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Publishers call for review of BBC plans for podcast advertising

Lucy FrazerA group of commercial broadcasters and publishers are calling for a review of BBC plans to introduce advertising on some of its audio content including podcasts.

As previously reported, the corporation wants to introduce advertising around its podcasts and on-demand radio shows when they are streamed via third-party services such as Apple and Spotify.

However a wide-ranging group of commercial media operators, including regional publishers Reach, Newsquest and National World, have written to culture secretary Lucy Frazer to voice alarm at the plans.

They say it would mean the BBC was receiving both licence-fee payers income and advertising revenue, with “disastrous” consequences for the commercial sector.

Other signatories to the letter include Bauer Media, Channel 4, DMG Media, the Guardian Media Group, ITV, News UK and Sky.

They are calling on Ms Frazer, pictured, to review the matter urgently.

The letter states: “This would be a very significant departure from the existing framework, where the BBC’s content is funded by the licence fee and provided free of advertising across all platforms, alongside commercially funded output from other providers.

“The approach being proposed by the BBC would fundamentally undermine this existing model, creating a situation where the BBC would receive both licence fee income and advertising to fund
new first-run audio content.

“The BBC has vast funds to create content for its audiences and is not driven by commercial success, but instead by a mandate to act in the public interest, to inform, educate and entertain (which it must do without having an unnecessary adverse impact on competition).

“The impact of it extracting audio advertising funds from the nascent UK podcasting market would be disastrous, especially for the numerous small independent podcast producers.

“A move towards advertiser funding for the BBC risks setting a dangerous precedent. As the government’s formal BBC funding review continues, observers may reasonably question if some BBC
audio services could be funded by advertising, why shouldn’t more BBC services or even the whole of the BBC be funded in this way?

“Yet evidence submitted to the review (and covered recently in the press) highlights the devastating impact of a move towards advertiser funding, both on the BBC itself and the wider commercial sector that relies on these revenues for its survival.

“Put simply, the market is not big enough to sustain the BBC entering as a whole or part advertising-funded entity. Commercial operators, that add breadth, diversity and to whom millions listen every week, could genuinely be made unviable.

“We hope that you will review this issue as a matter of urgency. Crucially, it would be extremely helpful for the government to request that Ofcom conducts a review of the audio and podcast market in the UK, both the content itself and the platforms on which they sit, with a focus on the impact of the BBC.

The BBC has previously explained that news and current affairs programming will be excluded from the plan and all shows will continue to be made available without advertising via the corporation’s BBC Sounds service.

A BBC spokesperson previously said: “As many of our podcasts are available on commercial platforms like Apple and Spotify where adverts are the norm, we look to carry them in some of our content to generate more revenue to support the BBC, licence fee payers, our suppliers and rightsholders.”