A quick review of audio developments

Five months into 2021, what ideas are emerging?

I’ve covered a lot of different issues over the past ten months. Often there’s a topical hook and sometimes just an old soapbox is dragged from under the sofa. Occasionally a bit of both.

Looking back there’s a few trends that are starting to form that will define much of the next 18 months.

It’s hard not to think that subscription in some form will be tackled by more media companies. The rise of subscription options for prolific users on Facebook/Twitter, the recurring revenue opportunities to be deployed by Apple and Spotify, writers abandoning titles for Substacks and even Bauer rolling out a subscription option for their listeners. All of this is enabled by digital ubiquity for the vast majority of consumers. Digital TV, DAB, Smart-speakers, tablets, mobiles etc with the ability to cast and stream wherever. It’s never been easier to have your content consumable. Providing they know that it exists.

So, today, I wanted to do a few pick ups on stories I’ve written about with short, extra thoughts.

Bauer Subs

Last week I talked about Bauer’s subscription offering - a £3.99 version that gets you an ad-free main station, 20 spin-offs and skippable tracks.

I registered and had a play last week. It’s been executed pretty smoothly. There were a few teething troubles in the app post-subscribe and the skipping did skip me back to a previously skipped song, but I imagine these bugs will be ironed out. The general feel of it was good.

What was surprising, and not particularly well messaged, was that your £3.99 gets you access to the subs offering of Jazz, Scala, Kerrang and Planet Rock. It’s not one, but all. With the addition of more stations, particularly their big hitters of Absolute, Kiss and Magic, it becomes a much more attractive offer. Especially if you listen to a lot of their brands on IP devices.

I don’t think it solves my issue of providing a deep brand experience beyond IP listening (which the stations and Bauer aren’t really resourced to deliver) but as a value proposition there’s definitely something to it.

Podcast Subs

I did a deep dive on Apple’s subscription podcast offering, following up on Spotify’s similar announcements. I worried that there would be some mis-alignment of the two, not helping out podcasters who would find it difficult to tell their subscribers to do something simple.

Sadly I was correct with that. Apple’s option allows a single podcast to become part-subscription or subscription-only, but it’s main focus is Channels. The grouping together of content and selling it as a bundle. So, you might pay a fee and get all of The Athletic’s podcasts ad-free, rather than having to individually subscribe to all the ones you like.

Over at Spotify, it seems very single-show focused with no similar concept to Channels. So, The Athletic are able to offer early access to all their 85 podcasts on Apple for 99¢ a month, but couldn’t replicate the same deal with Spotify. The best they could do would be to offer special access per podcast at Spotify’s pre-ordained price-points of $2.99, $4.99, or $7.99.

Spotify, of course, faces a key issue in that they can’t offer in-app subscription purchases (otherwise they’d have to share 30% of the income with Apple) so the sign-up flow bounces you to Anchor, requires sign-in, credit card submissions and then bounces you back out again. Whilst that is unlikely to be resolved (unless Epic win their current court case against Apple’s App Store), I’m still hopeful that Channels functionality will appear on Spotify eventually.

It always seemed like much of their subscription plan was based on what Apple might do, which probably necessitated some guess-work on their behalf. The fact that it’s available in limited Beta, in the US would seem to back that up.

Scale and Consolidation

I talked a bit about audio consolidation a few weeks ago. It’s mainly been US based, with lots of vertical audio integration with radio groups buying podcasts assets and ad tech etc.

Yesterday, SiriusXM announced the entirely unsurprising step to bring together all the sales teams of their various acquired businesses - SiriusXM, Pandora, Stitcher, Midroll - into one division, SXM Media. Collectively they reach 150m listeners, describing it as the largest digital audio ad platform.

In the UK (and around the world now) Global have DAX for podcasts alongside their UK radio and outdoor sales operation and Bauer and Wireless have united much of their digital audio inventory through their Octave joint-venture. It does seem a little more piecemeal than the more aggressive stance we’re seeing elsewhere. For example is a national stand-alone non-digital sales house for Wireless still a sensible thing to do? Or is this the sort of thing that will be sorted out if Global ends up buying more/all of iHeart.

Auntie

All of this collectively causes trouble for the BBC and BBC Sounds. The BBC’s audio content remains high quality, broad and popular as well as being well marketed, but the nature of the organisation makes it difficult for it to embrace much of the direction of travel for the audio sector.

The BBC are keen for Sounds to be a key home for UK audio consumers - music, radio, podcasts from the Corporation - but also the often mentioned third party content too. Whether commercial radio stations or third party podcasts - it seems to remain on the product plan but no sign of delivery.

With the growth of subscription offerings, that the BBC will find almost impossible to be able to integrate into Sounds, it seems mad that they haven’t co-opted the ‘free’ audio market from third parties quicker. Why they didn’t start with integrating Radioplayer into BBC Sounds, which has done much of the heavy lifting around free audio, still surprises me.

In addition, trying to sellotape the BBC Radio commissioning model into podcast and IP content is a non-starter. I may need the BBC to commission my strangely-specific, 5-part, 15-minute, up-market, passion-project and so I’m happy to take relatively restrictive terms. It will only likely be suitable for Radio 4 after all. However, with so many different and more lucrative on-demand audio opportunities (subs, ad networks, platforms etc), the idea of maybe not speaking to the BBC’s Business Affairs team seems a pretty easy one to take.

Podcast Day 24

There was a good response to my plug for the Podcast Day 24 conference last week. If you skipped that bit, we’re organising a 24-hour online podcast conference with segments focused on Australia, Europe and North America, and it’s happening on Monday 7th June. There’s an amazing array of speakers, but if audio strategy’s your bag, we’ve managed to get Conal Byrne, who runs all of iHeart’s digital offerings, including podcasts to speak. There’s also an update from Amazon Music on their podcast offering and speakers from CBC, NPR, BBC, ABC and other non-acronym companies too.

It’s only £99+VAT to watch live (or catch-up), but to you, dear reader, £75+VAT if you use the code BPAINSIDER at podcastday24.com.