November, 2015

BBC Store – Initial Thoughts

After much ballyhoo, the BBC Store is finally with us, and well, um, it sells downloads and streams.

You buy episodes rather than rent them – although the prices are much of a muchness really with television. And then you play them back via the web, or in due course, mobile apps. To be honest, I’m surprised that the apps aren’t there at launch, but we’re told they’re coming.

Now it’s true that the BBC Store doesn’t offer particularly better value than other retail outlets. A few comparisons:

– Fawlty Towers costs £15.98 for two series on BBC Store, £14.99 on iTunes and £9 on DVD at Amazon
– Yes Minister costs £24.99 for three series on BBC Store, £9.99 on iTunes and £14.50 on Amazon (but you get two series of Yes Prime Minister in that boxset too!)
– Edge of Darkness costs £7.99 on BBC Store, £5.99 on iTunes, while the DVD is £4.17 on Amazon (an utter bargain whichever way)
– Planet Earth costs £10.99 for SD and £12.99 for HD on BBC Store, and the same pricing in iTunes, while the DVD is £7.71 and BluRay £10.90 on Amazon

(Note: I’ve not factored in the current 25% off they’re offering for introductory purchases)

Essentially the BBC isn’t able to undercut its rivals by selling programmes cheaper, but this random selection shows that it’s mostly more expensive.

However, if all of that sounds negative, then there is always the great redeeming feature of finding something you thought would never otherwise be available to buy.

I doubt that the current Helen Czerski series on BBC Four about Colour would have ever been made available to buy on disc, yet you can buy a download on BBC Store for a very reasonable £4.99 for the series.

Similarly episodes of BBC Four series Timeshift on some very esoteric subjects are also available to own; whereas they’d never have been made available to buy on physical media. Although it’s a shame that I can only see one episode of Arena (they claim two), which is the recent Nicolas Roeg edition, when I know there’s such a rich history to that series.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that there’s anyone alive who needs to own one of the 248 episodes (at time of writing) of Bargain Hunt that are available to own for £1.89 a pop, unless you actually appeared in it. In which case, didn’t you either record it at the time, or get the production company to send you a copy? But fill your boots otherwise!

Casualty isn’t the kind of series that regularly got DVD releases either, but there are 137 episodes (at time of writing) up for grabs if you just can’t get enough Charlie.

And every episode of Eastenders since August 2014 is there to buy too. (And there are over 400 episodes of Doctors come to that!)

I would imagine that the cost of adding programmes to the BBC Store is low, so putting these episodes online is probably near automatic and for the few devotees who do want to buy individual episodes then there’s minimal cost to stocking these programmes and selling them to those who want to own them. That’s the beauty of digital.

The store does let you know when episodes are still available to watch free of charge on iPlayer which is good, because episodes can reach the store as soon as they’ve aired.

Programmes usually include subtitling and occasionally sign language – almost certainly a rarity. And there is a parental lock available on programmes labelled as such. I must admit that I find these things fairly arbitrary – either being unrated (family friendly) or “G.” Who knows what determines a “G” rating?

But there are a few problems.

We’re promised mobile apps will follow, although I’d have thought that they should have been there for launch. And I can’t access my programmes from within the TV app versions of iPlayer right now. I can however reach them from the regular iPlayer site within My Programmes > Purchases. Again, we’re promised that this will be fixed in due course. This is all a bit unfortunate because I like to watch TV on, well, my television. I ended up using the Windows 10 app, and outputting the pictures via Micro DisplayPort on my PC to HDMI on my TV. All a bit messy really. Incidentally, there was a free Fast Show offer for users of the Windows 10 app.

It doesn’t make clear anywhere whether episodes are in HD or not – you have to click on a price before it tells you. Clearly that won’t be the case for older archive material, but it’d be nice to know from just looking at the programme that it is available in HD. I also don’t like the practice of hiding higher HD prices behind lower SD ones. Sky is also guilty of this.

And while we’re told that HD is at least 720p, my TV is capable of more than that. I’d like to know that I’m getting 1080p if the programme was made in HD, as I would if I bought a BluRay.

