Loyal readers of the Arts section (I know you’re out there, not including my parents) might have noticed that very rarely do we talk about podcasts. In fact, the last article about the latest media trend was over 18 months ago, when last year’s Arts team observed: “It’s still early days and the full potential of podcasts is yet to be realised”. Does the launching of the BBC Sounds app mark that realisation? For those who haven’t heard, BBC Sounds is part of a huge endeavour by BBC radio to target younger listeners who have, for some time now, been turning to podcasts for spoken word content. It will replace the BBC iPlayer Radio app, bringing music, podcasts and live radio into one place. Two thirds of podcast listeners are 16-34 years old, but only 3 per cent of under-35s use the BBC iPlayer Radio app. Enter BBC Sounds. It’s a great idea, but is it a little late? With so many well-established apps already providing the goods with regards to podcasts, have the BBC really got it in them to change people’s listening habits?
I never thought I’d be the type of writer to review an app. To provide some context, Microsoft Excel is the about the limit of my technological capabilities, and I had to spend two hours updating my phone in order to download the app in the first place. Apparently those notifications telling you to upgrade to the latest software actually mean something- who knew? Nonetheless, I thought I’d offer some of my humble opinions on the set-up and functionality of BBC Sounds.
The layout is simple and clean, with minimal options, and nowhere to get lost. Listening to live radio was particularly easy; you simply click on “see all stations and schedules”and are presented with a list of all the shows that can be listened to live. But for an app designed to tap into the market of the podcast listener, that aspect left a little to be desired. There didn’t seem to be any handy categorisation of podcasts, for example comedy and lifestyle, and a cursory search revealed that several of my favourite shows weren’t available.
Regardless of the content of the app, its launch highlights two very important things. First, the undeniable importance of podcasts in popular culture for the millennial generation. Last year’s team were right in suggesting that this was just the beginning. 2018 has proved itself to be the year of podcasts, with an episode or a whole series on every topic imaginable. Our generation has experienced a complete revival of spoken word and are turning to podcasts at every free moment. I can’t now imagine a walk to uni without Adam Buxton chattering away in my ear. Secondly, radio is failing to reach out to younger listeners. Last year, Radio 1’s listening figures reached a 12 year low for Nick Grimshaw’s breakfast show.
So, what is it about the podcast that’s achieving what radio can’t? The fact is that there are very few radio shows which offer anything really relatable for the 16-35 market. I’m no stranger to Simon Mayo’s Drivetime but that’s nothing compared to how niche and nerdy podcasts can be. There truly is something for everyone, ranging from True Crime investigations, to line-by-line analysis of the Harry Potter books, to comedian Bob Mortimer’s truly bizarre podcast Athletico Mince which is loosely – and I mean loosely – based on football.
Perhaps the more crucial aspect to the popularity of the podcast is its glorious lack of censorship. They have the privilege of being as honest as desired, and some of them are real honest! I’ll be the first to admit that through podcasts I’ve learnt more about relationships and sex that I did from my friends or any PSHE lesson. One of my absolute favourites in this department is The Receipts Podcast, in which best friends Milena, Tolly and Audrey indulge in some serious girl talk. Think one bottle of wine too deep into a “quiet night in”. It’s utterly hilarious and completely wonderful, touching on a lot of the issues that concern women in society today, which just don’t get the airtime on radio.
What is also so important about The Receipts Podcast is the fact that it features three non-white women, talking candidly about some of the issues facing women of colour. This is because radio still lacks the diversity that podcasts have the freedom and lack of economic pressure to embrace. The primetime radio presenters retain the same voices we were listening to 15 years ago. Sure, the Radio 1 lineup is more diverse, more relatable, but who wants to have to listen to Rita Ora every ten minutes? Podcasts have given us the voices that we don’t normally hear, while talking about the things that don’t normally get talked about.
BBC Sounds is definitely the transition that radio needed in order to start being heard by millennials, and I’m interested to see how it plays out.