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OfCom opens consultation on its view BBC Sounds is not a threat to commercial radio

By | Published on Thursday 6 May 2021

BBC Sounds

OfCom has launched a public consultation on the market position and impact of the BBC Sounds service by saying that it doesn’t think there’s any issue and everyone should shut up. It used more formal language than that, obviously, but that’s basically what it said. Shut up.

This consultation follows an OfCom investigation launched last October, which has now been completed with the conclusion that BBC Sounds is shit and no one likes it. Or, at least, that no one’s commercial business is being messed up by the BBC’s audio app.

“BBC Sounds is a streaming media and audio download service that includes live radio, audio-on-demand, and podcasts”, says the UK’s media regulator. “The service is now established within the BBC’s audio offer, so it is appropriate to take stock of BBC Sounds’ market position and impact. We sought evidence and information from its competitors and other interested parties to inform our view”.

“Having carefully considered this feedback and our own evidence, we are today setting out our provisional view”, it goes on. “This is that there are no reasonable grounds to believe BBC Sounds is currently having a significant adverse impact on fair and effective competition”.

See? Shut up. Except don’t shut up, because this is a public consultation that is open until the end of June. Because, as you may have noted in that quote, OfCom’s current views on BBC Sounds are “provisional”. You’re welcome to read them and disagree. And even say so, if you want. Though if you are going to insist that the BBC app is screwing over commercial audio apps, please first consider what all the evidence suggests – ie that nobody really likes BBC Sounds, so it’s not a threat.

“The evidence suggests that commercial radio has been more successful at attracting online listeners than BBC Sounds”, says OfCom. “It also suggests that listeners to BBC Sounds use multiple platforms (more so than listeners to other online platforms), that the UK podcast sector has a wide range of non-BBC content, and that podcast producers are able to generate revenue”.

We should note that, even if everyone now agrees with OfCom’s provisional view on BBC Sounds, the regulator’s not going to just let the Beeb do whatever it likes with its audio app. In fact, it would quite like the broadcaster to be a bit more clear about its future plans for the service.

It says that it is expecting “greater transparency” on future plans and strategy for BBC Sounds, and improvements on how the the Corporation measures its performance.

This is the area where OfCom is particularly encouraging people to not shut up, saying that it would like views on “the information currently provided by the BBC and how that might be improved”.

So feel free to talk about that. Just stop saying BBC Sounds is stopping people from listening to your shit commercial radio station or your mate’s dreadful podcast, because that’s just not true. Evidence, remember!

OfCom first confirmed that it planned to investigate the development of BBC Sounds to date – and plans for its future – following a complaint in September last year 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 are outside its 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”. Hence the launch of its big investigation.

Anyone with views on the future of BBC Sounds has until 29 Jun to moan on and on at OfCom.