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Why is the BBC withholding podcasts from Google and not Apple?

BBC withholding podcasts from Google
Upsetting Aunty: the BBC has removed its podcasts from Google

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The BBC is starting a turf war over podcasts. If you’ve been listening to any of the BBC’s podcasts using the Google Podcasts app on your phone, your Google Home speaker or via Google Assistant, you won’t be listening to them anymore. The BBC is blocking Google from accessing its podcast feeds.

What’s the beef? And why is the BBC seemingly treating Google differently from Apple?

Why has the BBC removed its podcasts from Google?

If you believe the BBC, Auntie is withholding its podcasts from Google for competition reasons.

According to Kieran Clifton, Director of BBC Distribution & Business Development, Google is dragging listeners into its own apps, rather than directing them to the BBC Sounds app or other podcast apps.

Last year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users – they’ve also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon,” Clifton writes on the BBC Blog. “Google has since 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.”

On the face of it, it seems the BBC is narked that Google is tempting people away from BBC Sounds – the hugely expensive and fiercely unpopular replacement for the BBC Audio and iPlayer Radio apps. BBC Sounds currently has a 2.2 out of 5 rating from 3,829 reviewers on the Google Play Store. It has an approval rating marginally worse than Theresa May’s. If Theresa May punched a baby in the face, that is.

To stop people ignoring its white elephant, the BBC has therefore used a technological measure called robots.txt to prevent Google from being able to access its podcast feeds. As technology journalist Charles Arthur pointed out to me this morning, there’s nothing stopping the BBC doing exactly the same to Apple, so why hasn’t it?

Why isn’t the BBC banning Apple?

That is indeed a mystery, because on the face of it, Apple is behaving in exactly the same way as Google.

Ask Siri to open the Peter Crouch Podcast, for instance, and you’re thrust straight into Apple’s own Podcasts app. Search for that podcast on your iPad, and Apple’s Podcast app comes up first.

Apple Podcasts

Apple is “reducing people’s choice” in exactly the same way that Clifton moans Google is doing. So why has the BBC not thrown its toys out of the pram and withheld podcasts from Apple too?

That is something of a mystery. Although it’s worth noting that BBC Worldwide sells an awful lot of video content through the iTunes Store.

Although it offers much the same through Google Play, we know the Play Store only generates a fraction of the revenue of Apple’s emporium. Perhaps some partners are too powerful to upset…

NOW READ THIS: Is Google Podcasts the best Android podcasts app?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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