Unpacking the BBC’s Ad Expansion: Navigating the Future of Podcasting and Content Consumption

There is nothing quite as rage inducing as when you cram on to a packed train in the early hours and realise you have forgotten your headphones. How did we ever manage without our morning brain boost from our favourite podcasts?

They’ve become our best friends, guaranteed to make us laugh and cry; to educate us and make us feel connected and in the know. And as so many of our favourite shows have become crammed with ads (I have been known to skip 5 minutes in to avoid the repetitive live reads every week – blasphemy, I know), the BBC has remained steadfast in its dedication to the ad-free experience…until now.

This week the BBC announced that it was planning to sell adverts on commercial platforms such as Apple or Spotify. They will be testing the waters with their smaller podcasts later this year before we are subject to ads on the likes of Desert Island Discs however, they remain committed to keeping their news and factual programming ad free regardless of platform.

As you can imagine the commercial sector is worried. A move like this will potentially dilute the market and make it much more difficult for the competition who are not funded like the BBC are. On the flip side, is this not wonderful for advertisers? Finally, a way to reach those elusive listeners?

The BBC mention that this is about creating additional revenue to support the business, but I think it is also about trying to establish their own BBC Sounds platform. Crucially, the content on BBC Sounds will remain ad-free, giving people a real incentive to download and use the app but I worry that in an effort to elevate their own platform, all this move will do, is cheapen their own product. People don’t always act the way that we anticipate or desire (if only) and while rationally we might expect them to flock to the branded app, in reality they will accept ads and consider BBC content in the same bracket as every influencer or comedy duo’s offering to the format.

I love the BBC. It is home to my favourite TV shows, my favourite podcasts and ultimately it is where I turn for information I can trust and opinions I can respect. I want them to have more revenue. They are turning out some incredible, diverse, and truly special content and it is a joy to see and something I am very proud of, that we have a national broadcaster of such high calibre. In theory why shouldn’t they raise more money to support that? But it’s a slippery slope and it won’t be long until it is cluttered like all the others and the brand they have built over decades will be undermined and its clout, forgotten.