There’s a serious lack of meta data behind the store from what I can see. I can’t search by actor, writer or director, unless the store has already created a section for them – so I can search for Benedict Cumberbatch or Dennis Potter, but few others. That’s a big miss as both Netflix and Amazon realise a lot of people look for things starring particular people. It would be great for finding “before they were famous” appearances in Casualty and the like.

I did find some pricing oddities including a Timeshift episode priced at £1.89 for SD and £12.99 for HD! Definitely a mistake, and in any case, it’s a bit dubious having increased HD prices for a series made up largely of SD archive material anyway that for the most part has just been upscaled to HD.

The FAQ on the BBC Store downloader only mentions Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. They might want to mention Windows 10 – even just pointing you to the app (I searched for it in the Microsoft Store). Similarly OSX stops at 10.10 with no mention of the now current 10.11. And the use of Microsoft SilverLight for offline downloads is a serious disappointment since it’s no longer being actively developed by Microsoft, and support is beginning to be removed from major browsers as most video streamers move to newer technologies.

One download device per account is very stingy. Let’s hope that’s upped when mobile apps come along otherwise it’s unsustainable.

There are also issues around descriptions of programmes. It’s nice that I can buy BBC Proms concerts, but I’d probably have to go somewhere else to get a bit more information:

Episode 13: Friday Night at the Proms: Bernard Haitink Conducts
4 Sep 2015 120 mins
Schubert’s Italian Overture and Ninth Symphony, and Mozart’s A major Piano Concerto.

I’d also like to know the orchestra, and it wouldn’t be hard to include a bit of additional detail in there from the Proms website.

I note that they’re steering clear of allowing user reviews.

And of course everything is full of DRM meaning that long term, I can’t be certain I’ll have continued access. From the help section:

We cannot guarantee that you will be able to stream or download content that’s in My Programmes forever. However, when our right to make content available is due to expire, we will do our upmost to inform you of this by email so that you have the opportunity to download and then continue to playback the content through the BBC Store Download Manager.

If I had DRM free copies of course, I could make them part of my back-up regime, and should the BBC Store ever close down, I wouldn’t lose anything, or be reliant on technology that might have limited or no future support. This is the key issue with all DRM-d media, and it’s why for the most part I continue to purchase physical copies ahead of DRM-filled downloads. Even though there is encryption on DVDs and BluRays, they can be ripped, and I can maintain access once players become redundant (I confess, I’m not looking forward to days of ripping however).

But I will forgive an awful lot when I find a series I’ve been after for years, is now available to buy on the BBC Store. In this instance I’m talking about Tender is the Night, the 1985 Dennis Potter adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald novel with Mary Steenburgen and Peter Strauss. I’ve longed to be able to get hold of a copy of this, and missed the recent BFI screening. Curiously the series is not listed in the Dennis Potter section of the store.

For me, issues surrounding pricing and playback options at launch can be mitigated by depth of catalogue. So let’s see BBC Store add more classic material to its output. I’d like to see things that aren’t currently available on DVD or BluRay, but have never been released before.

So dig deep into the archive and surprise me! (And get those mobile and smart TV apps sorted out.)

Note: Prices correct on 20 November 2015 when I wrote this.

[To readers of James Cridland’s Future of Radio newsletter – welcome! I should point out that the BBC still has a BBC Shop – it sells physical discs and, er, Doctor Who Christmas jumpers. BBC Store is their online only operation. Interestingly when Google first opened their online offering in the UK they localised it to be the “Google Shop.” They subsequently reverted back to Google Store. Yes, it’s Americanised, but I’m not sure that it’s not the right name for a digital outlet.]

Shetland

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In many respects, I chose the wrong time of year to visit the Shetland Islands. Going in November means that the sun rises at around 0800 and sets at about 1545. So not too many daylight hours to see the landscape. Then there’s the weather – if you’re going to remote northerly islands in November, you know that there are a few risks that come with it. Finally, if you are going to visit the Shetland Islands in the depths of winter (OK, it’s been mild this winter thus far), then you might as well choose the last Tuesday of January and take in the spectacle of Up Helly Aa – the fire festival celebrating the islands’ Viking heritage. Indeed I’d been wanting to visit this for ages, and while I could go in January, a return visit so soon now seems a bit previous.

