The BBC has a problem. For almost a century, the British broadcaster has run a variety of national and regional radio stations to great effect in the UK. Their influence, though, has waned in recent years as podcasts and music-streaming services have exploded in popularity. In response, the Beeb has embraced the podcast medium, packaging up new and long-time shows including The Archers, Desert Island Discs and The Infinite Monkey Cage. But the threat of Spotify, Apple Music and now YouTube Music still looms. What, if anything, should the BBC be doing to counter these apps? With BBC Sounds, the organization may have finally found its answer.
The new iOS and Android app, available today, will eventually replace iPlayer Radio. At its core, the service is still a hybrid radio and podcast player. The broadcaster, however, is changing the way it surfaces content to better match the experience found on major streaming services such as Spotify. There are Collections, for instance, with labels like Funny Chat, Upgrade Your Life, Live Sessions and Dance Mixes. The app has categories, too, including hip hop, classical, crime and science and technology. All of these contain a mixture of hand-picked podcast and on-demand radio.
These labels are similar to the genre tags in Apple Music and other music-streaming apps. Instead of a traditional playlist, though, the BBC is offering a selection of highly targeted shows. The broadcaster doesn’t have the licensing deals to offer true track-by-track control — so you can’t skip a song like you would in a Discover Weekly playlist — but it can aim for a similar level of curation and personalization. “Those editorial buckets,” Ben Chapman, Head of Digital for Radio at the BBC explains, “allow us to surface a lot more content than perhaps we would have done otherwise.”
The app will track your listening habits and suggest shows in a new Recommended for You section. “We want to provide lots of different routes in,” Dan Taylor-Watt, Head of BBC iPlayer said. “For some people, genre will be the thing they care about, and for other people, it will be the mood they happen to be in at the time. But also, a big focus is on how you then subsequently introduce them to something else. Which goes to the heart of what the BBC is about, and its 90-something years of curating audio.”
You can bookmark shows and clips for a Pocket-style inbox called My List, or subscribe so future episodes appear in a personalized feed called My Sounds. Of course, you’re only getting content produced by the BBC — so don’t expect 99% Invisible to appear anywhere — and you can’t save an album like you would on Spotify. These restrictions, though, line up with the BBC’s mission to promote and support UK talent. “We’re here to showcase the best that the UK’s got, creatively,” Chapman said. “The big global players don’t always do