Show. Some of those observations can be found in this Twitter thread by WNYC reporter Ilya Marritz. You can read the actual report here.

WME adds PRX to its podcast client list. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the major talent agency will “work to expand the audio media nonprofit’s business in all areas, including film, television and books.” For the record, WME’s podcast clients include Crooked Media, Panoply Media, Freakonomics Radio’s Stephen Dubner, and Two Up Productions, among others. The agency was also involved in the negotiations around the Dirty John TV adaptations and, given the tentacular fortitude of its clientele reach, will likely continue to be involved in many, many more negotiations to come.

In case you need further context on how a talent agency like WME views the podcast space as a potential pool of assets, let me refer you back to my June 2017 interview with Ben Davis, an agent with the digital department at WME. A pertinent excerpt:


[conl]Hot Pod: Where do you think this relationship between talent agencies and the podcast industry is going?[/conl]

[conr]Ben Davis: I think talent agencies will play an increasingly important role in the ecosystem by:

  • Helping podcast creators cross IP over into other media (whether that is audiovisual, live or written).
  • Pairing creators with the right distribution partners, and negotiating the terms of the relationship.
  • Packaging creative elements (i.e. talent and writer) to create turnkey audio productions for distributors.

The space is changing so quickly, though, and my answer would have been different 6 months ago. So really, who knows?[/conr]


Who knows, indeed. As a reminder, PRX is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit that runs the indie podcast collective Radiotopia and provides various podcast support services to teams like The Moth and Night Vale Presents.


  • The New York Times is reportedly considering adapting The Daily and the Modern Love column for television. At the NewFronts presentation yesterday, COO Meredith Kopit Levien said “The Daily has more listeners than the weekday newspaper has ever had.” You sell those ads, people! (AdWeek)
  • ICYMI: Freakonomics Radio moves from WNYC Studios to Stitcher. (Press release)
  • Slate’s podcast project with its fantastic TV critic Willa Paskin, called Decoder Ring, is now live. (Slate)
  • Also live now: TED en Español. (Apple Podcasts)
  • The wave of Westworld podcasts is now back upon us. Let it consume you.
  • Heads up, antipodal Hot Pod readers: The third Audiocraft Podcast Festival will take place in Sydney in early June. (Media release)
  • Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine, not content with adapting a true crime podcast-centric novel for television, has launched an original podcast of its own, which is not a true crime podcast. (EW)