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BBC clarifies decision to pull its podcasts from Google platforms

If you’ve been used to getting your BBC podcast fix via Google’s products, like its stand-alone podcast app or Google Home (via the Google Assistant), you may be surprised to learn the British broadcaster’s content hasn’t been available on these platforms since March 19. That’s because the BBC has pulled all of its podcasts from Google pending the resolution of several concerns. The corporation is encouraging listeners to use its own BBC Sounds app in the meantime.

According to its official explanation for the move, the BBC said:

“The BBC requires platforms (such as Google’s Assistant) to meet certain conditions for BBC content to be available on their services. We seek to make our content as accessible to audiences as possible, but until it can be made available in a way that meets our terms of use and the BBC’s distribution policy, certain BBC content will be unavailable through specific Google products.”

In other words, the BBC is only willing to let Google include its podcasts if it meets some specific requirements, which, in the opinion of the BBC, Google is failing to do. But what exactly is the problem?

In a follow-up blog post penned by Kieran Clifton, the BBC’s director of distribution and business development, the concern relates specifically to how Google was handling BBC podcasts:

“Last year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users — they’ve also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third-party services, which reduces people’s choice — an approach that the BBC is not comfortable with and has consistently expressed strong concerns about. We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but they have refused.”

Fair enough, more choice is better than less choice, but is this really such a big problem that the BBC felt it had no choice but pull its content? As it turns out, it’s less about choice, and more about a lack of data. Clifton goes on to say:

“… we want to make sure podcasts made in, and championing, the U.K. are prominent on global platforms. We also want to make our programs and services as good as they can possibly be — this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data […] Unfortunately, given the way the Google podcast service operates, we can’t do any of the above.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. Presumably, every podcast producer, whether a one-person operation or a giant like the BBC, needs to know as much as possible about its audience and the consumption habits of those listeners. If Google is somehow interfering with the BBC’s ability to gather that data, this is a problem.

Podcasting news site Podnews.net has been following the BBC’s explanations and finds them lacking. Reporter James Cridland disputes the claims, saying: “Google Podcasts does not cache any audio, and therefore the BBC is able to get ‘meaningful audience data’ in terms of total downloads and geolocation information via IP address directly from its own download servers.” He goes on to note that Google doesn’t prevent the BBC from monetizing its podcasts internationally, and that it doesn’t serve its own ads on BBC’s content. Cridland also points out that Apple’s treatment of the BBC’s content is functionally identical, and yet so far the corporation has been content to leave its content on that platform.

Whether the BBC is on solid ground with its grievances or not, its listeners aren’t happy with its current approach to the problem, and are making their opinions known on Clifton’s blog post. “I tried your BBC Sounds App and found it to be a horrendous user experience,” wrote one disgruntled user, “If you want access to ‘meaningful’ data regarding your shows and listeners, make your apps and services so compelling and well-thought-out that us end users wouldn’t even dream of using another platform.” Another wrote, “It’s a shame that you do this to you listeners. Every morning, I’m listening to BBC news on my Google Home, and now I can’t! You should undo this.”

We’ll update this article if and when Google and the BBC find a resolution.

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