Music News

The BBC Now Offers Downloadable Music Programs. Why Can’t We?

I wish, wish, wish it were possible to make my Ongoing History of New Music shows available for on-demand listening and downloads. Well, technically, it is possible, but the expense would be so enormous that it’s just not worth it. The problem lies with the music.

First, let’s handle the on-demand issue. Current copyright rules require that every single song in every single program be tracked separately on a per-listener basis. That means we’d had to report each month exactly how many people listened to exactly which songs and then pay out the appropriate fees. This is easy enough to do when you stream, say, a playlist of individual songs. But if you have a documentary radio program with the songs embedded within it, you can’t.

The only way to stream OH shows would be to un-produce them (i.e. separate my talking bits from the individual songs) and upload each piece as a separate audio file. That way the songs could be tracked and paid for. This means one single show should would consist of a couple of dozen separate and discrete audio files. Multiply that by 725 episodes and you see the problem.

Downloading is even worse. That would mean that we’d be distributing music, something we’re not allowed to do because we don’t own it. If we made downloads available, the lawsuits would start within seconds. And sure, we could probably cut a deal whereby we paid rightsholders a negotiated fee, but that would require (a) tortuous negotiations; and (b) upfront payments of tens of thousands of dollars to multiple entities. Not worth it, obviously.

I’ve tried to get people in the industry talking about this, but none of the collectives and rightsholders feel that on-demand music programming delivered via the Internet is a priority, so nothing is happening. The result? Piracy. My shows are available through all kinds of torrents. And who’s getting paid? No one.

This situation isn’t specific to me; it affects all sorts of broadcasters around the planet. However, the BBC seems to have cracked the problem. This is from James Cridland’s column in All Access:

Greetings from the bowels of the London Underground. There’s no air-conditioning down here, and therefore it’s hot and relatively unbearable. But one thing that’s making it a little more bearable is Iggy Pop, who is currently playing me the most random choice of music tracks on his radio show.

I’m listening to him on the BBC’s brand new iPlayer Radio app. Sorry, rest of the world, you can’t get a hold of it. But the app’s new big feature is that you can download the BBC’s radio programs to your mobile phone and listen whenever you like. Including – and this is important – the music programs.

It’s a brand new thing, and I gather it’s come with a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in terms of music rights, but it’s clearly a good thing to do. I’m now listening to a lot more BBC Radio than I used to, simply because I can now listen on these interminable 30-minute stretches underground, where FM radio and mobile data fail to penetrate.

Sure, I can download music from Spotify or Google Play. But with the BBC iPlayer Radio app, it’s free; and it gives me more than just dumb music tracks – it gives me the curation and the personality with it. (And all at 320kbps too!)

It’s another example of how radio is becoming more multi-platform. The UK’s already the most multi-platform radio environment in the world, with less than 55% of all listening happening on an FM or AM radio. The rest is DAB (mostly), through the TV, and the internet. And this means lots of opportunity for change.

Jeezus. If the BBC can do it, why can’t everyone?


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38466 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The BBC Now Offers Downloadable Music Programs. Why Can’t We?

  • Thanks for the article. For those who live outside UK and want to access BBC iPlayer, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.


Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.