I visited to see a bit of the landscape and to attend Shetland Noir, the “borrowed” Icelandic crime fiction event which was taking place over the weekend in the Mareel, Lerwick’s rather wonderful arts centre.

Actually getting to the Shetland Islands is part of the fun of a visit. The islands lie some 50 miles north of the Orkney Islands, and 300 miles north of Edinburgh. It’s only 200 miles to reach the Norwegian coast, and the Faroe Islands are also around 200 miles away to the northwest. So they’re remote.

That means that you either fly in, as I did, or take an overnight ferry from Aberdeen. For someone who lives in the south of England, flying seemed the preferable option since getting to Aberdeen would be quite an adventure in itself – 7 hours on the train to begin with.

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So I flew from Stansted on an Easyjet flight to Edinburgh. I spent a few hours in Edinburgh itself, getting the bus into town, and new tram back (I could swear the bus was actually faster), before catching an evening FlyBe flight to Sumburgh airport on the southern tip of the mainland. Aircraft that fly into Sumburgh are necessarily smaller than your usual planes, with a twin engined Saab delivering me in relative comfort. It’s worth noting that I needn’t have paid extra for the emergency exit since the seats are well spaced to begin with on those flights.

One thing you do need to take into account in weight. Bags are carefully weighed when loading the smaller plane, and you’re only permitted a measily 6kg of handbaggage in the cabin. Then again, the small overhead lockers wouldn’t take much more.

I arrived in the evening and had decided to get the bus from Sumburgh to Lerwick. Although this is only 25 miles, the bus takes an hour since it pulls into some of the smaller towns along the route. The bus I caught was the last of the evening, and I seemed to be the only passenger catching it. Everybody else had taxis, hire cars or family picking them up. I mostly rejected the taxi because I knew the cost was pretty high – especially if you’re travelling solo without anyone to share it with. On the other hand £2.70 for the hour long ride was a bargain, and the friendly driver dropped me right outside the B&B that I was staying at.

As I checked in, the first thing my landlady said to me was, “Have you heard about the storm?”

This is the first winter that the Met Office is naming storms in the UK, and the very first of them – Storm Abigail – was due to be hitting much of northern Scotland in the next 24 hours or so. It was already breezy, and I’d felt the plane being buffeted as it landed earlier.

I headed out to pick up some food, and I could already feel that the wind was rising.

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The next morning I was a little apprehensive. Although the storm wasn’t due to hit until around 4pm, I know that the weather can change quickly in places like this. The good news was that it was actually going to be worse a bit further south of the Shetland Islands, so it couldn’t be that bad could it?

Either way, I was going to use today to take photographs around the island, and to facilitate that, I was picking up a hire car to get me around. Once I’d established that I needed to engage both the clutch and brakes to start my Kia, I was off and running.

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There are around 300 islands in the entire Shetland archipeligo, of which 16 are inhabited. These are connected via ferry and for some, plane services. Perhaps the remotest of all is Fair Isle, home of the knitwear, and sitting about equidistant between the Orkneys and rest of the Shetland Islands.

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But I wasn’t attempting to leave the large Mainland, and headed northwest to the Eshaness lighthouse and cliffs on Northmavine. Overall the roads are good throughout the islands, with oil and gas money clearly having been brought to bear. As you get further off the beaten path, single lane roads are more usual, but I didn’t find anywhere that wasn’t properly tarmacked.

The clifftop car park at Eshaness was nearly completely deserted, with just one other car. The views are spectacular but the drops are steep, and the cliffs overhang in places. In a high wind, you’d want to watch your step, but there are some spectacular walks along the cliff edge.

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From Eshaness I headed east stopping along the route in various places that looked interesting.

At one point I had my first encounter with Shetland ponies. The islands are, of course, famous for these diminutive animals. I came across a group of three of them blocking the road in front me. I hopped out to take some photos, and they immediately approached me – probably expecting some treats from the tourist.

