Advertisements on BBC audio content on Spotify could ‘distort competition’

BBC Studios has been criticised for “profoundly distorting competition” by planning to introduce advertisements for audio content outside of the corporation’s platforms.

The commercial arm of the corporation is looking at generating sales in the UK through having hosting websites and apps, such as Apple and Spotify, introduce ads.

However, those tuning into BBC Sounds for audio content will not have to listen to promotions.

The plan is to have ads phased in on selected content, starting in late 2024 or early 2025.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “Listeners will continue to hear BBC audio without ads on BBC Sounds, but 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.”

There is no confirmation on what podcasts or audio content could feature ads in the first wave, but it is understood that they will not include hit BBC Radio 4 shows such as soap The Archers, Baron Melvyn Bragg’s academic discussion programme In Our Time or interview series Desert Island Discs.

A decision will be made later on whether to include high-profile shows, it is believed.

The Oldie of the Year Awards
Lord Bragg, presenter of In Our Time (Aaron Chown/PA)

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The news that the BBC is apparently set to muscle into the UK advertising marketplace by competing with commercial players for advertising around audio output is very alarming.

“Such an intervention will profoundly distort competition, wreaking havoc on commercial players right across the media and advertising sector.

“The BBC must not be allowed to use the might of its licence fee-powered services in the advertising marketplace, otherwise the consequences for our media could be catastrophic.

“This would set an extremely dangerous precedent and these plans must be stopped immediately.”

Mans Ulvestam, who co-founded podcast platform Acast, claims that it will make it more difficult for other providers of audio content.

The businessman, who has gone on to co-found the content monetisation company Sesamy, added: “So, the impact will be that less ads will be sold on commercial podcasts, since more people sharing will mean smaller percentages of what is available of ad revenue.

“This means that many UK podcasters’ ad revenue is very likely to go down, and media will be more likely to turn to other sources of revenue – for example, premium, that the end users pay for it.”

It is understood a regulatory assessment about the audio content plans is “ongoing”.

BBC Studios already sells audio books and puts adverts on the corporation’s podcasts outside the UK.

In 2022/23, it recorded a profit of £240 million, a rise of 6% compared to the previous financial year.

BBC Studios said in July 2023 that 75% of the global content studio’s revenues are from streaming platforms such as Amazon’s Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Netflix.

The commercial subsidiary credited crime series Happy Valley and documentary show Prehistoric Planet among the recent successes.

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