The BBC’s Ben Chapman and Alison Winter spoke about the strategy behind the launch of the BBC Sounds app this week at Radiodays Europe.
“We have tried to keep our audience at the heart of everything we do… We are reinvesting in audio, it is taking centre stage,” said Chapman.
The BBC Sounds app has a signed-in audience in the millions every day, so they “get a lot of useful and interesting data.”
There is over 80,000 hours of sound on the app from all the BBC’s audio products: catch up, live radio and podcasts.
Topics range from “the inspirational to the hysterical.”
The more you use it the more it learns and can serve the listener content that they will enjoy, using pattern recognition of what they have listened to and a recommendation engine. To ensure that recommendations are made successfully, there is a lot of topic metadata entered into every podcast, so that effective matching can be done. ‘Listen without limits’ is the slogan.
The BBC Sounds app is currently geoblocked to the UK, but there is an intention to open it to the world later this year.
“I can’t believe they’ve let a researcher loose in track 1, they usually out us at the end of the last day. I look after audience research, data and audience insights,” joked Alison Winter as she presented data about consumption patterns.
Displaying figures showing listenership declining in various age groups, Winter described 15-34s as the “charts of doom” for radio, because the way people want to listen and discover content is shifting. These Charts hinted to us at what we could do to address the challenges, giving the audience more ways to discover content.
“On Netflix and Youtube, more than half the viewing comes from recommendations, but BBC audio was less than 4% from recommendations.” BBC Audio is now using data to analyse patters of behaviour and make recommendations, we wanted to do the same thing.
“The Rajar surveys showed a shift to an on-demand world so we overlaid existing research to help us to build this content catalog framework in our own offering. We would never have done this if we only looked at data from our linear audio brands.”
Younger audiences were choosing and navigating to music differently from their older counterparts. “BBC Audio had a lot of information about linear radio but didn’t understand on-demand audio consumption in people’s daily lives.”
The features that Sounds can offer is really only possible because the BBC introduced sign in. They only ask for three pieces of content: age, gender and postcode. “We can now understand who the audience is for different pieces of content. We have brought in data analysts to help us understand the info that is coming our way, they are giving us new insights into audio behavour.”
Recommendations were previously a poor area for BBC Audio, but now the player learns and clusters together different audio groups to help make recommendations to people in those groups.
“If you listen to one podcast we can now see what else you listen to so it helps us cross promote in a more intelligent way… We can also use it to identify gaps in our audio offering. The data is available to everyone in the BBC.”
In the past, data was examined in a linear way – reach and TSL. But now the BBC looks at habit, unique research and activations that will bring people back to the app.
From the data analysis the BBC has learned to measure the success of podcasts in a different way from linear radio.
“Podcast audiences grow slowly. Audiences take time to build in the non-linear world, whereas in the linear broadcast world there is already an audience for that timeslot, so don’t make knee jerk reactions too quickly as you might do in the liner broadcast world.”
BBC Audio is also trying to negotiate new rights deals so that they have the ability to “create new curated music experiences for audiences.”
In analysing the response to user data, the BBC is also changing the names of some of its content areas, to reflect how the audience talks about the contet and how they can find it on the app. “Instead of comedy, content created by that team is now called ‘funny.’ It’s no longer sport but the content is segmented by what the listeners want: ‘football, cricket, etc’
In the same session, Thomas Laufersweiler, the Head of Content at ARD Germany shared insights into listening habits to the broadcaster’s Audiothek app.
“The idea was to bring the best of our audio content into one app to improve the presentation to the audience. It is handpicked content, easy to use and the app offers editorial recommendations.”
One of the most popular content forms for ARD app audiences is radio drama and stories for children.
“The audience is happy and so are we. They use us as a fake news free area… Offline downloads, search and recommendations are the most used functions in the app.”
The audience are “radio listeners in the morning and users of the Audiothek app in the evening.”
Audiothek listeners mostly use the app for talk and use Spotify for music. “When spotify changes to include more podcasts this may affect us,” he said.
Future development plans include, to build new content for on-demand listeners and to improve the appearance and functionality of the app by adding things like a sleep timer, filters for length, voice control and car interfaces.