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The publishers who don't want their podcast to be on every platform

May 6, 2020 · By · 5.4 minutes to read

It’s normally thought of as a good thing to get your content onto as many platforms as possible. We have an always-updated list of podcast apps and directories to submit your podcast to, and regularly share more in our free daily newsletter.

However, there are some companies and publishers who don’t publish everywhere - and who are making deliberate choices to stop audiences finding their podcasts on some platforms.

The BBC

The BBC, the UK public service broadcaster, blocked their podcasts from Google Podcasts in March 2019. It posted a statement at the time, saying, in part:

“Google has … 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.”

They continued:

“We want to make sure podcasts made in, and championing the UK, are prominent on global platforms. 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.”

On the second point - today sees the launch of the new Google Podcast Manager, which gives them further “meaningful audience data” than is already available from their own servers. Podnews got in touch to ask whether Google’s new analytics will change the BBC’s stance on making their podcasts available in Google Podcasts. The BBC gave us this statement:

“We welcome Google’s commitment to share more data with the market and continue to have active discussions with them. Unfortunately, instead of giving listeners a range of platforms to play podcasts in, Google continues to only link to their own platform from podcast results in Google search, which we think is unfair for listeners. When Google changes this to give listeners a choice, we will make our podcasts available on their platform.”

Google actually links to the publisher’s own websites as the #1 result for a search for a podcast. Here’s what Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! looks like - NPR’s website in the #1 slot, then underneath, some links into the Google Podcasts player. Or, a search for the Answer Me This! podcast does similar, with a number of highlighted links first to this independent podcast, and then links direct to play the audio.

We searched for a BBC podcast, “The Coronavirus Newscast”, which on Google returns two BBC pages at the top of the search. If you follow the #1 link to the BBC’s website, it seems a little confusing: Google “only links to its own platform and doesn’t give listeners a choice” (even if it actually gives the #1 link to the publisher); yet the BBC website only links to its own platform and doesn’t give listeners a choice of platform either.

The BBC is also funded to operate BBC World Service throughout the rest of the world, including many developing countries. The corporation is attempting to hit a target, set by its Director General, of a 500m weekly audience. The continent of Africa, as one example, is over 80% Android: yet BBC podcasts are unavailable on the most popular Android podcast app as a result of this policy. The BBC’s position therefore seems self-harming.

Radio France

Radio France, the French public service broadcaster, appears to have gone one further.

Radio France have removed all their podcasts from Google Podcasts, which they did before the BBC. However, they also appear to have removed them from most other podcast apps as well, except for Apple Podcasts.

If you use the Apple iTunes API, you’re normally given the feedUrl - the RSS feed address - for the podcast you’ve requested more information about. Here’s the iTunes API result for our podcast, as one example, with our RSS feed highlighted.

Ask the iTunes API for a Radio France podcast - here, Par Jupiter, and the iTunes API returns a very similar result: but one without the feedUrl. This means that services that use the iTunes API, like our website, fail; and also means that other podcast apps do not carry these podcasts either. Par Jupiter is not in Overcast, which gets its listing from iTunes, nor in Castro.

We asked Apple whether this was an option that they gave their publishers, but we had no response by press time.

So - Radio France is limiting their podcasts to Apple Podcasts only; and none of the other podcast apps that also use iTunes API data. Perhaps this is the result of a well-publicised spat between Majelan, a podcast app founded by a former Radio France CEO, and Radio France itself.

Some podcast apps do carry Radio France’s content: but it appears they’ve added the broadcaster’s RSS feeds manually. But this seems to give Apple, a Californian company, an unfair advantage over other podcast apps: even ones based in France. We asked Radio France for a statement, but they didn’t respond.

Spotify

In spite of being the clear #2 podcast platform, some podcast publishers are with-holding their content from Spotify, too.

The Australian ABC, the Australian public service broadcaster and the largest podcaster in the country, has just one podcast on Spotify - Coronacast, in spite of Spotify being used more in Australia than Apple Podcasts. We’ve asked the ABC why; but our helpful PR contact has unable to get us a statement.

Some podcasters refuse to allow podcast apps like Spotify to rehost content. Alban Brooke, who produces podcasts for Buzzsprout, has a few concerns, he tells us: “First, Spotify’s goal is to become the platform for audio. We believe this would destroy the open ecosystem of podcasting and hurt independent podcasts. Second, Spotify has added more ad-tracking technology to their platform to serve advertisements. As we’ve become more focused on privacy, we realized how intrusive these trackers can be.” The company’s official podcasts are not carried on the platform.

Private vs public

It is, of course, up to podcast publishers as to where they want their podcasts to be available. Private publishers are free to make any decision they like; but it gets more awkward when government-funded publishers like the BBC, Radio France or the Australian ABC are involved.

For public broadcasters to withhold podcasts from some apps, but allow others access, seems to be offering state aid to some companies while hobbling others. To limit material that citizens have paid for - through taxes or a licence-fee - seems the wrong thing to do.

To withold content when reliable information is key - during an unprecedented pandemic and its economic upheaval - seems not be serving the public. That’s, perhaps, something a public service broadcaster should be taking seriously, rather than threatening the open nature of podcasting.

James Cridland is the Editor of Podnews, a keynote speaker and consultant. He wrote his first podcast RSS feed in January 2005; and also launched the first live radio streaming app for mobile phones in the same year. He's worked in the audio industry since 1989.

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