BBC to create a “Netflix of the spoken word”

BBC logo canvasThe BBC is planning to create a new radio service that would act as a “Netflix of the spoken word.” This service could expand on the idea of BBC’s iPlayer television, which brought the broadcaster’s video content to a wider international audience, but would focus more on its extensive audio archives. Details are still scarce on this proposed plan, but it would involve paid access for BBC radio listeners outside the UK.

There’s a fair amount to unpack in this development. Let’s start with the continued allure of pitching media ideas as “the Netflix of” concepts. Considering the video site has been around for nearly two decades, it’s an impressive statement of how thoroughly entrenched it is as a standard-setter for entertainment subscriptions. Whether it was the early mail-in DVD program or the company’s most recent efforts in video production, Netflix has been an innovator in how it delivers entertainment, as well as how it charges for that access.

Innovation is what makes these “Netflix of” comparisons so odd, including the BBC one. Several audio experts have made their own aggregation services, including the NPR One mobile app or the more recent RadioPublic app from PRX leadership. Some of these offer on-demand access as Netflix does, some are more lean-back experiences. The core concept is one that many have tried.

The big challenges for the BBC are the same ones that other audio aggregators and archives have faced. First: what is the demand for such an audio service? And second: what will listeners be willing to pay for it?

There’s no doubt that the BBC’s dedication to quality journalism on a global scale is needed. And given the political climate in many nations, it’s even likely that interest in paying for quality media and reporting is as high as it has ever been. Smart positioning and pricing could make this BBC concept, even when packaged as a look-alike to Netflix, a huge success.

Anna Washenko