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What is happening with BBC podcasts?

The British podcast industry owes a lot to the BBC, as we all do.
They kept the concept alive in the UK during the dark years of the early 2010s when podcasting was really just a radio-on-demand channel where my dad could catch up with The Archers. The number of wins and nominations at the recent British Podcast Awards also shows that they’re still at least partly responsible for setting and raising the quality bar in audio storytelling. It can also be argued, as it is here, that the BBC is one of the reasons why the UK podcast market is much smaller than it should be, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

Anyway, as it quietly plans for a potential licence fee-less future, audio is one of the BBC’s major potential sources of commercial funding. BBC Studios recently announced that they’re expanding their operations to make audio for the external commercial market, and subsequently hired the head of Wondery UK to run the team. This has not been universally popular with the independent production community who can see an aggressive, highly resourced, publicly funded and oven-ready competitor landing squarely on its lawn.

With BBC Sounds having such a wealth of content, Acast have long been selling ads on their podcasts in overseas markets. If you’re a brand looking to reach English-speaking anglophiles in foreign countries, you could do a lot worse than placing ads around Desert Island Discs or Newscast. In fact, this year Fresh Air made a series of mini-podcasts for the Department of International Trade encouraging overseas investors to bring their money to the UK.

Now the BBC has decided that subscriptions are at least partly the way forward. Listeners outside the UK can sign up to ‘BBC Podcasts Premium’ on Apple for a curated selection of ad-free audio shows in exchange for a monthly fee. The service is now available across the world, except in the UK where the BBC would prefer you to use BBC Sounds, for reasons I’ve whinged about in previous newsletters. For now at least, shows will be available outside the UK both on subscription and free with ads, and the beeb will be closely watching to see which route brings in the most cash.