Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland
Try to listen to the new season of Fortunately, a podcast from the BBC, and you’ll be told you can’t.
It’s a show that BBC produces which never makes it on the radio. Instead, it follows the same genre as many podcasts do: two friends chatting over a coffee with a special guest.
The “friends” in this case are Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, two broadcasters who share the same kind of humour; the podcast itself is recorded in the coffee shop in the “BBC Piazza”, the public space outside the BBC’s gleaming Broadcasting House in central London.
Last year, the BBC launched a new smartphone app. Called BBC Sounds, it contains bespoke content like this, as well as radio shows (on-demand and live), and some music mixes. Mistakenly, the app was launched before it had reached feature parity with its predecessor, BBC iPlayer Radio. It’s also not available outside the UK.
BBC Sounds requires listeners to register before they can listen, just like Spotify. This offers personalisation opportunities, one would assume; but it also means that some within the BBC have begun focusing on how to increase what is known in technology circles as the “MAU”, the number of Monthly Active Users, believing that this is a key performance indicator of the success of the app.
The drive for a higher MAU number isn’t, by itself, a bad thing. Along with measuring the overall time-in-app (which should similarly increase), it’s an important measure of how successful the app is.
However, it’s a fine line between encouraging listeners to use the app: and bullying them to. Which brings us back to Fortunately, which started a new season this week but you’ll not be able to listen to it on anything other than the BBC Sounds app. The podcast has been withdrawn from all other podcast apps, and replaced with a plaintive message that “we used to be here but we’re not here any more”.
Good business sense, you might be thinking: which is a valid point of view. Except: what business is the BBC actually in? Its core area of expertise is making great radio (and TV) shows. Further, its money comes – in the main – from the UK’s licence-fee payers, who have already paid for this programme to be made. The most important measure of success for the BBC, surely, is how many people consume and enjoy its programmes: and to that end, withdrawing programmes from other platforms is short-sighted.
There is a limit to how many apps people will install; and while pulling shows into your own walled garden might be a strategy for some, audiences should really be drawn to your app because it’s really good, it offers great recommendations, and works brilliantly. If you need to bully audiences to install a new app by taking things away from them that they’re already paying for anyway, you’re probably doing it wrong.
About The Author
James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.