If you've watched TV, listened to the radio, visited the BBC website or listened to a BBC produced podcast, the likelihood is that you’ve heard ‘the new BBC Sounds app’ mentioned. The app was launched at the start of this month to much fanfare. Available on iOS, android and Amazon platforms, the platform aims to become a one stop shop for audio content. With a mix of music, radio, and podcasts, BBC Director-General Tony Hall views the app as the corporation’s attempt at “innovating” to secure the future of radio for future generations. It’s an ambitious project, but will it work?
Can it break your habits?
When I first heard about BBC Sounds, my first question was “do people really want this?”. Having tried the app, read as many opinions as I can and scoured the BBC Sounds social media pages, I’m not really sure people do want it. In 2018, the average consumer is likely pretty settled into their mobile workflow. By this I mean that we know the apps we like, we know where we get our music and we know where we like to listen to podcasts. Attempting to grab a slice of your attention every time you want to listen to something is becoming a tougher task by the day. Services like Audible, Apple Music and Spotify continue to offer a consistently outstanding service and have already all but thwarted the ambitions of competitors such as Tidal and Soundcloud, so it’s not going to be easy. The one thing that BBC does have on its side is content!
What’s the plan?
The iPlayer launched in 2007. At the time, streaming whole episodes (and not just random clips on YouTube) was pretty revolutionary for the average UK consumer. I still remember sitting down with my sister around the family PC to watch replays of Arthur. iPlayer had two key strengths; novelty and quality content. BBC Sounds will only have one of these. The BBC produces some of the world’s best audio content which is likely going to be key to its success. As far as I can see, holding exclusive rights to BBC produced content is one of the only ways the platform will be able to break into the ‘workflow’ of an average mobile user.
Will it work?
If there is a single corporation that can, in effect, force a new platform or app to become successful in the UK market it is the BBC. According to BARB, BBC One alone reached roughly 56.2 million viewers (about 85% of the British population) in the third quarter of 2018. The corporation has almost unrivalled name recognition and engages a significant proportion of the British population each year. This gives BBC Sounds a unique advantage within the marketplace. The fact that the BBC brand is so highly regarded gives the platform a chance with consumers, positive experiences watching content on iPlayer, listening to BBC Podcasts and using other BBC apps will likely translate into people downloading and ‘giving it a shot’. Whether or not they use it regularly is another matter.
Is the future audible?
Ultimately, I believe the success of BBC Sounds will be determined by one of two factors, the first being the platform’s user experience at launch and the second, exclusive content. If a user isn’t blown away by BBC Sounds the first time they open the app, there is a high likelihood that it will be lost in amongst the many other icons on their home screen and forgotten. In order to really break into a users’ routines, a new app or platform must offer something amazing, requiring an outstanding first experience. I’m not sure BBC Sounds does that. Looking further ahead, the BBC can likely pull consumers onto the platform with exclusive content. Streaming platform Tidal attempted to do this a couple of years ago with exclusive launches of albums from Taylor Swift and Kanye West. However, their slightly higher price point and the fact that once you’ve heard an album a couple of times, you likely don’t listen to it again for a while meant that many consumers simply took out a free trial and cancelled once they’d listened a few times. The BBC produce some outstanding podcasts all of which are available on all of the major podcast platforms. If BBC Sounds doesn’t take off quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the corporation removing some content from other podcasting apps or making upcoming shows exclusive to the platform.
I still have my doubts over BBC Sounds. I don't really see where it fits into the market or what it offers to make people need it. I do however believe that podcasts and audio content will continue to grow in popularity and that an attempt to innovate around the radio has been long required. Time will tell whether BBC Sounds will become ‘iPlayer for audio’. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced but I look forward to watching the platform with interest.