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They really are quite short animals, standing perhaps a metre tall. Their hair is shaggy, to protect them from the mercilous winds, and they’re stout animals that you know could cause some damage. They let me stroke them, and once I’d taken a wealth of photos, I got back in my car, at which point the boldest started to lick or chew the door handle: “You’ve stroked me, so now give me an apple!” Then he went around the other side of the car, and proceeded to do the same to the passenger-side door!

I had to gingerly drive off to escape their loveable clutches.

I did stop a bit further down the road, however, just to check that they’d done the car no more damage than covering it in saliva!

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When I return to Shetland, I will spend more time at some of the numerous archaelogical sites scattered across the islands. I did stop at Stanydale Temple near the village of Gruting. You reach it from the road by walking half a mile across the hillside, the route marked with poles. Recent rainfall meant that the ground was soggy, and you had to be careful, but it was well worth the trip. The site is neolithic in origin with the first buildings dating from perhaps 1000 BC. They’re remarkably well preserved – perhaps because they’ve not really been re-used in recent times since they sit well away from the sea and other populated areas.

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As with Iceland, you become very aware that Shetland has a dearth of trees. The harsh winds that rattle across the landscape mean that they simply don’t survive. And yet wood has been necessary in buildings for thousands of years, so it was traded with Nordic visitors.

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The sun set, and the wind started to arrive. As I parked up and began to explore the shops along the windy Commercial Street in the town centre, the rain arrived. I retired first to a pub, and then to an Indian restaurant (Food options, it must be said, are pretty scarce in Lerwick aside from fish and chips, Indian and Chinese restaurants).

As I returned to my lodgings later that evening, even the protected harbour was seeing the water swell up, and in places it was crashing over the side of the harbour walls.

That night I was woken by the storm at around 3am when it was probably at its peak. With gusting at around 70mph I suspect that it was not that unusual an occurrence in these parts in winter. That said, the schools were shut down on Friday, leading to someone in a pub saying, “If I didn’t turn up to work because it was windy, I know what’d happen to me.”

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The islands are heavily reliant on connections with the outside world – ferries and planes. That Friday I wasn’t able to buy a paper because planes weren’t landing and the Aberdeen ferry had been stopped in Kirkwall in the Orkneys. No Guardian Friday review section for me.

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Shetland Noir-13

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The Shetland Noir event I was attending was held in Mareel, a fairly new entertainment complex on the harbourside in Lerwick. I knew of it a little because Mark Kermode talks about it when he’s in Shetland each year for the Shetland Film Festival. As well as a sizeable main auditorium that can used for hosting a variety of events (including a crime fiction festival), there are two well equipped cinema screens, as well as a range of other rooms to support Shetland arts in general. And of course there’s a fairly busy bar.

I saw a couple of films while I was in Lerwick. Steve Jobs, the new Danny Boyle film, with a script from Aaron Sorkin, was well worth seeing. I loved the three act structure and the punchiness of the film. It does however paint Steve Jobs as an utterly despicable character. He really does have hardly any redeeming features if this film is anything to go by. But Michael Fassbender is really excellent playing him, as is Kate Winslet as his long suffering marketing executive Joanna Hoffman.

The festival also showed Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil which somehow I’d never seen previously. But it was terrific seeing it on the big screen with the famous continuous take that the film opens with (Spectre recently did a very similar thing with a very similar outcome).

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Alongside Mareel, also on the harbour front is the Shetland Museum. This is well worth a visit, with a great collection of exhibits that tells the story of the islands throughout its history. There’s also a very decent restaurant attached to the museum that makes a good lunch spot.

Shetland Noir was a really interesting event, with a range of authors talking mostly on panels about a range of subjects related to crime fiction. The event is effectively “borrowed” from Iceland Noir which returns next year, and as such features Icelandic and Scandinavian writers as well as “Tartan Noir” authors.

I came away with an enormous list of books I want to read, and it was nice to chat with some of the folk who were there. I did get the feeling that I’d come an unduly long way compared to many of the attendees who were local!

