BBC Sounds Is Auntie Beeb's Answer To The Podcast Revolution

By James O Malley on at

The way we listen to audio is changing fast, and the BBC doesn't want to get left behind. A couple of weeks ago, BBC Director of Radio James Purnell announced a pivot in the Beeb's strategy: Competing with traditional radio stations is no longer the priority, and that the new mission is to attract new, younger listeners who may not listen to traditional radio.

And today the corporation has launched the first manifestation of this new plan: A beta version of a new app, called BBC Sounds, which it is hoping will make listening to BBC Radio just as easy as tuning into any podcast.

Due to launch on to app stores this lunchtime, the key selling point is that it has completely redesigned the old BBC iPlayer Radio experience and now treats every show like it could be a podcast: Users can subscribe to shows they like, or add individual episodes to a persistent list. Later in the summer, an update will enable everything to be downloaded for offline listening. And when you launch the app, you'll be offered the opportunity to either continue listening if your show is incomplete, or offered the next episode if it is available. The BBC reckons 80,000 hours of audio will be available on the app over all, and mercifully only a limited portion of that is Greg James.

And don't worry, you'll also be able to listen live to all of the BBC's radio stations too.

The other big improvement over the iPlayer Radio app, which it will eventually replace, is the built in recommendation engine. Much like the TV iPlayer, BBC Sounds will work out what you like over time and spit out recommended listening, and the developers tell me that it will be driven more by content than the network it originated on.

Perhaps most intriguing though is the fact that this app is being launched as a beta, rather than as a "finished" product. The BBC developers I spoke to expressed aspirations that in the future they'll be able to do much more with it, such as (at my prompting) integration with BBC Playlister - which enables listeners to find individual tracks they heard on the radio and export them as a playlist for a streaming service. Chromecast support will also be coming later, as will support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Eventually, we might also see deeper links into the app from other BBC output, a bit like how if you click an iTunes podcast link, it will fire up the Apple podcasts app.

So it sounds like there will be more to come. But if you'd like to get in on the ground floor, the app will be hitting Google Play and the Apple App Store around lunchtime today, and will work on phones running Android 5 (Lollipop) or iOS11 upwards.