Lloyd Shepherd, Head of Product, BBC Sounds

BBC Sounds was launched in late 2018 as the new home for radio, music and podcasts at the BBC, giving listeners a personal, relevant experience and offering them more control and flexibility. Available on web and mobile (iOS and Android), it was conceptualized as the audio equivalent of iPlayer – a single home for all BBC’s audio content. It replaced an older product, iPlayer Radio, which had grown organically over a number of years. iPlayer Radio was turned off in late 2019.

From the start, Sounds was envisaged as an integrated platform for listening to and discovering BBC audio content. Since the initial launch on web and mobile platforms, we have also launched a TV app as well as an Alexa skill (for devices that use Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant). Further integrations are in the pipeline.

Unified experience

Two things tie all these platforms together:

  • a single backend system, called Radio and Music Services (RMS), which pulls in content from BBC’s scheduling and content backend and presents it back to the Sounds clients in the form of feeds;
  • a single user ID, run by BBC Account.

What this means, in effect, is that the Sounds experience is unified across all clients, and users can shift their listening from one platform to another seamlessly. They can, for instance, start listening to a BBC radio show on their Alexa device, and then continue listening to the same show on their phone when they leave the house. At the same time, because key business logic is contained within RMS, much
of the product is built ‘in the API’, meaning that changes can be rolled out across clients in a coordinated fashion.

Continuous improvement

Since launch, the Sounds product teams have focused on three main areas. First, easing user ‘pain points’ such that the core product is more competitive in the market, and user satisfaction increases.
In the past year our App Store reviews have climbed steadily, and in market research Sounds is now second only to Spotify for user satisfaction in audio apps.

Working on frictionless discovery has been a second key area. The BBC produces more than 50 hours of new audio every hour of the day, and almost all of this is available on Sounds. This presents a massive discovery challenge for the user. BBC’s approach has been to focus on ‘personalized curation’ – mixing together our in-house data capabilities in recommendations and audience segmentation
with a world-class curation team steeped in BBC’s traditions of public service and delightful discovery. We put this work under the heading ‘relevance’ – and it is an ongoing and detailed programme of work.

Finally, we’ve been focused on making Sounds available everywhere a user might want to consume it. The experience of iPlayer has shown how important carriage deals are to the success of public service media platforms. We have teams in both product and business development pursuing a range of deals to bring the Sounds experience to new platforms – while at all times preserving the unity of experience for the individual user.


This article was first published in issue 49 of tech-i magazine.

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