BBC Launches Playlister, A Social Music Service With Spotify, YouTube And Deezer To Tag Tracks Heard On BBC

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On the heels of the BBC ramping up its iPlayer on-demand video and music player as the go-to place for all its digital assets, the UK’s public broadcaster is also gearing up to take its music service up another notch. Today it is unveiling Playlister, a global (not just UK) service in partnership with Spotify, YouTube and Deezer that lets people tag music they hear on the BBC to listen to it later, create playlists from it, and potentially discover more tracks by way of recommendations from BBC DJs and hosts.

If Playlister rings a bell for you, you’re not just hearing things. This follows on from reports a year ago that the BBC was working on this product, accurately identified at the time as Playlister. Instead, last year, it unveiled iOS and web apps for its radio service. Still, it hedged its bets at the time. “Strategically, there is an obvious overlap and potential connection with music providers,” Daniel Danker, GM, programmes and on-demand for the BBC, told TechCrunch in October 2012. “There isn’t anything tangible right now, but we always have those conversations.”

The BBC is holding an event on Wednesday where we will have a chance to play around with Playlister and talk to the partners working with the BBC on the new service.

This is a significant move for BBC’s music division, and an important step for the company in its strategy to generate more revenue longer term — something it will have to do to complement its license fee to keep up with media growth in the future. Charging people directly for content and advertising are two things that the BBC, as a public broadcaster, does not do in the UK for its traditional TV and radio services; but when it comes to international and new media assets, the rules change. Playlister almost certainly will be one of the services that will push that idea forward.

With Playlister going live across the world, it gives the company a higher international profile for the service, and potentially sets it up for ways of generating revenues in the future. The plan is to integrate Playlister with the BBC’s radio apps in the future, but for now it is only available via PC and mobile browser, where users can export a playlist from the BBC to Spotify, YouTube or Deezer and listen back to tracks in full.

But this is just the start: “Over time, the BBC will look to welcome a number of other services to the product,” the company notes in a statement. These will include the recommendations feature, and perhaps even paid content downloads from the BBC’s very rich back catalog of studio recordings and live recordings, which have been largely untapped up to now but would potentially set a service like this apart from the me-too offerings of the many recorded-music digital streaming platforms.

“BBC Playlister is a wonderful innovation from the BBC that has been designed purely with audience needs in mind. We have a proud musical heritage that dates back to the very beginning of the BBC’s history, and over the years we have found many new ways of bringing fantastic music to our viewers and listeners,” said Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, in a statement. “Working with partners such as Spotify, YouTube and Deezer, we will once again transform our audiences’ relationship with music and the BBC.”

But beyond the fact that this could be an interesting way of making money for the BBC, for consumers Playlister will be one more way that they can use to better find their way along the long tail of music content available to them today.

The BBC has a potentially big role to play here. Listeners look to radio services to hear a curated variety of music, not just what is in their own collections. At the same time, discovery has been one of the big areas that hasn’t been “owned” by any single provider up to now. Playlister will play on the BBC’s reputation for doing just that, helping you discover music. If it works, it could not only be a way of tying listeners deeper into using sites like Spotify and Deezer (and YouTube) but give the BBC a renewed lease of life as a conduit for taking you there.