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OfCom formally launches investigation into BBC Sounds

By | Published on Friday 16 October 2020

BBC Sounds

UK media regulator OfCom has formally announced its investigation into the market position and impact of the BBC Sounds app.

BBC Sounds is, of course, the platform and app through which people can access the broadcaster’s radio services – live and on-demand – via internet-connected devices. However, unlike the BBC iPlayer Radio app it replaced, BBC Sounds has sought to expand the Beeb’s audio offerings, going beyond the programmes going out on its conventional radio stations.

OfCom confirmed it planned to investigate the development of BBC Sounds to date – and plans for its future – following a complaint last month over the addition of a dance music strand to the app.

Both commercial radio trade body RadioCentre and the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group For Commercial Radio, Andy Carter MP, raised concerns about the new Radio 1 Dance channel, arguing that it was the BBC using its less scrutinised app to launch more commercial services that exist outside the Corporation’s public service remit.

This, they went on, was basically the licence-fee funded BBC exploiting its privileged position to unfairly compete with commercial radio services. You know, like the new Capital Dance radio station that was announced shortly after Radio 1 Dance had been unveiled.

OfCom actually concluded that the BBC’s new dance music service was not a problem, because it simply repurposes existing Radio 1 content. However, it conceded at the time that “there have been a number of incremental changes to BBC Sounds, and some stakeholders in the commercial radio sector have concerns about its development”.

With that in mind, it said it would investigate the market position and impact of BBC Sounds. And it was that investigation that was formally launched this week.

“The audio and radio sector is undergoing a period of rapid change due to the evolution of streaming services, including the entry of global players such as Spotify and Apple Music”, OfCom said in a statement. “Audience expectations are also changing; increasingly they want to listen to the content of their choice, when and where they want to, and there is a tendency for younger audiences, in particular, to listen online”.

“The BBC has responded to these audience changes and competition by developing and expanding BBC Sounds”, it went on. “Given the incremental changes that the BBC has made to BBC Sounds, we consider that now is the appropriate time to take stock of the market position of BBC Sounds and assess whether there are any issues that need to be addressed, via regulatory action or other means”.

With that in mind, it added: “We are therefore seeking evidence from stakeholders about the impact of BBC Sounds on the market, including information about the market context in which BBC Sounds sits. We are also keen to understand the BBC’s strategy for BBC Sounds, the role it expects the service to play in fulfilling its mission and public purposes, and how this may impact on competition”.

Interested parties need to provide evidence and information to the investigation by 11 Nov.