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While I was visiting, the local leisure centre was hosting a big craft festival, so I ducked out of a couple of sessions to see what they had for sale. Fair Isle is famous for its knitwear, and it quickly becomes clear that the work required to make these garments mean that prices are a bit more than Primark would charge for a sweater. The craft fair made clear that the islands are full of people making things, from artworks made from material washed up on the shoreline, to photography, leather work and of course, knitwear.

So, no, I didn’t come away with a sweater, or even a scarf.

Not that I saw many locals wearing the clothing their islands are famous for. Indeed the most common clothing I saw was heavily waterproofed clothing in high-vis colours! It seems that everyone goes about their business in high-vis. Perhaps to help be found in an emergency. My Barbour jacket saw me through OK.

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I should probably say a word about local media. The Shetland Times is the main paper for the islands, coming out weekly each Friday. The big news while I was there was surrounding a special election court looking into interviews given my the local MP prior just prior to the General Election in May.

In radio terms, you’ve got one commercial station – the Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company or SIBC. It’s a decent station, although it sounds like it’s automated for much of the day, with a fairly hits-heavy playlist. The BBC has BBC Shetland, but that’s really only an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland with just a few hours of local programming a week. I found FM signals for both services strong wherever I went. But there is also DAB – with the BBC’s multiplex available in Lerwick (But obviously no BBC Scotland or SIBC on DAB, nor any other commercial services). With something a population around 25,000, there are clearly only going to be limited services locally.

Some of the population is quite transient. When you first arrive in Lerwick harbour, you can’t miss the Sans Vitesse, an accommodation barge (essentially a ferry), painted in black and white zebra print, and housing workers on the Shetland gas project. Further down the harbour there are more vessels with more temporary accommodation.

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As the time to fly home got closer, I became a little obsessed with weather apps on my phone. It’s worth noting that Shetland has very poor mobile phone coverage, but you do find WiFi in most built up areas with many communal areas offering free access. I was checking to see what the weather would be like for the day I left, concerned that high winds might delay my return. I had a “connecting” flight to catch in Edinburgh – except that it wasn’t really an actual connection. In the event, the flight was a little bumpy taking off, and a lot more landing, but it was all on time.

Overall I enjoyed my time in the islands. Next time I visit, I would like to spend more time and have more sunlight to explore the island. Obviously I didn’t get a chance to visit any of the smaller islands like Fair Isle which would have been interesting. And I’d have liked to have visited more of the archaeological sites around the islands. So a return visit is very much in order. Perhaps I’ll take a bike!

More photos of Shetland here, a handful of Edinburgh here, and lots of Shetland Noir authors here.

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Responding to Consultations

If there’s one thing the internet has made easier, it’s responding to consultations. Previously the domain of just the time rich, today it can be much easier. Indeed, only a small amount harder than signing some internet petition.

This week I’ve responded to two consultations on wildly differing topics, and I thought I’d repost what I sent here. Both consultations close tomorrow, so you still have time to send yours in!

Independent Commission on Freedom of Information Call for Evidence

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you as a citizen who is concerned that the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information might see more restrictions placed on what can

I am especially alarmed when Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, is quoted as saying that the Freedom of Information Acts was being used as a “research tool” to “generate stories” for the media.

Absolutely it is.

These are important stories that should be reported. The list of 103 stories published by the FoI Directory website is an excellent list that proves the point.

To at this point go back on what citizens believe should be in the public domain would be absurd and a travesty. The relatively low cost (in overall budget terms) easily justifies the importance of citizens’ rights to know about our supposedly open government.

I therefore strongly oppose any measures that would see a weakening of the Act, or a reduction in bodies included under it.

Review of Consumer Protection Measures relating to Online Secondary Ticketing Platforms

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you in my personal capacity as a consumer who buys tickets to concerts and events.

While I don’t work in the industry, I have worked in commercial radio, where relationships with promoters to sell concert tickets are a significant part of the business.

