I’m not one to complain, but this is a special case.
I use a podcast app on my mobile phone to download a variety of podcasts from a variety of sources. When the BBC announced that its serialised dramatisation of Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate” would be available as podcasts I lost no time in adding it to my app’s list before even the first broadcast, when there was only a “welcome” message on the feed.
I listened to the first part live on my radio but planned to listen to the rest as podcasts, at quiet times when I could immerse myself in the experience. No need to rush; I had all the podcasts “to keep forever” (to quote the BBC) right there, on my phone.
In the week following the broadcasts I had not found suitably quiet time to listen to all the Life and Fate podcasts, and have recently started working my way through them.
After a small break from listening I went back to the podcasts yesterday (Oct 11) but, to my dismay, found that all but two of the episodes had vanished from the list. An aaargh moment.
I realised that my podcast app had done its housekeeping and removed the podcasts because they were no longer listed in the feed published by the BBC.
Quoting from the BBC’s podcasts FAQ (my emphasis):
…don’t forget that once you have downloaded a podcast episode, it is yours to keep forever and will not expire.
In the sense that the podcast audio files contain no digital rights restrictions (unlike BBC iPlayer downloads) that statement is true, and this is fine for people who manually download the audio files.
In reality, however, the use of podcast software (on computers, mobile phones, iPods, etc) to receieve and listen to podcasts is widespread and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding my planned enjoyment of some excellent radio drama cut short.
When I go to the Life and Fate podcasts page of the BBC website, I still see the following message (my emphasis):
There are currently no episodes of this podcast available. Please check again later, or subscribe to the podcast for free to receive future episodes automatically.
In subscribing to the podcast, people are using software to connect to the feed. If the publisher removes items from the feed that software will, by default, remove those podcasts from the person’s computer, phone, iPod, or whatever.
In the case of my podcast app, I have now discovered a feature that would have prevented the automatic removal of downloaded media, a feature buried in an “advanced” setting (per feed, rather than global), and that I have never had cause to use, despite many of my subscriptions listing items from well over a year ago.
Apparently, the BBC obtained special agreement with the rights holders of this Life and Fate production to make the podcasts available longer than the usual seven days: all of fourteen days!
What puzzles me is, if the media files are non-expiring, why not allow their download indefinitely? It would be interesting to see the figures for how many times each Life and Fate episode was downloaded. Had this tailed off as the deadline approached or was access abruptly cut off, mid-flow? How many more downloads would there have been if the avilability had been for, say, three months? These are non-expiring MP3 files. Why limit their availability as podcasts?
No other podcast feed to which I subscribe has a policy of removing items at such an early date. I realise now, having read the small print on the BBC’s website, that the Life and Fate podcasts were to be available for a limited time, but this is not what regular podcast listeners expect. Many people will not have been aware of the limited timeframe, having heard about the podcasts in radio trailers which made no mention of it.
I recall similar frustrations with availability of the BBC “In Our Time” podcasts a few years ago, when only the latest programme was in the feed. Thankfully, this has changed and that particular feed is now a rich archive of listening interest.
This led me to assume, wrongly, that those in charge of podcast policy at the BBC had realised the error in their ways and finally understood podcasts.
Life and Fate home page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/life-and-fate/
L+F Podcasts page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/lifeandfate
L+F, How long have I got to download all the episodes? http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/2011/09/life_and_fate_download_keep_an.html
BBC podcasts availability, http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/questions/podcasts/episode_availability