The marketing is impressive, the collateral design is dazzling, and the product itself is … slightly baffling, at first. BBC Playlister is a new feature woven throughout the BBC online music experience. The top layer is a tagging function, whereby users select songs for addition to a personal playlist. The resulting list is not a playlist in the usual sense -- specifically, you can’t play it. For that, the list must be exported to a real music service. Playlister has launched with three inaugural partners: Spotify, YouTube, and Deezer.
Confusing? Possibly, and the first question might be: Why bother? Spotify itself has been available to the BBC’s primary U.K. audience since 2009. YouTube and Deezer, likewise no problem in the U.K. Is the purpose to indoctrinate American music-lovers to the unique music discoveries of BBC programmers? There is a hint of that strategy in the BBC’s introductory video: “The U.K. is world-renowned for its music. And for 80 years, the BBC has been its beating heart.”
But the reality, as of today, is more mundane. Playlister on the BBC website surfaces the same global hits that all other music services are featuring this morning: Lorde, Katy Perry, et al. Why would any user build an unlistenable playlist, then export it to another platform, when that other platform is performing the same music promotion with native playlisting?
The answer might gain more nuance when the BBC presenters (show hosts) get into Playlister, which they are not as of now. If the BBC is a uniquely astute music curator, it’s the programmers who will deliver brand value to Playlister. (Oddly, the video shows a BBC programmer sitting on the floor surrounded by vinyl LPs, 1970s-style.)
Operationally, everything works without a glitch. It’s a well-executed launch. Registering, browsing, and collecting are woven into an attractive and painless product experience. Exporting to YouTube results in a video playlist, as one would hope for -- and that, at least, is a piece of unique value right from the start. The Playlister app within Spotify (web only for now; mobile promised for later) is ready to go as well, and works fine -- even if, again, carrying a playlist into Spotify from outside seems futile.
Drilling into Spotify’s Playlister app reveals a discovery environment demonstrably superior to the BBC’s website, for listening to BBC channels and programs. It is easier to find shows and presenters without wading through non-music options, losing the navigation menu to promotions, and other distractions foisted by the BBC’s own domain. The Spotify app keeps the experienced focused on listening. Playlister is not woven into the channel and presenter options, though, either in Spotify or on BBC.
BBC Playlister is not exactly a music service in a modern sense. Is BBC missing the boat, or cagily sidestepping the need to build one? From a business perspective, all the stakeholders win: distribution for the BBC, content acquisition for Spotify, and new ad inventory for Google-owned YouTube. More power to each of them. Not much power to the user, yet, but Playlister is worth keeping an eye on. Watch this space for new developments.