Event ticketing is not a simple supply and demand model. Quite often demand vastly exceeds supply and an artist or event can’t simply add additional dates to meet that demand. And it’s important to understand that artists and promoters don’t actually always set ticket prices at levels that simply maximise revenues. But setting those initial prices is something that is up to the promoter/artist. If they want to look like they’re gouging fans, that’s their decision. On the other hand, not all concert/events costs are equal.

In general and simple terms, I’m very much against so-called “secondary ticketing” since it simply breaks the overall model.

In my view, secondary ticketing is simply a legal form of ticket touting.

Many events and concerts have terms and conditions that explicitly don’t allow tickets to be resold, and yet only in very specific circumstances is the law adjusted to reflect this. For some reason, football and the Olympics have ticket reselling banned, but pretty much everything else is legal. Frankly that’s arbitrary and absurd.

As mentioned artists and promoters tend to find a balance between pricing their ticket to allow access to their fans, yet at the same time there is also a view from some in the industry that they’re simply missing out on profits made by touts, groups, and individuals that use secondary ticketing.

Promoter Harvey Goldsmith recently appeared on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row (16 November 2015), and explained that for a recent event he had promoted, he’s made it a condition of sale that the purchaser was limited to the number of tickets purchased, and that photographic ID was used to enter the venue. But this isn’t a sustainable option for many venues. While events regularly claim that they may need proof of purchase, it’s rare that it’s actually carried out. The London 2012 Olympics was a key case in point – with none of the dozen or so events I attended requiring any proof that I was the ticket purchaser. Indeed despite severe warnings to the contrary, I’ve never had to provide such proof, beyond using a credit card to collect tickets at a box office.

I would also be wary of claims made by secondary ticketing firms that a high proportion of their ticket inventories are sold at face value or less. That’s because many events – perhaps most – do not sell out, and promoters are able to use these sites to offload unsold inventory as an event’s date draws closer.

I would want to see a very close analysis of who is selling what tickets to what kinds of events at what prices to draw an accurate picture of what’s going on. Broad overall brush strokes do not help. It would be informative to learn the distribution of customers who carry out repeat transactions. If I sell a pair of tickets once in a year, then I might be a genuine fan offloading my tickets. But larger volumes suggests touting – quite probably on an industrial scale. This review should call in detailed sales data from the major sites.

A Solution

The number of individuals who truly need to resell their tickets is actually marginal. While it’s true that some events sell out months or even a year or more in advance, the proportion of attendees who cannot subsequently attend is a very small proportion of the audience.

The notion that secondary ticketing is for “fan to fan” exchanges is quite simply disingenuous. Simply the fact that tickets are instantly being sold on secondary ticketing sites from the minute that their first on sale is proof of this. Essentially anyone with a credit card and an internet connection can become a tout.

I would propose a system where tickets are resold by the agency that sold them initially, with perhaps a 10% margin for managing the secondary selling.

In the past, if you ended up with theatre tickets you no longer required you simply left them at the box office, and once the house’s own tickets had sold out, the box office would sell the “returns” at a either a small mark-up, or at a small cost to the original purchaser. There was a simple reliable point of purchase for those looking for access to an event at the last minute, and a safe and reliable way for someone to attempt to recover the cost of tickets they could no longer use.

With the advent of the internet, ticketing apps, and print-at-home tickets, this process becomes ever easier to manage, and keeps costs low (whatever the various booking costs charged by these sites to consumers are).

The online agency that initially sold the tickets would handle the reselling, and they would recover additional administration costs and a small profit from the 10% margin.

Ticketing Concerns

I also believe it to be the case that a number of tickets for major promotions go directly to secondary ticket agencies in the first instance. I would hope that this investigation will shed some light on this practice.

This means that those tickets were never marketed at any kind of “face value” even if they appear in the same blocks as other tickets that were available for purchase.

There is very little light being shone on this practice, and it bears investigation, because it shows that not all those tickets that “instantly” show up on secondary sites when

Other Pricing Models

I know that some promoters and venues are using “airline” style pricing with flexible prices dependent upon demand. That’s a choice they can make, and they should be free to do so. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to buy tickets on that model, so good luck to those producers with them. But at least they can manage inventory and maximise profits based on demand if they choose to do so.

The market will in the end dictate whether that’s a sustainable business model.

