Roben Kleene

BBC Blocks Its Podcasts in Google Podcasts App

The battle over Podcasts is heating up, James Cridland writes for Podnews:

Some time on March 19th, the BBC started blocking all access to its podcasts on Google search, Google Assistant, and Google Podcasts. No new podcasts have appeared within Google Podcasts since March 19th, and many podcasts have already been removed altogether from the service. All BBC podcasts are affected across Google properties, including the popular Global News Podcast and Brexitcast.

Kieran Clifton, BBC Director of Distribution & Business Development, posted a blog post clarifying the BBC’s stance:

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.

The Podnews article has now been updated to address those points (under the “Update” header in the article). While there is an issue here that, as the owner of a search engine, Google is giving an unfair advantage to its own products. Other than that Google doesn’t appear to be doing anything wrong. Google’s search integration feature appears to be implemented on top of the podcast format in exactly the way the open nature of the format facilitates. From the Podnews update:

Additional play buttons that play the audio within the pre-installed Google Podcasts player directly from the BBC web servers (so the BBC gets the full consumption data).

Many content providers, many compatible players (Google Podcasts being one of the many players) is exactly what makes podcasts great. This model fosters competition providing user choice, which cultivates innovation and avoids the user-hostile anti-patterns that vendor lock-in make possible.

As Clifton writes in his BBC blog post, this really seems be about the BBC wanting to collect more user metrics by having more users use their apps:

We also want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be - this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

The BBC’s podcast player presumably capture more user metrics by either implementing additional tracking features on top of the open RSS standard, or by avoiding it entirely (making the app not podcast player in the same way Facebook Messenger isn’t an email client).