Streaming Radio Online
There's a lot to bear in mind when you broadcast online, as BBC Radio has been doing since 1996.
The thinking behind our streaming has been informed by four factors:
- and reliability.
We need to make our programmes and stations reach as many people as we can within the UK, to ensure that everyone - Mac or Linux; Internet Explorer or Firefox - gets great value from the BBC. We need to ensure that the quality of the sound is what you'd expect from the BBC, but also to weigh that up against the cost of streaming at higher bitrates, and the reliability of consistent live streaming. Much of the listening to internet radio is done at work, where it's easier to smuggle in a pair of headphones for the desktop than it is to get a DAB Digital Radio past the receptionist, and where internet connections are frequently under heavy use.
Until now, the BBC has primarily used software from Real Networks as the way of broadcasting our content, both live and on-demand. We chose Real because it uses a multi-platform player and it works well at low bitrates and with choppy connections. While you'll now also find all our stations available in Windows Media Player should you choose, the default choice has been Real. And, apart from small subtle changes in bitrate, we've not changed the technology behind this for a while, as some people have pointed out!
But the world's changing.
When we started broadcasting on the internet, the only other way of receiving Radio 5, as it was then known, was on medium wave. Now, Radio 5 Live is available in many different ways: from DAB Digital Radio to Freeview, digital satellite and cable. It's never been easier to pick up a reliable digital broadcast, at higher audio quality than we can offer online. And, when Ashley Highfield gets excited about the possibilities of digital radio, we know we must be on to a winner.
When we launched the BBC Radio Player, now known as the iPlayer for Radio, in 2002, we added the chance to listen again to most of our programmes. This is something that, for now, is still mostly unique to the internet, and adds a wealth of additional listener choice: choice that, in January, meant a total of 24.9 million hours of radio listening online (live and on-demand). (We publish our site stats online, incidentally).
So in April, we're starting to make radical changes to how we stream in the UK, differentiating live and on-demand. For live, we'll start to use a more intelligent way of working out what software you have, to make listening live an even more painless experience. And later in the year, you'll see increases in quality for our live streams too.
And a result of the continued success of "listen again", we're changing that, too. Since the only place you can get this is on the internet, we've prioritised these to ensure that you get much higher quality. In many cases, these streams will "just work", regardless of what computer you use. And in parallel to this, we're doing quite a bit of work to further improve the sound quality later in the year.
Finally, radio will look different as well, as we move into a full integration with the BBC iPlayer. At last, the BBC's radio and television content, in one place: all easily searchable; radio comedy next to television comedy, just as you'd expect it - The News Quiz next to Have I Got News for You, or the chance to discover that if Thursdays are funny on BBC TWO with That Mitchell & Webb Look, then BBC Radio 4 was funny first with That Mitchell & Webb Sound.
We've a lot of systems that need changing, so this is no small job, and my team has been busy working on this project for a good few months already. But we hope that you'll like the changes that you'll start to see in April and beyond.
James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.