Summary

Put an end to legalised touting through secondary ticketing sites.

If promoters and artists want to earn more money from their events, they should be up front in their pricing mechanisms. And it simply can’t be fair that football has one rule, but every other sport and event has another.

Institute best practices, and allow the resale of tickets only at a modest increased cost over face value via the agency that sold the ticket.

Google and Podcasts – More Thoughts

Google Play Terms of Service

This is a follow up to the post I wrote a few days ago when it was first announced that Google was getting into podcasts.

Go away and read that if you’ve not already done so!

A few things are worth noting that I hadn’t quite understood initially.

Google Serving Podcasts and Metrics

It’s very much worth noting that Google will host your podcast for you. They will take a single copy from the server you use to host your audio, and they’ll re-encode it to meet their needs (which may in itself be an issue for some podcasters), before serving files to Google Play Music users.

I imagine that there will actually be a range of differently encoded versions available, perhaps based on bandwidth of the user. But this will really only become clear when the service is live.

As mentioned previously, this does mean that Google will be the only source for downloads of podcasts from Google Play Music. I know that operators like LibSyn will be able to pull these metrics back into their own system to provide a better overview, but it’s worth noting that there will be differences. Will Google have a different view on what is and isn’t a “play” for example? We’ll have to wait and see.

Advertising

I foolishly suggested previously that Google might be somehow sharing revenues with podcasters either in terms of advertising or perhaps a share of subscriptions as a music artist would get for a curated listening experience via Google Play Music.

That really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Here’s the key passage from Google’s Terms of Service for the Google Play Music Podcast Portal:

7. Google Advertising/No Revenue Share. For the avoidance of doubt, Google has the right to present audio, video and/or display advertisements in connection with Google’s distribution of the Podcast Content on Google Play. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Google acknowledges and agrees that Google will not display any pre-roll or mid-roll advertisements in connection with the Podcast Content and will not sell or target advertisements directly against specific Podcast Content or any particular Podcast Creator. For the avoidance of doubt, Podcast Creator shall not be entitled to any royalties, revenue or any other any monetary compensation in connection with Google’s distribution of the Podcast Content in accordance with these Podcast Terms, including, without limitation, any monies Google may receive (including, without limitation, advertising and subscription revenues) in connection with Google’s display of advertising pursuant to these Podcast Terms. [Taken from the October 7, 2015 version.]

In other words, Google will run ads at the end of a podcast, and the podcast creator won’t see a penny of that. While it’s true that this doesn’t massively disrupt the models of those who are running their own advertising currently – mostly the bigger podcasting networks – this really doesn’t help the smaller guys who probably see no commercial revenue from their work.

Now I appreciate that not everyone in podcasting is there to make money, and are perhaps doing it for the fun of it. But it’s disappointing that Google isn’t offering a way to help make a business out of podcasting for those who’d like to be able to. (It’ll be interesting to see how this works with, say, the BBC who will not want advertising adjacent to its podcasts.)

While a direct comparison with YouTube doesn’t quite work because regardless of platform, unlike podcasts you have to use the YouTube website or app to watch videos, it’s notable that video creators do get options to monetise their videos with Google and share in the revenues earned.

Google is undoubtedly offering a massive distribution opportunity, with a chance for podcasters to grow their audiences enormously. And for many that will be enough. But as Google builds an audio advertising model, there’s no option here to share in that revenue which feels frankly quite mean.

There are other ways to earn revenue from advertising of course. Stitcher, for example, has a content provider programme that pays revenues based on listens via the Stitcher app according to a specific formula. Spotify is also carrying a selection of podcasts, but these seem to be invited onto the platform from the major providers. Although I can’t see it explicitly anywhere, you would expect that there’s some kind of revenue sharing model underlying these deals too.

Perhaps in time, as podcasting grows, Google will begin to offer pre-roll advertising that it can share with partners who choose to work with Google. I suspect that at the moment, Google is making cautionary steps into the marketplace and is trying not to rock the boat – the bigger guys all having worked out their commercialisation options. So maybe it’s a question of wait and see.