Rivals warn BBC running ads on podcasts would have ‘disastrous impact’

The BBC’s recent announcement of its plans to introduce advertising on its podcasts has sparked concern among media businesses in the UK. In March, the broadcaster revealed its intention to run advertisements on podcasts and on-demand audio played on third-party platforms such as Spotify. In response, a group of 20 media companies, including Sky, have penned an open letter to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, expressing their concerns about the potential impact of this decision.

According to the letter, allowing the BBC to run ads on its podcasts and audio content would set a dangerous precedent. The signatories argue that the BBC, with its vast resources and public service mandate, is not driven by commercial success and therefore should not be competing with commercial players in the advertising market. They also raise concerns about the potential negative effect on small independent podcast producers.

Among the signatories are major media players such as ITV, Channel 4, News UK, DMG Media, Reach plc, and Goalhanger Podcasts, which was co-founded by BBC presenter Gary Lineker and produces popular shows like The Rest Is Politics and The Rest Is History. In its annual plan, BBC Studios defended its decision, stating that advertisements are already commonplace on third-party platforms and that the move is necessary to generate more revenue to support the BBC, its license fee payers, suppliers, and rights holders. The company also emphasized that its own audio platforms, such as BBC Sounds, will remain ad-free.

However, the plans have faced criticism from within the government as well. Conservative MP Andy Carter raised concerns in the House of Commons, stating that those who do not use BBC Sounds would essentially be paying twice under the proposed model. He argued that listeners should have the freedom to access BBC audio content, like the popular show Desert Island Discs, through their preferred platform without being forced to choose between ad-free listening and their preferred service.

In response to the backlash, the BBC released a statement to Sky News, clarifying its intentions. The statement explained that the BBC is considering introducing advertisements on selected non-news podcasts on commercial platforms in order to provide greater value to its license fee payers, suppliers, and rightsholders. However, there are no plans to introduce ads on its own audio platforms, and the proposals are still subject to regulatory assessment. The BBC also assured that it will continue to engage with the industry as it finalizes its plans.

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